We have a grade school tradition in America to write an essay at the beginning of the school year about what we learned and gained during summer vacation. It’s part of the relentless Puritan work ethic of capitalist culture to remind you to always be working, always be proving something to someone, and never relax, reflect, or regenerate. I’m against this mad drive over the edge of sane living into compulsive production and consumption. I’m more about imitating nature with its seasons and cycles.
Unless the season won’t ever freaking end! Really, it’s March twenty-fourth, I planned months ago to start my cool season seeds one week from today, and the temperature is thirty degrees: below freezing. I need some ultra-italics to emphasize to you how wrong this is: below freezing. I might even go all-caps crazy soon. BELOW FREEZING. WRONG.
Last year on March twentieth I was clearing away brush and getting splattered with mud. Where is the sun? Where is the melting? Where is the mud? I know this happened last year because I checked my archives! The crocuses were blooming! The asparagus was growing! I was out in my yard! Gah!
The sun declines to show his handsome face; but I can smell and taste him in the tomato sauces thawed from the freezer. Lesson number one from last summer: you can never, ever, ever, seriously, like never have too many tomatoes. Even green tomatoes. Tomato sauces feature ubiquitously in the best cuisines, and green tomatoes roast up in salsa or chutney as sweet as red. I haven’t even learned to can because my husband has a huge freezer wherein I can store a winter’s worth of sweet red roasted pleasure. Dump it on pasta, and dinner is made.
Lesson number two: you can certainly, sadly, have too many beets. Somehow I didn’t realize that my husband doesn’t eat beets until about a month ago. I ate many roasted beets, gave away lovely aged beets smelling of iron and rich soil to appreciative friends, and pickled a massive jar of beets before the season ended. Then I realized my husband doesn’t eat Greek salad, doesn’t like beets, and watched the big beet jar remain quite full. Making different dishes for different family members seems over the top domestic for a woman working fifty hours a week, so the beets remain. This week I plan to pre-make Greek salads for my work lunch while hubby feasts on Cajun leftovers from a big pot of red beans and rice. This year, I’ll plant half as many beets.
Lesson number three comes from beets & chard: if you think your seeds aren’t sprouting, practice patience. If you plant another row or two of chard, you will wind up with beet greens plus one row of chard plus two rows of chard plus three rows of chard equals too many greens for one small family when all the seeds sprout. I could have grown another tomato in all the space I wasted on starting more chard last year.
Lesson number four: harvest salad greens young. If you wait for the tomatoes to catch up, your lettuce goes to seed and tastes like latex gloves. Just harvest those leaves when they’re ready and give up “planning” your menu.
Lesson number five: “planning” a menu is a lovely fantasy for grocery store addicted conformists. Give it up. You’re homesteading, dammit, and you will eat what the good earth provides. Seriously, I want to try going one week next year eating only food from my yard. I think I could do it, maybe in June or July. I would of course cheat by drinking coffee (duh!) and using cooking oils and salad dressings…and cheese…okay, my yard diet is really starting to sound like a pipe dream. But it’s a cool idea, don’t you think? Maybe I’ll do a moderate version of it one week when I’m on vacation and can get light-headed from lack of protein without any dire consequences. Boy do I know how to par-tay!
Lesson number six: Enjoy every moment of summer, every sweltering exhausting second of sun and warmth. Soak it up like the girl in the Ray Bradbury story All Summer In A Day. All of this may end any moment. Monsanto might outlaw gardening. North Korea might drop a bomb. The sun might be obscured by the clouds of climate changing catastrophe. Or, more realistically, you might just start getting old and have trouble bending over (hmm, raised beds?). That story just breaks my heart, and I’m beginning to feel like the poor little girl who will literally die if she can’t get out in the sun very very soon.