Not exactly a combination you would like to have under your fingernails…unless you are me…in May. Yesterday, I finished planting the garden. Even though I am covered by black fly bites that made blood run into my eyes, I am happy. It didn’t matter that I had bug remains smeared on me where I bothered to swat at them. I was focused. I had a garden to plant.
I do have to admit that I was particularly driven because I was two days overdue in getting those plants in the ground due to a frost warning a few nights back. Sorry Dad, I know I broke your rule of having it all in before Memorial Day. There is a small part of me that worries he might be judging me harshly from beyond the grave, in spite of the frost warnings. Not that he didn’t pay attention to such things himself. He watched the weather with an intensity that would awe any meteorologist . If the weather was going to keep him from planting, it was a somber household until the seeds were in the ground. All of the pieces had to fall into place in order to have a successful garden, and he expected Mother Nature to cooperate with his timetable.
During the winter, the seed catalogs were highly anticipated. Once they arrived, my Dad pored over them for weeks. Every variety was scrutinized and compared. This went on until the seed order was finally placed. Then the waiting began. And even more waiting. So much waiting. But eventually the order would appear in the mail and the waiting was accompanied by keen anticipation.
When March arrived, it was time to put those little vegetable seeds in pots so they would have a jump-start when planting time finally rolled around. The garden had to be in before Memorial Day, come hell or high water. Maine’s growing season is short and my Dad wasn’t going to waste a single minute of it. There were no excuses short of a blizzard. And even then, the peas had better be planted.
Peas were special in that they could be planted as early as the soil could be worked. In this neck of the woods, you aren’t a true gardener unless you have peas ready by the 4th of July. But if it snowed after the peas were planted, that was ok, too. After all, a late snow is ‘poor man’s fertilizer.’ My Dad believed in copious amounts of composted cow manure and it made our heavy clay soil friable beyond belief. If Dad thought the plants needed an extra boost. he would make a manure tea. He’d dump a ridiculous amount of composted manure into a 55 gallon drum, add water, and let it steep. Then he would use that as liquid fertilizer. As if that attention to detail wasn’t enough, I swear he charmed the earthworms into working the soil from the bottom up. Earthworms were revered in our garden and carefully protected…unless there was a fishing trip coming up.
Once the garden was in, there were many things to do. The time waiting for harvest was filled with weeding, watering, and fertilizing. He ruled over that plot with a level of stewardship that was unrivaled. He had hard and fast gardening rules, too. One rule was that you could only water at night. The sun glinting through the droplets might damage the leaves. Watering at night had an added bonus in that it kept the frost damage down if there are cold nights at the end of the season. There were many more rules, but that one is a good example of the level of care the plants on that patch of dirt received.
It seemed like forever before the radishes were ready, then tender lettuce leaves arrived, and of course, those yummy peas. As the season rolled along, all manner of vegetables were picked, plucked, and pickled. There was a never-ending supply of tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans. New potatoes, sweet corn and beets followed. Late in the season, the revered Blue Hubbard squash was picked. It was so big, and the skin was so shell-like, that my Dad had to cut it apart with a hatchet.
All too soon, the plants were blackened by frost and pumpkins were picked from withered vines. The dark days of winter passed ever so slowly until the brightly-colored seed catalogs arrived, yet again.