Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Meaning of a Tree

There's a Japanese proverb (or an American gardener's rendition of a Japanese proverb) that goes something like this: The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

Clouding all my thoughts of this year's garden preparation has been some great uncertainty about where our family will be living.

We need to sell our Brooklyn apartment and find more affordable digs, and we've been thinking hard about the possibility of a Hudson Valley move. We've made five house-hunting expeditions there over the last six weeks, swooning over various combinations of spacious home, ample land, and rustic outbuildings. I've been dreaming hard of having an actual honest-to-goodness miniature farm, complete with barn and donkey. This fantasy has one heart-breaking corollary, though: It would mean selling our mountaintop cabin and leaving the magic of this place behind.

But after many late-night discussions, weighing all sorts of factors too boring and personal to recount here, we're now leaning toward finding a new place in Brooklyn. We've made no real decision yet, except one small one: after two months of uncertainty, I've filled out the order form for an apple tree and some bush cherries from the awesome folks at St. Lawrence Nurseries.

For all that the Hudson Valley calls to me, we've put down roots both in Brooklyn and on our breath-taking mountaintop. So I'm going to go ahead and order that tree.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Itchy Green Thumb

My box of new seeds arrived today in Brooklyn. But of course it's still way too early to start them for transplanting upstate. The rain that was falling here today came down as snow in the Catskills. It's a full three months until the last frost date on our mountaintop, and possibly more than a month until the snow cover melts.

Even in Brooklyn, we're barely seeing the very first signs of spring, like snowdrops or the rounded tips of the daffodils. But I'm so, so ready to make something grow.

Luckily, last fall I built a little south-facing raised bed in our Brooklyn back yard. Most of the growing season, it's heavily shaded by tall maple trees. But I'm hoping I can get just enough weeks of sunlight before the trees leaf in to grow a miniature crop there.

And thus this afternoon I planted three kinds of spinach out there, covering the bed with plastic to make a wee cold frame. The start of the garden year!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Seed Greed

The world is beginning to unfreeze. In Brooklyn, where I spend the winter, we saw the very first daffodil tips peek above the ground yesterday. The three-quarter-mile dirt lane that climbs steeply up to our mountaintop cabin is no doubt still buried in snow; lacking decent snow tires on our car, we haven't dared venture there since November.

But like every other person who loves to see things grow, I've had my nose in the seed catalogs. I have a whole bin of seeds already; some are left from previous seasons, some I harvested last fall. I could grow a wonderful garden with what I have, and I've been trying to be frugal.

But of course I want more: Ooo, check out those purple pole beans. And those yard-long beans -- wow, imagine what they'll look and taste like. And what about trying Hon Tsai Tai? And sorrel? And magenta spreen? I need to try growing that new blight-resistant tomato, and I think I need some fresh lettuce seed. And of course I want a few different types of lettuce, that new speckled summer crisp and the pretty redleaf and that delicious-looking green oak. I hear it's better to buy fresh spinach seed, too -- and look, there's an awesome-looking red spinach and a bolt-resistant green variety to try.

You start out looking at the catalogs thinking how inexpensive seeds are, and you find yourself with a total purchase that makes your jaw drop. It's because it's the dead of winter, and it all sounds so marvelous. You're not buying seeds, really. You're buying dreams.