Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh, Cold-Hearted Season

Nature is having a prolonged “April Fool” on us - the last weeks have seen snow, hail and frost, as well as bright sun that warms up into the 80’s before plummeting again. Temperatures are doing Robin William imitations, changing with quicksilver swiftness and me racing around like a new mother after an un-diapered toddler, trying to get hot caps on/off/on my veggies. I’m using every plastic and glass container in the house, all the tarps, a leftover For Sale lawn sign bent double over a new rose, all the bubble wrap from Xmas and Easter gifts, and even old tablecloths. And this is where my ambitious garden design comes back to bite me: the circular beds do not easily lend themselves to draping, so the garden looks even more like a war zone, with body-sized mounds of tarps everywhere.

This is no job for the unfocused -- as I discovered, all it takes is one forgetful moment, one instance of leaving the cold-frame open, the hose un-drained, the faucet uncapped -- and something new is on the casualty list. Small comfort that the frost made pretty patterns on everything -- rocks, windows, and my tender plants. I took photos that I sent to my friends, with the note, “Morgue photos - plants in cold storage now”… one of the saddest to me seemed to be the dandelion crushed beneath my bootprint.

After watching a hail-and-snow storm mid-April and knowing that nothing I’d done was gonna help the inch-high seedlings survive being packed in ice pellets like fish fillets, I understood a bit more the true miracle of being able to heedlessly run to the store and pick up a bit of fresh lettuce. At this rate, I will have paid about $20 for each head of lettuce I harvest, not counting the slave labor wages and overtime I’m (not) paying myself. I think the perfect cure for America’s obesity problem is that you can only eat what you grow. I’d love to watch the nation’s teens out back frantically trying to grow the components of a Snickers bar.

Amazingly, nothing actually looks dead, now that the snow has finally (knock wood) gone. And the seedlings are growing rapidly - unless I’m looking at the weeds. Unfortunately, Oregon has exceptionally hardy slugs; I saw them inching along the snow with their Columbia Sportswear parkas and tiny Lands End galoshes, determined to dig out the broccoli sprouts with their Kinsman shovels. Really resourceful, they are. And now that it’s green again, they have come to feast like third cousins at Thanksgiving. Every couple of days I put out new sunflower seedlings that are devoured whole by the following morning. This has gone on for so long because my middle-aged memory hadn’t caught up - I’d look at the bare ground and think, “I swear I planted something there; I guess not.” and plant more, while the slug chuckled from behind their rocks. I’ve finally caught on, and the sunflowers are under mayo jars until they get too big to be the appetizer. I don’t feel quite so angry, since the seedlings were given to me by the birds -- they had buried their stashes of sunflower seeds in the garden - sprouts everywhere, to be transplanted. So I guess I’m like the trucker who’s delivering the fresh greens to the slugs’ front doors.

Even the crushed dandelion has sprung up again; those golden-haired blossoms have developed an immunity to being stomped on that reminds me of Hilary Clinton. Would that I could spring back after such relentless abasement. Yes, everything seems to be recovering from the artic blast, their growth simply delayed a few weeks due to chill. The problem is, they are now going to be impinging on those tropical veggies and annuals that are due to show up in May; we’re gonna have a crowd like at the Pope’s Yankee stadium mass, everyone elbowing for more room to show off their special outfit. And the Master Gardner - me - still needing a vacation from the frantic snow-zercise, now looking at double-time response to all things greening.

Hold on. Just read the weather report - another Polar Express is heading our way. Better tell the slugs to get their galoshes out of storage.

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