Monday, April 28, 2014

Resurrection Miracles


I was curious to see what would survive the harsh winter.

Several greens flourished in the garden, including some kale that is still producing salads. The spinach that slept through in cold frames, often under piles of snow, leaped up toward the sun when we removed their storm window rooftops. Fat asparagus stalks begged to be plucked and roasted, and we complied.

Every day in April I inspected two new apple trees—lifeless sticks when planted last fall—and watched buds swell and leaves fluff out. They may grow branches by summer’s end. The blackberries we thought had died rose triumphant, Christlike, portending summer breakfasts al fresco. The coffee grounds I dumped on the blueberry patch through the winter have now resurrected as flowers that might just turn to fruit. The strawberry plants scattered throughout the flowerbed last fall are blooming too, and the honeyberry and gobi berry sticks that I planted and promptly lost are now beginning their ascent into bushdom.

The rosemary unsurprisingly died, but I replaced it with one I’d kept inside. The sage that died won’t be missed. Very surprisingly, the relentless, invincible English ivy that dominated the northern hillside—keeping the yard from eroding into the street, but also harboring mosquitoes and weeds—croaked. Every hydrangea died to the ground, but now they’re preparing to give it another go.

Here is the biggest miracle: A couple of years ago I
abandoned the red wriggler worms that had been vermicomposting in the basement, because I couldn’t seem to separate them from their castings. To obtain potting soil I found myself sorting out the little fellows worm by worm by tedious worm till there was no daylight left for planting. With muttered apologies I dumped the whole project into our outdoor compost bins, knowing I was sentencing them to Siberian winter, or so the internet told me.

But this spring we discovered our compost bins producing better soil, faster than ever. It was crawling with red wrigglers, who had somehow found the bins warm enough to enjoy chomping and reproducing through the winter. So I rewarded them with a basket of shredded paper—my own journals, highly compostable—and they began picnicking with gusto.

More experiments: growing lettuce, spinach, and arugula in containers that will be shaded as the leaf cover thickens, to see if they will last into the summer, covering them with translucent cloth to keep out squirrels, who love to hide their nuts in there. Starting seedlings in a small porch greenhouse, and finding its air warm, moist, and green. Failed experiment: losing a whole crop of carefully nurtured tomato seedlings when I transplanted them in too-wet soil.

Speaking of squirrels, reading a lovely book  called Seeing Trees, I learned about some
ornery seedlings, so difficult to pull from the ground that they have to be shoveled or pickaxed out. I had no clue what they were, where they came from, or by what wicked magic they appeared. According to the book, these are black walnuts from our neighbor’s tree, planted by a squirrel. There you go.

Here is the difference between inside and outside projects: whatever you set aside inside only gathers dust. But whatever you leave outside works magic. Flowers form. Vines find their pole, even when it is moved. Last year’s bachelor buttons multiply, and the columbine by the wrought-iron bench grows taller and stronger. The soil is at work even when you aren’t. And there’s always more to learn. 

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