From eastern Canada to northern California, Storey authors are staying busy — and finding resilience — in their early spring gardens.
Gardening has always been a way to stay connected to the seasons. You can mark the passage of time not by counting the hours but by the warming of the soil, the germination of seeds, the emergence of fruit, and the harvest. That much holds true in these pandemic days, even as, for many of us, life feels strange and uncertain. Surely the promise of food security in unpredictable times is some of what’s behind the sudden explosion of seed buying. But as anyone who has gardened before knows, there’s also something vital in realigning ourselves with natural rhythms, in witnessing the garden’s resilience, in having a space where we can be active and productive, and where the rewards we reap feed both our bodies and our spirits. This month, we asked a few of our authors for updates from their own gardens, to sow a little hope with reports of what they’re seeing, doing, planting, and dreaming about at the start of this growing season.
Diane Miessler (Northern California)
Right now gardening is one of the few ways to escape “lockdown,” so I’m out there a lot, often just “visualizing;” to the neighbors this looks like “standing around doing nothing.” My powerhouse of a mind, though, is working hard to figure out how to get those wonderful plants from the seed catalogs into my yard, and how to arrange them. I’ve also done some things that involved actual work — planted broccoli, chard, kale, cauliflower, and peas, chopping a little compost into each planting hole. I keep my soil mulched or “cover-cropped,” so I just scoot aside straw or pull up daikon radishes (the greens are edible and wonderful, as are the radishes, and they break up soil clods like gangbusters) and dig in seedlings. Most important, I marvel: at what seeds know how to do, that birds come back every year, and that fruit trees bust out into bloom just when I need some relief from the darkness.
Diane Miessler is the author of Grow Your Soil!
Edward and Sylvia Smith (Northeast Kingdom of Vermont)
Spinach: This little plant spent the winter in a self-watering container in the greenhouse. It appears ready now to get back to growing. We expect more and more leaves as spring progresses.
Kale: This kale had a rough winter, briefly protected by a row cover which was early on destroyed by deer who also ate most of the kale plant, but not all. What remains appears to be healthy and ready to grow, as long as we keep the deer from getting this plant, too.
Lettuce: What a completely unplanned and delightful surprise! Last fall a single lettuce plant in the greenhouse survived harvest and simply went on growing, produced some seeds and scattered them on the ground. This spring the seeds have sprouted and produced some tiny lettuce plants we expect to be feasting on later this spring.
Edward C. Smith is the author of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible and The Vegetable Gardener’s Containter Bible.
Emma Biggs (Toronto, Ontario)
Since I haven’t had to go to school for the last three weeks, the garden has been getting a lot of attention. I got the straw bales set up on the driveway, which will be the future home of 40 tomato plants, and got the containers on the garage roof ready to grow in. I’m also in the middle of building two more cold frames and a tunnel to grow cucumbers and squash around. I also have about 430 tomato seedlings in my basements, plus lots of pepper, ground cherry, and onion plants, too. I will transplant my tomatoes into bigger pots soon, and get their trellises set up. It’s shaping up to be a great growing season!
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Emma Biggs is the author of Gardening with Emma.
Ellen Zachos (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
Musk mustard (Chorispora tenella) is one of the earliest things to bloom in Santa Fe every spring. Most people might pull it up thinking it’s a weed … but is it? Pretty purple flowers, drought tolerant, low-growing ground cover, tasty flowers and leaves that beautify any salad … I welcome it in my yard. And when it sets seed, I distribute that in the dry gravel where no garden would ever grow. I hope to one day be surrounded by musk mustard.
Ellen Zachos is the author of Backyard Foraging, Down & Dirty!, and The Wildcrafted Cocktail.
Niki Jabbour (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
With our entire province self-isolating this spring, I’ve had plenty of time to putter in the garden as the weather warms up. I don’t think my raised beds have ever been prepped so early! We’re still four to five weeks from our last spring frost date, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start planting. I’ve been pre-warming the soil in my beds and erecting mini hoop tunnels so I can start seeding cool season greens and root crops. Using simple covers like mini hoop tunnels, cold frames, row covers and even my polytunnel means there is never a time I don’t have a variety of vegetables and herbs to harvest from my zone 5 garden.
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Niki Jabbour is the author of Growing Under Cover (Fall 2020), Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, and The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener.
Barbara Pleasant (Floyd, Virginia)
I’m planting peas and potatoes in the garden while taking care of a hundred little seedlings that need warmer weather indoors, under lights. Here in the mountains, springtime can be cold and windy, but the leafy greens under my row-cover tunnel don’t care. At the front end are salad crops and celery, with cabbage, kale, and collards bringing up the rear.