With Our Own Hands

Our spring in the northwest has been chilly, extraordinarily wet, and gray.  Yesterday was our first day so far this year when our thermometers actually climbed over 70 degrees F.  The farmers in our part of the county were working practically around the clock chopping grass in fields that have been too muddy for machinery to safely navigate, trying to get silage in the silos before the next round of field work is demanded by the calendar.  Huge tractors pulling all manner of equipment were rolling up and down our rural road all day, and heavy trucks carrying loads of grass silage roared by late into the night.  And so the maxim: make hay when the sun shines (or silage when the ground dries enough).

This has not been good gardening weather for anyone.  Truly avid gardeners have been struggling with seed rotting in the ground before it can germinate and seedlings actually coming out of the ground being flooded by heavy rains.  Here on our farm, we’re late getting started, as usual, with too many other things happening in our work and home life to even think about getting the garden in–until yesterday.  Starting a garden the first week in June is not something I recommend to anyone.  It is like bushwhacking to make a bed suitable for the seeds.

Many weeds are not discouraged by cool rainy weather.  Quack grass and dandelions are positively encouraged.  They have been growing very well and going to seed themselves, thank you very much. That meant a garden plot that was a veritable forest to contend with before the soil could be prepared for seeding.  My husband and strong middle son set to work on the jungle on hands and knees, digging into the turf of weeds, loosening the grip the weeds had, pulling them out, shaking off the clinging clumps of dirt from the roots and turning over fresh soil to dry in the sun.  Even so, it was cold and wet to touch, hardly hospitable for seeds, but more delay is no longer an option.   I followed behind him, trenching out a row for the seeds and dropping them one by one into the too cold dirt with a little wish and a prayer that there was still enough time left in the growing season to actually bear a harvest.

I admit there are times my life feels like that neglected garden plot.  If not kept tended, if not exposed to enough warmth and light, if not fertilized with the steaming loam from the compost pile, if not kept clear of the unwanted weeds that take hold and grow no matter what the weather conditions, there can be no harvest of value whatsoever.  I will accomplish nothing than sow more weeds that eventually must be contended with by the next generation.  I leave behind a life unrecognizable as a source of nurture and overrun by weed creep.

Each year I’m determined to do better but I know I’m running out of time and gardening seasons. It isn’t just the resultant sore back and dirty fingernails that serve as reminders of the hard work of tending one’s life like one’s soil.  It is that burst of sweetness that comes from eating the first fresh peas, the sharp tang of a radish straight from the ground, the bowl of greens unsullied by chemicals.  It is the satisfaction of knowing that this we accomplished with our own hands.

This I can do.  And I must.