Friday, January 20, 2006

Hints of spring

My senses tell me that we are locked in winter. Precipitation, in all its myriad forms, defines the outdoor experience. Rain, snow, fog, ice, sleet; all keep activities in the garden to a minimum. On some visceral level I want to hibernate, stay in the cave and bank the coals.

But some Earth based traditions recognize the first stirrings of spring and celebrate Imbolc on February 1 or 2nd. Imbolc (i mbolg, ‘in the belly’) reaches back to Celtic traditions and refers to the birthing of lambs. The lengthening days and the return of light are integral parts of this holiday as well. Pagans and Christians alike pay tribute to Brigid. The Christian church celebrates Candlemas. And of course, the secular Punxsutawney Phil bears a weighty responsibility as a predictor of spring.

My personal cues also point to the beginnings of spring. Daffodils are pushing, winter daphne buds are swelling and my greenhouse activities have begun. The lettuce and mâche seeds I planted last week have germinated. The parsley, as expected, has not. It’s said that parsley goes to the devil and back nine times before it sprouts. I expect mine is on trip three. But it will sprout and I suppose that’s what defines spring - the surety that seeds will give over to seedlings.

I am fascinated with this year’s lettuce. Though only cotyledons are visible, the expected color of ‘Maroon’ is already showing. Not surprising from a cultivar that is described variously as ‘intense burgundy’, ‘opulent ruby-red’ and ‘darkest maroon’. If these little seed leaves are showing such color I imagine that the lettuce will live up to its reputation.

Though seed germination is always intriguing, it is especially compelling in this still wintry weather. Any whisper of spring is enough of a harbinger of warmer times ahead. Stirrings ‘in the belly’ of my waterlogged garden belie the continuing rain’s winter chant and I know with a sunny certainty that spring really is just around the cloudy corner.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

New tomato year

After a couple of months of blissful tomato angst I have settled on the 2006 varieties and am ready to finish ordering seeds. Selecting the tomatoes I want to grow each year has always been a source of pleasant winter diversion but the last few years have seen me ratchet up to a tomato obsessive. Haunting the tomato forums at Gardenweb and Dave’s Garden only serves to enable. Oh darn.

Although I haven’t counted, I read that Seed Savers Exchange lists approximately 3000 heirloom tomato varieties. My garden plot allows for 20 plants. Hence the angst. Rudimentary math reveals that, magnificent medical advances notwithstanding, I will surely never live long enough to grow all of these. So I must choose carefully, weighing traits bandied about on the forums: earliness, balance, “real tomato” flavor, but with more than a nod to the pedigree and history, which are part of the allure. Last year’s rousing success with drying and saucing has also influenced my selections. I’ll be trying Principe Borghese, an Italian heirloom reputed to be especially fine for drying, and Speckled Roman and Opalka Federle, varieties considered superior for processing (I have recently read about Opalka's tendency to blossom end rot so am trying another much praised variety). I have spent hours studying catalogs and websites, drafted a list and then faced the challenge of finding the seeds. I am fortunate this year. All varieties are available and hopefully will arrive in time for my mid-February planting target.

For anyone thinking that such a fuss over tomatoes signals a pending full-blown manic episode I can only urge you to grow some heirloom tomatoes. Mania is best when shared and tomatoeheads are always looking for recruits. And given my track record with seedlings I will probably have enough extra plants to share.

So with no further ado I submit Tomatoes 2006


Strata from My Bay Area Garden left a comment to an earlier post, requesting a follow up on last year’s tomato selections. I am happy to oblige.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Whatever degree of winter cabin fever you might be experiencing there really is no better way to laugh in its face than some good garden reading. And some of the best garden reading can be found in the form of garden essays.

Chris Clarke, at Creek Running North, has released his e-book, The Irascible Gardener. This is a fine collection of essays gleaned from over ten years of garden writing and is tonic for the winter weary.

Monday, January 02, 2006

A small New Year's lecture to myself

A wise friend once told me that gardeners play an integral part in helping turn the wheel of seasons. Her faith is touching and, I hope, not misplaced. It has sustained me. If I could move through the occasional ennui, doggedly at times, I would find myself in the tender blessed willow-green spring.

But faith is only as strong as the increasingly stronger tests. We find ourselves sharing this miraculous planet with a visionless but powerful few who seem bent on willfully careening toward a dark abyss of greed and hubris. (A little dramatic, admittedly, but their high visibility sometimes obscures my perspective.)

My duck-booted feet are firmly planted in midwinter. The storms are blowing in from the coast, bringing heavy rains and swelling the creeks and rivers to flood stage. The wheel is turning and always will, regardless of my participation.

So maybe my friend was speaking more of a certain kind of mindfulness. Maybe the gardener’s part is planting to foster an awareness, to honor the earth by being a participant in the cycles, to share the magic, spread the word. To be a proselytizer.

We are inextricably tied to our earth. The bond is not a choice, merely a fact. To celebrate this bond is to share commonality with anyone who has ever planted a seed and anyone who ever will. From the bowl of sky and stars above us to the tiniest cells in the soil and the sea, macrocosm to microcosm, what we share in the earth is stronger than any short-lived machinations of those fueled by a power lust. These come and go; the earth and its wonders are timeless.


The wheel turns.
Happy New Year.