Sunday, December 21, 2008

Before the Frost

I started a vegetable garden last spring, and I loveloveloved it. It was amazing watching something that I tended and nurtured turn into a thriving and productive patch of fresh, organic goodness. And really, once the initial outlay of energy was expended ~ in making the raised beds, bringing in the mulching and compost, planting the seeds and starts ~ it was pretty easy to do the day-to-dayness of the garden. I weeded not at all, since I used the raised beds and brought in soil. I watered it every morning, which took all of 5 minutes. And in the end, I was harvesting tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers every night, but that didn't take long either.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the garden was having a reason to be outside. Warmed by the sun, I enjoyed the occasional project, such as arranging tomato cages and adding mulch.

It was all a big experiment. I wasn't sure that anything would grow, and I learned a lot about how much the blue jays love beans and I also learned hot to kill a watermelon seedling in less than three days. A trick which takes almost no talent or innate skill set whatsoever, as it turns out.

So I approached my winter garden in the same pioneering spirit. I am very fortunate to live in an area that supports year-round gardening! I did some research, and planted garlic, white onions, red onions, scallions, (care for an onion?!?), three kinds of lettuces (well, I think four kinds, but only two are growing so it's not important), fava beans, and snap peas. I also have a kitchen garden going with basil (does not love winter), cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, and rosemary.
Everything seems to be fine, except the snap peas were already a borderline choice even for our mild winter, basil is not a winter plant under any circumstances, and we've reached freezing temperatures all week. Literally, like 32 degrees. I know it's nothing compared to places that deal with ice storms and snow and arctic winds, but sometimes I feel like we're even more pitiful because we just aren't prepared for it. Our mild winters linger in the low 50s, high 40s, and it's not unusual to go the whole season without a new coat. A couple of sweaters for layering, a windbreaker and scarf, hats because I think they're cute more than because they are a necessity, these are the extent of my winter preparations.

I found myself out in the garden this week, in the rain, and the bitter cold (shut up, it was cold to me!) and no gloves, my god, I wasn't even wearing socks with my work mary janes, trying to do a little project.
First, I needed to get the garden covered before the frost came in at nightfall. Which, frankly, has been occurring by 4:30 in the afternoon any more.
Second, I had to get the beans and peas, both climbing plants, off the ground. They are getting big! So cute. So I was out there for an hour or so, setting posts and attaching trellises and running string (idea stolen from tinyfarmblog, and I warn you, I have spent hours at this blog, dreamingdreamingdreaming of being a tiny farm farmer) and then setting the plastic over the plots.

They seem happy. And downright steamy. But I have to say, the sweet little projects of the sunny summer days took on a very different meaning in my winter garden. I was not out there because it was fun, but because it had to be done. Probably the closest thing to "real farming" I've ever experienced, actually, because when it's work it's work. Animals need to be fed and chores need to get done, and it doesn't matter if you're sick or the weather sucks.

The dark underbelly of the farming fantasy.
I still want chickens.

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