We got five inches of snow on Friday, and the forecast said that the next day the temperature would go up into the fifties., so early Saturday, before the snow melted, I was out in the vegetable garden, wearing knee-high rubber boots and carrying seeds, my trusty planting chopstick, and the planting frame. The latter is a kind of grid made of bamboo that divides my 4\’x4\’ raised beds into sixteen one-foot squares. I garden by the square-foot method (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_foot_gardening), which was popularized by Mel Bartholomew, a former engineer whose obsessive-compulsive approach to growing vegetables I have cheerfully adopted.
The sun was out for the first time in about a year. Bisou and Wolfie ran around while I worked, carrying half frozen sticks in their mouths. With my chopstick, I dug a hole in the snow, dropped in a little horned spinach seed, then dug another hole and dropped another seed. Nine seeds per square, sixteen squares per bed times three beds should yield 432 plants, or about three cups of cooked spinach.
It took quite a while to dig 432 holes and drop in 432 seeds. I noticed that my feet in their rubber boots were getting cold, the snow between the raised beds being ankle-deep. But at the same time the sun on my shoulders felt almost hot. There was a timid twittering in one of the bare trees that could practically count as bird song.
While I worked I figured out why I love the first spring garden tasks so much. It\’s not just because it\’s the start of a new gardening season, all rosy hopes and crazy dreams, or because it feels great to work outdoors again. It is because, in the very early spring, I can go out on a sunny morning and face just one single task. Plant the spinach. Or, prune the trees. That\’s it. The world is still largely dormant and there\’s nothing else I could do even if I wanted to. There is not a dandelion in sight to pull, not a sign of the the soon-to-be ubiquitous ground ivy. So I have the luxury of doing a job in the sweet sunshine and then go inside and read a book, secure in the knowledge that I accomplished what I set out to do.
In another month or so, this will no longer be possible. The minute the ground thaws, gardening becomes a perpetual compromise between what one should do and what one is able to do. On a given day in May, I may have put in the kale and the chard and the lettuce, watered and blessed them and wished them well. But the need to weed and mulch the flower beds, prune the lilacs and weed whack the front walk will haunt me in my sleep.
So please, spring, take your time. Let this leisurely first movement stretch out a while, moderato cantabile, as the maple sap rises and the ramps push their way up from under the leaf mold in the woods. Don\’t be so eager to bust out all over. Give me time to gather my strength and gird my loins for the allegro con fuoco that will be here, willy nilly, before we know it.