O put out day! Callooh! Callay!
I don’t know about you guys, but while I’ve been getting my apocalypse on this spring, I’ve
just about *coughs* more than doubled the size of our garden from last year. Not that I’ll be able to keep it alive, since I stink at this stuff, but I’m gonna give it a go. And here we are, finally, on June first! Into the garden they go!
I know that’s a pretty late put out day for most of the world, but things run a bit chilly up here in Alaska. And although I could probably slip things out a few days early without much risk (more and more each year, it seems, hmmm), June first is traditionally the earliest date by which you will reliably be past the danger of frost.
So although I’ve been putting in my plants like a madwoman over these last couple days, I’ve actually been prepping for this day for the past ten weeks. Put out day is certainly not the beginning of the gardening process (nor is it the end).
Garden work starts for me with the planning stage. I figure out how much garden space I have and how much of it I want to use. I try to gauge how much time I’ll have to devote to the garden, and I have some serious soul searching about how much chard we will actually eat. Then I pull out my garden journal, go over where various plants have lived over the previous summers, and decide approximately where I want them to go this year.
Once I have a plan, I start to gather my seeds. Inevitably, I pick up seeds for plants that weren’t on my list. I’m not sorry. I take all the seeds I plan to use this year and write down when they need to be started- whether that’s eight weeks out or four or direct seed. I make myself a little chart where I date each week back from June 1st, so that I know when to start each one. At this point, I also start gathering my starter pots and clear off the plant rack with the grow lights that kind of turns into a giant open-faced junk drawer over the winter.
Then I start planting. Pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers, and sweet onions need to be started eight to ten weeks early. I fill pots with soil and worm compost and plant those seeds first. I water them and check on them regularly. A few weeks later, I start the next batch of seeds, and then more after. I stagger them so that I don’t start the lettuces or snap peas too soon, lest they run out of leg room while the ground is still frozen.
Eventually, I run out of room on the plant rack. The tomatoes get too tall. I started too many beets. There isn’t anywhere left for the nasturtiums. The zucchinis need bigger pots. That’s when I shove the couches out of the way and everything gets moved to the sunniest corner of the house, where I set up the card table and take over the top of my husband’s Magic: The Gathering cabinet. If there isn’t enough room there, a few things can stay under on the rack, but the lights are turned off. The mint and green onions are left to fend for themselves in the shade.
By now, the sun is up more than it’s not. The sap season is over. The bees are venturing outside their hive more and more. The snow is nearly gone. I shovel the last of it off the garden and put down cardboard to catch the falling catkins and starve the dormant weeds of sunlight before they can get a foothold they will never again relinquish. I rearrange the garden plan, putting the squashes and tomatoes with their orange and yellow blossoms directly across the strawberry patch from the beehive. They should all get along nicely.
I gather the last of the seeds, the things that will go directly in the garden- the carrots, the radishes, the potatoes, as well as extra lettuce and other leafy greens for second harvests. I get horse manure and aged chicken droppings and fresh ash from the birch and spruce trees we cut down and roasted marshmallows and sausages over. I find I don’t have enough compost from the last year, so I have to buy some, which feels wrong. I amend the soil with all this rot and poop and refuse, and it makes my soil dark and rich. I water it and put the cardboard back on top.
The days are warm now, in the fifties and sometimes higher, and the snow is all gone. I start putting the plants out during the day, when the sun is high and hot, and then bring them back in at night when the temperature drops to the thirties, and then to the forties. I water them in the mornings, or at least as soon as I remember. The tomatoes are already blossoming, so I put them up by the beehive.
Things are almost ready.
Working together, my family tills and weeds each row, pulling out the spreading rose roots, shaking the dirt from the pulled grass. We cut down high bush cranberry and birch saplings and willow shoots. We clear a new row. We put in a raised bed for the kids. We plant the apple trees. Everything is coming together.
The seedlings are overflowing their pots, their roots starting to peek out the drainage holes in the bottoms of their cups. I worry I started some of them too soon. (Sorry, lettuce, I tried.) They stay outside from the time I get up to the time I go to bed. I chase the chickens away when they get too curious; they go eat grass and dandelion shoots instead.
I put in the direct seeds and pull out the janky old sprinkler, cursing it when it gets stuck watering the edge of my driveway every two minutes. I worry over the apple trees. I fuss over whether I put down too much dung. I Google how much ash I should have added. I transfer the hardier plants into the ground- the peas and the overgrown lettuce.
Finally, it’s today! The rest of the plants go in, and more second harvests are started as well. The sun burns hot overhead, and then dark thunderclouds roll in and everything gets cool and windy. I worry for the leafy, swaying tomato plants and retreat inside, scratching at my collection of mosquito bites. I watch, craning my neck at the window, as the rain begins to fall.
It is a perfect put out day.
There will be more work tomorrow, and more the day after, for all the long, bright weeks of summer, until I bring in the last of the potatoes and pumpkins and beets and carrots. I’m a terrible gardener, but I love it. Maybe some day that love and continued effort will transform into skill and calories, like some alchemic magic.
Writing is like this too. At first, that story seems so beautifully impossible, like a perfect dream that I don’t know how to bring about. But it isn’t brought into the world all at once. It happens with a single seed pressed into three teaspoons of soil, repeated over and over again. It happens when what starts out looking like a brown lump of bird poop ends up being the fuel for some other stroke of brilliance. It happens days, and then weeks, and then months at a time. It happens failure after failure after failure, and then a breakthrough. It happens with tearing down and ripping up, and throwing in the compost heap and rotting away and trying again. It happens with one glorious bloom, and then another, and another.
Worthwhile things take time. Worthwhile things take work. Worthwhile things take soul. When writing gets tough—when you’ve lost your chard in all the weeds and the chickens scratched up the bed and ate all your radish seeds and your black currant fails to blossom and what the heck happened to the rhubarb bushes—keep at it. Everything is still so crazy right now, but keep at it. Prioritize the things that feed you, whatever they may be.
Until next week, happy writing!