Start Preparing For Spring, In The Cold, Dull Days Of Winter
The dead of winter comes alive
A few years ago the winter where I live had been particularly nasty. It was cold and rainy, and the sunny days had been few and far between. There hadn't even been any snow to play in.
Being stuck indoors with each other constantly, we all began to snipe at one another, and generally made each other even more miserable than we were already. I didn't think things would get any better until spring, and I despaired of spring ever coming. Then the seed catalogs started arriving in the mail. Every winter I receive dozens of seed catalogs, even though I can't seem to remember ever asking for any of them. After all, I had never had a garden. I didn't even have any houseplants, at least not living ones.
That year, after deciding I didn't have anything better to do except bite my husband's head off, instead of throwing the catalogs away as I usually did, I looked at them. As I thumbed through all of the glossy pages with the lovely color photographs of flowers, ivies, vegetables, shrubs, and fruit trees, an amazing thing happened. I began to feel lighthearted and excited. Like an oasis in the desert, I had discovered spring in a book.
The next two weeks were happily spent daydreaming of all the green things I could grow, and I began to make grand plans. I saved soda pop bottles, cut them in half, and drilled small holes in the bottom to make flower pots. Seed packets were brought home by the dozens. I believe I must have gotten one pack of every type of seed the store offered. I bought seed starter mix, potting soil, compost and (shudder) manure. I spent time comparing ratios on various fertilizers, and got all of them when I realized I had no idea what the difference was. Gardening for Dummies and Better Homes and Gardens became my weekend bibles. Soon, every available bit of window space in my home was crammed full of little cola-bottle pots in which seeds of all varieties were lovingly nestled.
I watered, fed and rotated my seedlings for the rest of the winter, but I knew the day was approaching soon when I would need to move my little hopes outside. That meant an actual garden needed to be dug and the soil worked and prepared before any plant was put into the ground. With my husband and son helping, we carefully marked off a full half an acre of our backyard. My husband insisted that this would be too big, because I was going to have to hand dig the garden with a shovel and a hoe, but my dream garden was just so, and I was determined to have it. I began to dig. And dig. And dig. I didn't finish digging until all the blisters had turned to calluses, I had the best tan I had ever had, and I was beginning to look like an amateur bodybuilder. Finally planting day had come.
We worked the rich soil into rows of mounds, and planted all weekend. We planted eight rows of corn, four rows of tomatoes (14 varieties, including romas, yellow and cherry tomatoes), two rows of okra (both green and purple), three rows of peppers (hot and mild), four rows of blackeyed peas (fresh is so much better than dry), four rows of green beans, four rows of beans and peas for drying, two rows of eggplants (way too many plants, I found out later. One would have been enough), four rows of summer squash, plus cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons, edible flowers, herbs, acorn squash, kohlrabi and sunflowers.
We even had a section to grow our own salad bar, with romaine, leaf lettuce, spinach, iceburg lettuce, cabbage, watercress and other salad greens. All spring and into summer I got up an hour early to hand water our garden, and then it began to pay off. Delicious, tender summer squash began to pop out daily, almost faster than we could pick them, we had basket upon basket of tomatoes. Beans were drying on screens all over the yard, and I had giddy, uncontrollable urges to dance around everywhere singing Alabama's "High Cotton".
A healthy supply
I can't think of anything else in the world like being able to cook almost anything you want, and getting all of the ingredients out of your own garden. It brought joy to more than just my family, too. The neighborhood children had a great time picking their own snacks of cucumbers, yellow tomatoes and watermelons, and we helped provide food for more than one family that year.
Not only that, but I canned my own spaghetti and tomato sauces and soup mixes, and put everything I could in the deep freezer.
I'm ashamed to say my pride led me to give away more canned tomatoes, pickles and banana pepper rings than good-naturedness did. We didn't have to buy anything but meat and staple foods for more than a year after the last vegetable had been harvested, and our house had been the only one on the block with 24 Jack-O-Lanterns at Halloween. (It nearly blinded a few trick-or-treaters.)
I have grown a garden every year since then, but never quite as large. I've pretty much stuck to my small herb garden. But I'll tell you a secret: the seed catalogs arrived in the mail again today, and sitting in this drafty house right now while the wind whistles outside, the thought of rich black dirt sifting through my fingers while the sun warms my shoulders sounds tantalizingly delightful.