With the arrival of spring and its subsequent snowstorm, my thoughts have turned to this year’s garden. What will happen out there in 2019?
Spring is the season of hope and decisions. What to plant? When to plant? How to set up irrigation so that when the dry spell arrives in May or June, there is water delivered to each tender plant?
What about pest control? Could companion planting save my taters from beetles? Or will bigger guns be required?
With this record-setting start to the water year, it seems like a good idea to try some water-loving vegetables. We have had good success with dryland-ish asparagus. How about leeks or other members of the onion family, like shallots? Do I dare try celery? Wonder if they are distasteful to grasshoppers? Perhaps the grasshopper population took a hit with this sustained, cold winter?
During my first survey of the parts of the garden that are no longer snow-covered (although three more inches arrived last night), it looks like the red onions that didn’t grow last year overwintered and I may have an early start on my onion crop. My self-seeding arugula is coming back, although it looks kind of feral and the taste is rather spicy. It might be perfect for a spring tonic, although I think my husband would revolt against that offering. My perennial calendula plants are starting to peek through the crust and last year’s load of seeds are covering the ground. I probably should remove those seeds if I want to control where these prolific flowers grow. They are supposed to be companion plants, not the main event.
When will it be dry enough to plant my peas? The moisture level is probably OK, it is the ground temperature that really matters. If I plant the peas too early in this wet ground, they could rot before it gets warm enough for them to germinate. Perhaps I should read the package? But I don’t have a package because I saved these peas from the pods that I missed from last year’s crop. I guess I could Google it.
Is it too wet and cold for potatoes? They grow in Ireland, for goodness sake. I want to get them in early so that when the grasshoppers arrive, the plants are big enough to endure a trimming. I guess I could also plant some greens, kale, or Swiss chard. But will I just be feeding the grasshoppers when the leaves are large enough to eat? Baby spinach, anyone? The timing of these early-season crops is dependent on how long I am willing to hand-water. I usually use surface soaker hoses for irrigation, and they don’t do well in freezing temperatures. So when this river of moisture from the Pacific finally runs out, I will have to provide supplemental water on my over-achieving March sowings by lugging watering cans. Perhaps I should wait a week or two to sow seeds. I will just have to channel my seed-planting energy to starting tomatoes, chilis, and squash. Get an early start on my salsa garden. I even purchased pink banana-squash seeds on sale last fall to avoid the double-cross this year.
My gardening nemesis is seed-starting. I can save seeds. I can transplant seeds. I can even sow seeds in the ground successfully. But starting seeds in planting “medium” in those little pots that I dutifully saved from the plants I bought last year, when my starts failed, is my Waterloo. I have read books and watched YouTube. I have tried lights, heating pads, and sunny corners. As anyone who knows me well would attest, I just don’t have the gentle touch required to coax seedlings out of the husk and into the sun. Maybe 2019 will be the year I finally succeed?
The other thing I noticed in the garden was a soft green fuzz growing over the entire surface. Weeds! With all this ground moisture, the one thing I am sure to grow a lot of this year is weeds. There will have to be some forethought on planting what I want to grow to make it easier to discourage what I don’t want to grow. Perhaps mulch or strategic irrigation? I could get an early start on weed removal and just till the whole garden surface. Though tilling like that does a number on the soil that I have been so carefully cultivating and could remove a lot of the ground moisture. Could I live with a weedy garden this year?
The final question underlying all the others is, why bother at all? A backyard garden can be a huge time sink that demands back-breaking work, and often brings heartbreak with each crop failure. I am still traumatized by last year’s hopper war. And for what? Because there is no more satisfying meal than one that includes a home-grown tomato. There is no match for the freshness of a salad made from just-cut greens. It is impossible to describe the subtle flavor of potatoes that still have a little red dirt on their skin. The foodie term is terroir (pronounced terr-wah), a French word for the unique “earthiness” of flavor that carries the taste of a place.
I taste home in my garden-grown veggies. I hope others can taste it in the food that I share with friends and family. Why do I bother with a garden? Because there is no better way to feed my soul.
Carolyn Dunmire is an award-winning writer who gardens, cooks, and eats in Cahone, Colo.