June Reigns

The month of June reigns supreme this year, well for me it does. For dozens of other gardeners who will have wisely put their gardens in April or May, June may just be a wash out, but for me it is THE gardening month. You see, the inconvenient truth is I rather unwisely chose the worst time to go on vacation, the end of May. I dared not put my garden in early (the weeds will have their way in one week’s time in early spring) and now I am faced with day after day of rain but in the end I will, not June, reign supreme and my garden will flourish as it always does.

I think planting a garden to be one of the healthiest things a human can do. Connecting with the earth in this primitive manner is at once peaceful and energizing. Meditative but electrifying (especially when you come across some of Nature’s critters like the ever present wood tick) and the one and only way of really being in charge of what you put in your mouth. If, like me, you believe that food is medicine you will agree that it is like having your own pharmacological laboratory in the backyard but it is neither illegal (not yet anyway the FDA is working on that) nor so far considered dangerous.

In my herb garden I have my medicinal herbs that surprise me in the spring by slowly peeking from the cold earth as if asking permission of Mother Nature to rise and start their season. This year the lemon balm (calming tea) poked one or two of her fuzzy leaves up, saw the sunshine felt the warmth and then suddenly copious other fuzzy leaves appeared. My feverfew (migraine) and rue (headaches from excess) had much the same reaction to our precipitous spring weather. Timidly,at first, they came  through but when they realized it was true, spring had arrived early, they grew like mad reaching for the sun and drinking in the rejuvenation that is born of these nascent days. Even my pansies (used for adding color and nutrition to salads) survived the winter nearly intact and before anything else they were producing anemic but beautiful little flowers that actually proceeded the total degradation of the snow. Couple all of that with my pungent chives, sage,salad burnett and reseeded calendula that magically appeared and you guessed it, I had found my nirvana.

The vegetable garden while my real heart’s desire is a different story. For one thing it must be planted every spring there is no renewal of last year’s crop (not precisely true as some tatsoi, sunflowers and calendula reseeded) and as we started from very poor, depleted soil five summers ago it requires tilling and considerable work before it can be planted. Enter one very indulgent spousal unit who not only tilled it twice but spaded it deep to its very soul and you have soil that is ready to be squared off and planted with any number of vegetables. So far this spring I have tomatoes, peppers, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, peas, corn, green beans, summer squash of two varieties, cucumber, potatoes, spring onions, lettuces, spices and as you can see lots of buckets to collect the ubiquitous rocks that appear after every rain.

I am a novice gardener, so this is all a bit of experimentation but I try very hard to keep it chemical free picking bugs from my plants and dropping them in alcohol (no not to intoxicate, to kill) weeding endlessly (when the rain stops) and taking the good (copious squash) with the bad (some tomato blossom end rot) and just being grateful for the bite of fresh vegetables that we are gifted with. There is no denying that it is easier to go to the store and buy week old produce of unknown origins that has been treated with various FDA approved “organic”  liquids that sometimes turn out to include human feces but I guarantee the taste and pleasure of growing your own is beyond compare.

As a gardener taking her first baby steps I need a lot of  advice from the experts among us, so I turn to the old time gardeners who love to share their glorious garden days stories. I also turn to a more inanimate object that still speaks volumes, my Ortho’s Complete Guide to Vegetables . It is not only useful for planting and harvesting advice but there are some great recipes hidden within its bindings like Classic Pesto Sauce and Kohlrabi in Cream (absolutely divine with fresh out of the garden kohlrabi) suggestions for using trellises, growing tall plants like sunflowers, container gardening and even suggestions for raised gardening. It is available at Amazon and I would buy the used edition as the new ones are ridiculously pricey. Also check out Half Price Books and other bastions of cheap used or no longer published books.

I think the most fun I have had with gardening is collecting the previous year’s seeds from heirloom plants, (this year I am even growing some saved by Chef Keith Snow from his pepper plants of last year. He offered to share them on Twitter, I accepted) and then keeping them safe until it is the nadir of winter. Approximately 60 days before they can go outside in Minnesota and other northern states, you can fill a tray full of fresh rich loam, place your collected seeds in neat and tidy little rows, sprinkle them with the elixir called water and cover with plastic. If you have a warm room, we do not as we keep our house cool, put the tray in there. If not, buying a warming mat and grow light is worth the investment. You place the tray above the warming mat, covered with a dome or plastic and soon you will feel like the conjurer you have become. Tiny sprouts will appear through this brown, unimpressive but life giving mass as if by magical means. At this point you must let them breathe, so uncover these tiny signs of future food. Within days the “true leaves” will appear and within weeks you will see signs of the real plant gaining right before your very eyes. When the weather warrants these “I Dream of Jeannie” plants can be placed in the prepared garden and will please you by bearing the fruits of your labor later in the year.

I will make you one promise, you can garden no matter your circumstance. If you have room for a pot you can grow vegetables and herbs. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and even potatoes will grow successfully from pots, a box or even a bag. I was reminded of the grow bag idea earlier this spring when I noticed two bags of soil outside the garage of a friend of mine. If you have limited space but want to grow squash and other vining vege try the bags. One can buy bags of soil at the garden center, split the top open, put drainage holes in the bottom, place seeds in the soil, water regularly and “voila!” you will have vegetables growing from your bag before you know it. Try it, it works and you don’t need acres to do it you might only need a front entrance or a back door and the magic of  growing your own vegetables will be yours.

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