“As soon as the ground can be worked:” can there be a more exciting phrase found on a seed packet? Can’t you just smell the clean fresh dirt in these words?
“As soon as the ground can be worked:” as soon as the earth below you becomes unfrozen, as soon as her flesh responds with pliancy, as soon as she yields instead of resists, as soon as winter’s cold shoulder melts a little under the tutelage of lengthening days, you can sow some early seeds in the garden.
The sun seduces the earth. Even though it’s thirty degrees in the morning, the sun warms the ground all day long. The ground holds the sun’s warmth, and loses her sheen of frost as summer saunters in, roses in hand. The early seeds like peas and broccoli (and I might try parsley and kale) don’t need high soil temperatures to germinate and don’t mind a little frost or snow. Legend says you should sow your peas on St. Patrick’s Day. I say you should have a good relationship with your soil and wait for her to tell you when she’s ready.
Luck and happenstance played a huge role in laying out my garden when it was new; I didn’t know anything about botany or agriculture. The fencerow along the walkway to the garage seemed sunny so I planted vegetables there. Each year the veggie row grew longer and now spans the whole walk. Every morning and afternoon and evening when I traverse this path to come and go from errands and work, I walk the full length of the veggie garden. I know all of her moods. I know her little hills and valleys, her caches of perennial and self-sowing herbs, her weedy spots where the catnip seeds started, and her rocky spots where nothing grows unless it just wants to. I know where some carrots are still frozen into the ground from last season. I know where corn mache, salad and cilantro overwintered. I know where I let some cherry tomatoes fall in hopes the seeds would sprout this year. I know where I’ve unearthed aggressive perennials too big for this space, where I fought cthulu-like asparagus roots and wheedling invasive raspberry sets to the death.
I walk with the garden every day, and I know her intimately. I came home from work last night, and she said she’s ready. The frost and snow have almost completely melted. Her sunniest spot seems to be giving me that come hither look. The dirt is dark and moist under the mulch of fall’s chopped leaves. But when I searched my seed packets for peas, I found none. How did I forget to save some seeds or buy new peas? Surely I had too many seeds last year and didn’t plant them all? Like a Casanova without a condom, I leave the soil unplundered until tomorrow.
As soon as the ground can be worked
I will come to you, my love.
You will know me by my trowel
By my steel-toed boots
And my stake. I will be gentle.
When you yield, I yield also.
A small trench, no deeper
I will carve into your breast.
There I will hide my seeds
And there you will work your mystery.
The fruit will grow fat in the sun.
Fall’s furrows will leave traces
That once we loved, and once we bore fruit.