Crossing the Gardening Rubicon

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

This hasn’t been much of a winter here at Sunflower Farm, just like
many places in North America. The area south of us along Lake Ontario
had virtually no snow. By the end of the winter in 2008 and 2009 after
numerous dumpings of snow we had enormous piles and snow banks that
took forever to melt. Not this year.  I’ve heard a lot of people
comment about what a great winter it was. They didn’t need boots. Their
cars stayed clean. They were able to park all 4 of their family
vehicles comfortably since there were no snow banks clogging up the
streets. Farmers, on the other hand, looked out at barren fields and
knew that this was not a good thing. Fields should be comfortably
covered in a layer of snow during the winter. It serves numerous
purposes, but mostly it keeps the soil from blowing away in the high
winter winds.

We had some snow although less than most years, and yet we didn’t
have to drive very far south before we noticed that there was no snow
on the ground. The winter was also milder and so we had a lot of rain.
So basically anywhere we had snow that was packed down, like the
driveway, it became a skating rink. It was quite brutal. I finally
bought “Icers” to strap on to my boots to try and avoid breaking a bone
in a fall.

Now the weather has turned spring like and I still have a pile of
unfinished winter jobs left to do. I feel kind of ripped off. I have a
lot of firewood still to get in and a whole bunch of inside projects.
And the books. My book pile is still large and once I can get into the
garden, books are on hold, or at least the speed at which I get through
them slows dramatically.

I had really looked forward to winter this year. Most years during
the fall my garden time tapers off drastically but this year it really
ramped up. Since it was finally cool I was able to work on a bunch of
the larger more physically demanding jobs I had been putting off. This
included making gardens bigger, transplanting a bunch of raspberries,
getting all of my rhubarb into one area … those sorts of things. We did
all of this with the intention of starting a CSA and growing
vegetables for 10 or 12 member families this summer.

I’ve been having some reservations about running the CSA. Even after
growing vegetables for 35 years, giving away boxes of produce for the
last decade, and running a vegetable stand in town that went really
well last summer, I’m still a little reticent about the CSA. Am I up
for it? Can I really do it? Don’t get me wrong, I have a huge ego and
have spent my life doing things that I really doubted I was capable of
doing like moving off the grid and putting up a wind turbine, but I
still have doubts. And I think this is a good thing. It keeps you from
getting cocky. Keeps you grounded and humble. And inspires you to
prepare as much as you can and have as many “Plan Bs” as you can.

In The All You Can Eat Gardening HandbookI wrote that
every fall I leave the garden burnt out on gardening. My passion is
gone. Michelle will verify this. Every fall she hears, “That’s it, the
gardens are going to be way smaller next year. They’re too much work.”
And every year the gardens get bigger.

It happens during the winter. I love the winter rhythm. I sleep
more. Sleep later. Get up and read. Tend fires. Cut and move firewood.
Read some more. And I don’t think about the garden. It’s just out there
under the snow and out of my consciousness. Most winters as we
approach spring I start to gradually feel the pull of the garden. That
desire to get my hands back in the earth.

After last fall’s garden marathon that kept up until the first
snowfall I was concerned about whether or not I was ever going to get
that enthusiasm back. This would be a particularly bad thing if I was
hoping to run a CSA and earn part of my income from the garden.

But then one day recently my passion for gardening returned with a
whoosh. I am currently putting together the eBook version of the
gardening book. This is part of why I wish the winter would continue,
so that I can get as much done on this migration of our books to
electronic versions as possible. The nice thing about our eBooks is
that we’re doing them in color. We’ve always fantasized about printing
our books in color but simply couldn’t afford to. The gardening book
really lends itself to this. As more and more people buy color tablets
to read ebooks this gives our books the edge over the black and white

So I was up to Chapter 11 and had been placing in dozens of color
photos of the gardens. Then I placed in some photos of me making some
raised beds. I was out in the garden in a t-shirt. And the soil looks
dark and rich and damp and brimming with life. And I was pouring some
water on seeds I’d just planted. And my knees were dirty and my hands
were soil covered from the planting.

And in the words of Tina Fey’s character on “30 Rock” … “I want to
go to there.” Right now. I want to be in that garden. I want the heat. I
want the to feel the soil warm and pliable rather than hard and frozen
as it is now. I want to see green everywhere, rather than just in the
conifers that keep their color around the house all winter. Heck I’ll
even take the bugs. We’re got some of our “polar mosquitoes” buzzing around in the house right now; I might as well be out in the garden dealing with them.

Each year the cracks and fissures in the skin on my hands get more
pronounced and once I hit the garden in the spring my hands basically
become permanently dirty. It doesn’t matter how much I wash them, they
just look like I came out of the garden. Michelle’s Dad’s hands were
this way, from a combination of his work day spent repairing machinery
at Stelco and all of the gardening he did when he got home. I’ve always
seen permanently dirty hands as the sign of someone who does real work.
It’s not like a leather motorcycle jacket that you buy to pretend
you’re a biker – permanently soil colored hands are something that has
to be earned over the years. You can’t fake it.

After a few months spent away from the garden and inside washing
dishes and cleaning toilets, my hands are all nice and clean now. You
can see where the soil stains will be, but they look pretty good right
now. After working on my ebooks and spending some time looking at my
gardening photos I’ve crossed the Rubicon. I’m ready to get back in the
soil and get them dirty again.

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