There's the hint of spring in the air. The hyacinths are an inch tall, just poking their noses out of the ground, and the snow has melted off to reveal surprisingly green onions still left from last year's garden. If you don't harvest all your onions and leave some in the ground over winter, they'll go to seed the second year. Sometimes I collect the seeds, and sometimes I let them fall wherever they like, and I get baby onions springing up all over the garden. Who says things have to grow in tidy rows? I do the same with cherry tomatoes, radishes, and garden huckleberries, letting some fall, and I always get vigorous volunteer plants the next spring that produce as well as the ones I nurture tenderly and transplant out. Why go through the work of starting seeds and planting out if the garden will do the job for you?
Having said that, one of my favourite things is to start seeds in the early spring. There's something about the scent of damp soil, the finickiness of planting in tiny pots, that energizes me. The trays of seedlings sitting happily under the grow lights make me feel proudly maternal. After a winter of drooling over seed catalogues, I make my selection (or dig out the seeds I harvested and saved from last year) and get down to...pardon the pun...plotting. How many pots can I fit on my counter? How many extras should I plant just in case some don't survive the rabbits? How many tomatoes can we really eat? How much should I grow extra for the kids or to give to my ministering sisters at church?
This year I'm planning to build some raised beds and level off a sloped part of the yard to make room for more garden. I'm going to limit myself this year, though, and instead of planting a little each of forty varieties, I'm concentrating on only tomatoes, squash, lettuce, green beans, and cucumbers. (That doesn't, of course, include the perennials such as asparagus and rhubarb.) I ordered three new varieties of tomato from the University of Florida that are supposed to be disease-resistant and good producers. I'm also growing cherry tomatoes and Red Pear cherry tomatoes, making 21 plants in all. (That's nothing. One year I planted 55 Roma tomato plants and still ended up buying in some bushels. We eat a LOT of tomatoes.)
I'm also doing Armenian cucumbers, Ronde de Nice squash, spaghetti squash, and zucchini. LOTS of zucchini. Like, 18 plants. I know, I know, you probably think I've lost my mind. But now that we're cutting down on carbs, we eat zucchini almost every day, sometimes for two meals a day, and it freezes well. And I inevitably lose a few plants each year to rabbits, and the last few years it's been so hot the plants mainly produce only male flowers so I only get a couple of squash per plant anyway. I will fill in any gaps in the garden with green beans, my favourite vegetable, which can be frozen too. I'm still eating last year's harvest, which should last right up until the new crop begins to produce.
After watching Love Your Garden with Alan Titchmarch, I'm also contemplating putting in a pond. Just a little one, with a few bog plants, to attract frogs to the garden. And putting up bat boxes. And maybe some bee boards for wild bees to nest in. If I can't move to the country, I will make the country come to me.
There's a feeling of triumph, this time of year, at having survived another winter. I love the anticipation of gardening, the feeling of planning to feed my family. When the tiny sprouts are starting to rise under the lights, I survey them with great satisfaction...and try not to think about how my back will feel planting them out in May.