8,000 Square Feet in a Box

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
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I made it back from Sweden just in time to be snowed in by the worst blizzard in many, many years. Surreal, since I also was met by perhaps the most exciting mail delivery every year; the seed order.  It wasn’t many months ago the seed catalog for this year showed up, but that point I had just, just, managed to finish off the garden season slightly traumatized from all the work. To receive a catalog that seemed mostly like an ill-conceived joke, a way to rub it in; don’t think you can relax too much. Soon spring will be here again. I hid the catalog in the messy bookshelf and forgot I’d ever seen it.

And now, the seeds are here. Somewhere between now and then, during the long winter evenings, I pulled myself together and sent in the order. Quickly put the catalog back again. I wasn’t ready, not yet. Like hitting snooze on the alarm. Just a few more minutes.

Last year took me by surprise. Snuck up on me. Not necessarily stabbed me in the back, but rather startled me. We cultivated an even larger area than previous years, dealt with an unseen amount of pests and put away more food than ever for winter. On top of that, the Hostel grew twice as big as the previous year. What’s new about hard work? Nothing, of course. It’s a part of life, if you choose this life. But I, I wasn’t ready for it. Bobbed with my head just about the surface from April until December. Surely I had a lot of fun and rewards along the way but man, oh man, I was ready for it to end.

After growing up in a place with distinct differences between the seasons (never ending daylight in summer, almost entire darkness in winter) and now living off the land where the year is clearly divided in four, I have a deeply rooted appreciation and humbleness for the way of life that offers. As soon as the winter lets go, we’re at it. Non stop. Prune the fruit trees, prepare the garden beds. Plant the first cold hardy seeds, start the tomato seedlings and pepper plants. The pace picks up. Days grow longer. A wild roar will carry us in to summer, to planting all those seedlings, to mulch all the beds, thin those cold hardy plants. Suddenly we’ll have to mow the grass and suddenly, we can eat the first carrot, the first early broccoli. We’ll chase the bugs; the raccoons, the deers, the crows. Our piglets will show up in the middle of this, and all the Hostel guests will come to see what we’re up to. We’ll carry water, seaweed, buckets of compost. We’ll celebrate; the bounty, the summer, our life in general. And so, suddenly, the whole garden will explode in a crescendo of ripe food that needs to be dealt with; stored, dried, fermented or canned. For a while, it will never end. We’ll build tower after tower of boxes full of root crops in the cellar, line the shelves with pickles and kraut and apple sauce and pear sauce. Then slowly, just as unexpected as spring was nine months ago, the end will come. One day, my “to-do” list is so pathetic I don’t even care to write it any more. Sometimes I cheat; don’t cut those last dry stalks in the flower bed or decide to wait until spring with turning the compost pile. Enough is enough. Winter comes as a kind friend every year, timely just as we’ve finished off all the outdoors. Long mornings, slowly coming daylight. Early afternoons. Trees to fell, lumber to mill. All in our own pace. Books to read, knitting to spend the time with. All of our friends; those who also are too busy to socialize in summer, those who actually stay here when all the summer visitors have left. Those who are our neighbors, our community.

It’s early February, and all this is behind us, and ahead of us, at the same time. Our house is still full of food from last year and the box of seeds sits there on the kitchen table. Smaller than the average pie pumpkin but big as a cabbage, as a couple of mason jars of pickled beans. Still, it holds an 8000 sq ft garden and food for many, many months, a whole year. Today, I feel like I can do it. The whole cycle over again. No, I don’t only feel like I can do it, I feel like it will be fun, sincerely fun. My hands in the dirt, the moist soil, the first emerging sprouts. The fresh greens to harvest, sun ripe tomatoes. The time for rest is behind us now as the sun climbs a bit higher each day. The cycle takes a new turn and I can sense a light tingle of itching to get out there again. Bring on the spring, bring on the new garden year. I’m ready for it to start.