Not once since I embarked on my vegetable-growing career decades ago–not in Alabama, North Carolina, or Maryland–have I worked in the garden in January. But yesterday, in Vermont, I did.
Every year, in March, I go out and plant spinach in the snow, which guarantees me an early crop of greens that snatch us back from the brink of beriberi. As I pick the delicious but none-too-abundant leaves, I promise myself that this time I will not neglect to put compost on the spinach beds at the end of gardening season. And every fall, sick of garden tasks, curled up by the stove, reading a book, I tell myself that it\’s o.k. to have early spinach that is less than lush, as long as I have some spinach. By the end of November the ground freezes solid, the gate into the chicken yard where I store the compost freezes shut, and the whole question of fertilizing garden beds becomes moot.
Yesterday, however, out of nowhere, the sun came out; the temperature rose into the 40s; and the knee-deep snow melted down to a mushy couple of inches. In some places I could actually see the compost that, having filled the two bins to overflowing, I had dumped on a corner of the chicken yard. I tried the gate and, sure enough, I was able to work it open.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I seized it.
I got a shovel and a big tub (the gate wouldn\’t open wide enough for the wheelbarrow), filled it with compost, carried it to the garden and dumped it into the first spinach-destined bed, then filled it again and dumped it into the second bed. I gave a few desultory digs with the shovel to see if I could work the stuff into the soil, but couldn\’t make a dent–the soil was still frozen hard. Come spinach-planting time in March, the little seeds will have to find their own way through layers of snow and compost to a bit of dirt to burrow into.
I spread the compost as best I could, then put away the shovel and the tub, and bid them adieu until spring. As I did so, a cloud obscured the sun, a cold wind picked up, and the chickadees, who had been chirping while I worked, fell silent.
This morning the gate to the chicken yard is frozen shut, the compost is covered in ice crystals, and we\’re in the depths of winter once again.