Friday, July 2, 2010

Letter from the Garden

Dear Reader,

I hope these words find you well and enjoying the long days of summer. It's early in the morning as I write and already warm and humid. After two days of haltingly chilly breezes, the hot soup of summer air is promising to collect and linger. The tomatoes, squash, and celery will thrive. I've pulled up the last of the peas to make room for tomatoes and more rows of carrots. Always planting more carrots! I just walked out to the garden this morning and had that falling down feeling I get when the garden is on its way. No more skinny rows of spiky seedlings in need of protection. You walk among the rows and feel surrounded, maybe even overtaken, by the towering and sprawling green. I recently heard a friend say, "It's not worth it to try to grow carrots in this clay soil when you can buy them so cheap at the grocery store these days." True, I thought. But my soil is getting more carrot-friendly all the time. And there really isn't a carrot in the grocery store as good as the ones I dig up in December. Sometimes I'd rather dig and compost and plant and water and weed and sacrifice a carrot or two to a swallowtail caterpillar than make another trip to the grocery store. (Though once, for two minutes, I looked at the slugs and beetles and half-eaten leaves and the blight and the deer tracks along the row of topless beets and didn't mind someone else growing my food for me!)

Sometimes growing a garden seems like the most everyday obvious thing to me. Lots of people do it. But in that way it's also like having children. Lots of people do it, but it can be a life-changing, challenging adventure that wakes you up to small miracles. The way gardens change the landscape and its people can be subtle. Maybe it's just a quiet, steady pulsing sign reading, "It's Possible" among numerous loud voices yelling, "No You Can't." Maybe it speaks to just one individual; maybe it's talking to a whole community.

Right now my garden is showing me all that I've learned over the years. My tomatoes are spaced and staked just right. My carrots are still squeezed in tight next to each other so I can pull up young ones as they all bulk up. The cool season spinach and peas have produced abundant harvests for the first time and now they are gone, letting the warm weather crops take their turn. Everything seems to be working just a little better this year. The soil just keeps getting richer and darker. There's so much to learn, and yet, what do you really need to know to grow a garden? Seed, water, soil, sun, pay attention.

It's been really interesting to listen to the changing bird chorus around the garden. All spring and summer the indigo buntings have been singing their little blue hearts out. I can hear one right now just as constant as the clock hands. Cardinals have been quiet until recently. The warbling vireos and chipping sparrows must be on their second or third broods, because they're quiet too. There's a red-winged blackbird that screams its metallic call notes from the small dead ash tree in the front yard every morning, every evening. A carolina wren showed up the past two evenings, singing it's bright strong galloping song. The somewhat rare dickcissel has left since the farmer finally cut the fallow field for silage, and all the nesting sparrows and blackbirds dispersed in what I can only imagine was desperate horror. The turkey vultures circled for hours that afternoon over eerily quiet fields.

Well, it's early and there's plenty to do. I should probably get on my way. The garlic is curing in the shade and I need to make sure it stays in the shade as the sun moves up and over. The black raspberries are at their peak and need to be picked. It's always difficult to get motivated to put on long-sleeves, hat and bug net, and then get buzzed by mosquitoes and ripped apart by thorns while wading through a sea of poison ivy. You forget all that when you spread the jam later, no middle-man grocery store or barcode price tag to distract from the experience. Makes you feel lucky.

Time to get back to work! Or not. Hope your summer is rolling along just fine, in and out of the garden.
All my best,