I looked out my window yesterday in total disgust. It’s March and there is still 3 feet of snow holding my entire yard hostage, but to my great surprise there it was, a robin sitting on a branch, looking in at me. Ironically, as I watched the bird bracing itself against the Arctic blast, I was planting my garden. Yes, in all the nasty freezing weather that has gripped the northeast, I, like the bird, defied the obvious and decided to plant my garden. “How?”, you might be asking. Well my Yankee ingenuity got the best of me during this extended winter and while eating a roasted chicken one night I got a revelation. I realized I could use the container my chicken came in as a mini greenhouse. It had a clear plastic dome that snaps onto a two-inch high black bottom. It was absolutely perfect to plant seeds in, and best of all it was free!
I cleaned it out, put some moist potting soil in the base and did a trial run with sweet red pepper seeds. Honestly I forgot about them for the next two weeks. Then one day I happened to look down and was shocked to see 12 beautiful pepper plants thriving under that plastic dome. A week later they had grown enough to just touch the lid. So I went to the dollar store and bought 12 plastic pots for a $1.08, drilled holes in them and put coffee filters in the bottom so the soil could drain, and I transplanted my pepper plants. Thus my garden was started with a bang and all for under $1.10. I was a happy camper!
So, yesterday I was sitting in the sun, in my south facing windows, putting in the rest of my seeds. I do this every late winter just to give my mind and senses a spring warm up. The smell of that rich, moist soil and the feel of dirt on my hands is quite therapeutic. For that moment I can close my eyes, enjoy the sun and smell the soil. Almost immediately winter just fades into the distance. It’s a fantastic way to get the frost out of my bones, put peace in my heart and a smile on my face.
Anyway, there I was surrounded in that sunny spot with my empty chicken container planters and dozens of Ziplock baggies of seeds. Some seeds were bought but most were collected and harvested from my own garden. Each is marked with the year and name of it’s precious dried cargo. There are tomato seeds I got from Italy that come from very old strains of purebred plants. These are Genovese Pomodoro, Genovese Cordova and San Marzano tomatoes. All are amazingly hearty and abundantly productive plants. Last summer I had tomato plants 7 feet tall and harvested over a hundred and fifty pounds of big, ribbed juicy tomatoes from 12 plants. I was the gardening superhero of Johnstown, NY and people came from all over to look and ask me questions.
Most of my seeds are now 4th or 5th generation. That is it’s the fourth year I am using the seeds that grew from the original plants I started in 2010. I do this for several reasons. First of all these came from plants that thrived well in my garden soil, and that’s good to know. Secondly, they were hearty and resistant to the local fungus and blights. Next they are still purebred strains, and that is something I insist on. Finally, they cost me nothing since they came from my own garden, and that’s a huge plus in my eyes, because free is good!
I estimate this garden produces about $2500 in fresh vegetables for my wife and I between mid June and early December. I don’t know about you, but that savings is a big boost to our income. I even sell the extra produce on a little stand outside my house. More importantly, we have fresh vegetables at our table during all that time. The harvest includes lettuce, spinach, kale, yellow bush beans, basil and cilantro, sweet red, yellow and banana peppers, tomatoes, beats, swiss chard, butternut and acorn squash, garlic, onions and potatoes. I also have two apple trees, wild rhubarb and blueberry bushes growing in my yard as well and we enjoy all of these as they come in during their season. If you want to eat healthy and save money this is definitely the way to go.
The thing is, I do all this vegetable gardening in a 30 foot long 3 feet wide strip of land. My Adirondack ancestors called this a “straddle garden”. That’s because it’s just wide enough to straddle so that no growing space is lost where people walk. You don’t need a huge plot of land, expensive tools or commercial fertilizer to do this. All you need is a 3 foot strip of land, a shovel, some seeds and a little work. Best of all the fertilizer for my garden comes from the vegetable peels, eggshells, coffee grinds, tea bags and mulched up leaves that are a part of life. I just chop these up and throw them into the garden. Worms and bacteria make all this into the perfect food for what will be growing.
Why do I tell you all this today? It’s because even in the dead of winter, when the snow is piled high and it looks like things will never change, there is always that one robin sitting on a branch to remind me that Spring is coming. When the frost runs deep and the lakes are frozen I am that one nutty gardener who defies everything and plants seeds while others are cranking up the snow blower. The point is, I choose to be different and see life for what it can be rather than what it is.
I am not saying we should deny reality. That would be ignorant, pointless and foolish. What I am saying is anyone can think differently in their reality. We can see beyond what is and look with anticipation to what is yet to come. I decided long ago that I would make a difference, but to do that I also knew I had to be different. I had to be the one planting seed when others were shoveling snow. I had to be that robin out on the limb in the dead of winter, and it has not always been easy.
Most do not understand why I plant when the season is wrong, but I know. In the winter season of delay, struggle and fear I will not give in. I will find a branch to sit on or a sunny window to sit in, and I will defy the obvious. I will look to what is coming and not be blinded by what is already here. Trust me when I say that you will be amazed at the difference it makes .
What about you, will you continue to be a spectator in your own life? Will you be like most people who struggle through the difficult seasons and barely hold on until things get better? Or, will you be like that robin on the branch and the winter gardener? My hope is that you will choose to live your life in such a way that your very presence brings hope, and reminds everyone that good things are going to come. Few may join you out on the limb, but for those who look in your direction you will make a difference!
Now, lets go sing our robin song and plant a few seeds of hope in the winter season of others. No matter what, just keep declaring that Spring must surely come!