Don’t crowd me, baby

carrots in groundI’m a fickle, fair-weather gardener.  I love my garden like no other in the spring.  Absence makes my heart grow fonder, and around February I start to daydream about seeds, and draw diagrams, and prepare seed flats.  It’s fun to plan for my summer crops from the warmth of my couch. 

In March I reluctantly rake the muddy soil, and heave around bags of steer manure to nourish my beloved before rushing back inside again to warm my cold hands.  “Sorry, Garden.  You understand.  I’d love to spend more time with you, but…” 

When April rolls around and the sun begins to make it’s timid appearance, I set out lettuce and spinach and kale seedlings, and fuss over the temperature and humidity, and cross my fingers that my dear fragile darlings will not be hit with an untimely frost. 

My passionate devotion grows when I can finally set tomato plants into the ground in May.  I prepare the soil for them as if I’m making a bed for a cherished guest whose visits are never long enough, and for whom nothing is too much trouble. 

We get along great in June, my garden and I.  I come for frequent visits, and am rewarded with lettuce, and greens, and maybe a few carrot thinnings for my trouble. 

Around mid-summer though, my attention starts to wander.  “Garden,” I whine, “I have other friends too, you know.  Yes, I know you want weeding, but must it all be about you?  I’m HOT!”  I go out and drink Margaritas on a restaurant patio somewhere and come home late.  But my garden is inexorable.  We make up, and I come away with baskets full of green beans and zucchini, and I remember what made me fall in love  in the first place when the tomatoes come on.  I simply can’t get enough of their scent.  I tie the vines lovingly to their trellis, and gaze fondly upon their rosy red loveliness, and croon over my precious…  

By fall, I’ve really had enough.  Sure, there are still tomatoes on the vines, but they are pale imitations of their mid-summer predecessors.  And yes, I’ve got carrots and onions and kale still out there, loyally waiting to see me through the winter.  But I need a little space, just a little break you understand… and it’s raining, and the slugs are everywhere. 

But this year things are going to be different between us.  I’ve made a commitment.  I’m going to be more nurturing, invest in the health of my patch of earth.  I’m not just a taker in this relationship, I’m a giver. 

I planted a winter crop of fava beans, aka green manure, to enrich the soil.  Then I went halfsies with my urban-farmer friend Tobin on a five-pound bag of Fall Mix Cover Crop Seeds. 

When he handed over my share of the loot in a gallon Ziploc, it looked like nothing so much as a big bag of pilaf mix.  A pilaf made of Austrian Field Peas, Crimson Clover, Hairy Vetch, Annual and Winter Rye, and advertised to “help control weeds and erosion while adding valuable nitrogen and organic matter”.  So that meant that I had to get out there and clear the ground, and broadcast my seeds, even though I’d really rather be inside eating pilaf or, well…doing pretty much anything else. 

Now my cover crop is already sprouting, like a whiskery green 5 o’clock shadow covering the damp ground.  So this winter, my garden need not feel neglected, tucked under it’s cozy covers until spring comes, when I’ll turn all of this greenery under to enrich the earth, and we’ll pick up where we left off.

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