hope and promise

I’ve heard that astrologically, this past February will prove an easily forgotten month. February is like that anyway: tucked in, deceptively short, unpredictable in its weather. When I lived in Santa Fe, February was the month the sun would get warm again, and we’d sit outside for an hour or two in the mid-morning, stripping off sweaters and bathing in the warmth that left in November. But here in New England, we are all yellow in February. There is no sun. No light. I fill my shopping cart with unripe cantaloupes and bruised papayas and bunches and bunches of parsley because I need something living.

So this is why everyone goes somewhere warm in February. Next year, next year.

We make small talk about whether there will be one more big storm. We congratulate ourselves on making it through, and when the temperature gets to about 35 degrees, the birds begin to chirp and we pause, listening, breathing in, hoping for smell of mud. Not yet. Not yet.

Happy March. Happy March!

Can we talk about this expanse of dirt outside my window? I haven’t ordered a single seed, as I have so many left from last year’s neglected garden plan. But I finally cracked the Fedco catalog this morning when I realized that if I didn’t order, there would be no potatoes. And so today, even though I still haven’t placed my order, the poetry of the seed catalog is stuck in my head.  Red thumb. Satina. Elba, desiree, red pontiac.

Strawberry Paw.

Yesterday, after school. Sadie walks into the house, throws her lunchbox on the counter and says, “Mom? I’m sorry, I just have to ride my bike.” (Sadie is a big apologizer, but usually it means something more like “There is no way to change my mind.”) As if I’d argue! So I tromp over the muddy bank of snow in front of the shed and unravel her bike from the others. We bang the spiders out of her helmet and off she goes. She came in when it was dark and said her sneakers felt so weird, so light, in comparison to the boots she’s been wearing for months.

“Spring is my favorite season.”

Will you tell me stories of green? You Californians, who I know feel the seasons in your own subtler ways? Or you in cold places who have already planned and mapped every shoot that will come and every fruit you’ll harvest? Tell me what you’re growing. I want to hear what’s already planted, waiting to sprout.

These beds outside my window don’t look like much now with their rotten kale from last fall and sharp Jerusalem artichoke stalks, but they are full of promise and opportunity. This will be the year I put the fence up. This will be the year the tomatoes are not devoured by deer or blight or anything other than my kitchen. This will be the year, this will be the year, this will be the year.

And if nothing grows, I’ll still go out there after dinner when the light hangs in that way it does only in the summer. Joey will call me in when it’s time to sing to the girls and I’ll push open the door with dirty hands, stopping at the kitchen sink to scrub before I kiss their sandy heads goodnight. Then we’ll sit on the porch and have a beer, and the garden will smell watered.

Soon, soon.


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55 Responses to hope and promise

  1. Lanette says:

    My heart is forever back home in MA, where someday we will return after hubby hits 20 years of service to Uncle Sam and his Navy. For now, we are in Hampton Roads, tucked barely into zone 8, admiring the daffodils that are popping up. I have already sown the first of the lettuce and peas and carrots, and even the sprouted potatoes that were too far gone to cook up. As I type, hubby is in the garage putting the finishing touches on our chicken coop. We hope to get hens shortly, and they will be put to work in the compost pile. There is mud everywhere and our clay soils are saturated. Tonight’s driving rain isn’t helping. But it could be the snow that New England is getting. For now, I schedule future plantings and hope it’ll soon be warm enough to do the spring inspections of our beehives. I eagerly wait for the first peach blossom, which will be open any day now. Strawberry season is a month away. I was born and raised a Masshole and wear the title proudly. But for now, Virginia weather is a homesteader’s delight!

  2. Louise says:

    We strung up crepe paper flower garlands (left over from last year’s spring birthday party) yesterday, in hopes of making it look more springlike in here. It helps! As did the glorious sunshine that broke through the clouds yesterday and reminded us that YES, spring is coming.

    Even sick, my girls asked to get out their trikes today, so I did, and marveled at how the little one is ready to move up to the big trike, and the big one is ready to move to a two-wheeler.

    So turn the seasons. Welcome, spring and growth.

  3. Jill says:

    I am norther than you. I cannot see the earth, only snow in huge heaping piles, and compacted treacherous icy tracks. It is snowing now and will through Friday. Hibernation seems a valid career choice.

  4. Kathryn says:

    Here in NC we have daffodils blooming, and one of my favorites, “breath of spring” which has the most wonderfully fragrant little flowers. It always blooms first. I saw a nice fat robin this morning, hopping about in the front yard. The Canadian geese seem to be pairing off a little.
    I bought some seeds over the weekend but have not planted yet…sugar snap peas, broccoli rabe, mixed baby greens for salad and some burgundy okra. Got to mulch more effectively this year. I am making a new bed for a cutting garden, and plan on cosmos, sunflowers, California poppy and zinnias.

    • alana says:

      My cutting garden was the most successful thing in my garden last year, and I’m tempted to expand it. I know (mostly) it’s not food, but so satisfying!

  5. Anna says:

    Here in New Jersey, the daffodils are emerging and the cold frames still hold a good selection of lettuces, kales, pac choi, mustard greens and claytonia that we did not finish harvesting. The bunny living in our wood pile is chewing on my blueberry bushes and the new beehives made it through the winter — really a miracle since we have no idea what we’re doing. Have read that by February, the Queens are already laying eggs. It’s all I can do not to open the boxes and congratulate them.

    But, the real activity is in the basement where the seedlings are coming along nicely in what my nephew calls “Aunt Anna’s meth lab,” a series of grow lights under which are growing pansies, parsley, red and white onions, thyme, lavender, sage, spring broccoli and cauliflower. And on the heating mat, still waiting to emerge, a bunch of celery and celeriac. I began planting in early February…and this weekend am going to sow some kales, collards and lettuces. As soon as the soil thaws in my raised beds in go the peas! Oh, and the garlic has already popped up.

    This place is positively humming. Spring is a lovesong to life.

  6. Jenn says:

    I’m in California, where it’s too expensive to buy property for planting, yet my CSA is starting up again next week. I think I’m ready for it, although it’s always so time consuming to cook everything up when my husband won’t touch most of it and there’s no kids to help.

    Lots of greens seem to be coming in–spigariello, mustard, broccoli di cicco, mizuna and wild arugula, along with red onions, potatoes, baby carrots, and turnips! So much fun!

  7. Marcie says:

    Here is Southern California I was able to visit a local lemon orchard and packing house on a field trip with my 3rd grader yesterday. The smell of lemon blossoms was so yummy as we walked through the slightly muddy rows between the trees. After watching the lemons go into boxes in the packing house, we were allowed to pick from the test citrus garden so we all had tangerine juice dripping from our fingers and chins as we walked back to the school bus. Yum!

    • alana says:

      There are very few smells as delicious as lemon trees! I actually have a little lemon tree in my kitchen that Joey bought me for my birthday, and every so often it releases the most amazing smell. We all just stop and inhale.

  8. Penelope says:

    From our heatwave in Melbourne, Australia, I can report on being overwhelmed with all manner of heirloom tomatoes, although the zucchini and cucumber have lagged this year like I’ve never seen before. Our conversion to canteloupe has come at last after we grew some Charentais in a big pot; we’ve only had four fruit eventuate but how glorious they are (this after a life-long aversion by both of us). Sadly I’ve been so overwhelmed with work and parenting a toddler that I haven’t had as much time for the garden as I’d hoped, and I’m still yet to plant seeds for our winter greens, which will need to be strong enough to fend for themselves while we’re in the States in April and May. Brussels sprouts from seed may have to be a pipe dream yet again this year.

  9. Lisa M. says:

    We had a little snow yesterday–we always seem to get the outer fringes of whatever storm is passing by, but atleast it was enough to close schools (yeah, school teacher here!). I’m in Vinton, VA which is beside Roanoke City.
    I planted seeds last week and they are starting to sprout in our downstairs bathroom under grow lights. I was overly ambitious when I ordered from Baker Creek. Do they really need to make the pictures so pretty and enticing??? That catalog is my obsession, my Crate and Barrel. we have a very limited space and I have planted way more seeds than I will have room for. I’m planting: several types of peas, beans, tomatoes, lettuces, zucchini, squash, melons, Black Futsu winter squash and peppers. I think that’s all.
    My daffodils are ready to bloom. Some of my other things are poking their head thru the ground but the hens, on their daily forage in the flower beds, seem to nibble them back down. This is our first year with hens and we are so excited to have them. Alana, you really should have some in your back yard—talk about personalities! They are such fun to watch.
    Anyway, I am a snow lover like no other, but at this point I, too, am ready for spring and the lovely fresh, earthy smells that come with it.
    So welcome, March!!

  10. Liz K says:

    I’m also in NC. I have little baby mustard, kale, broccoli, a couple lettuces, basil, cucumber, and okra already popping their heads up under lights. We used last year’s leftover seeds and are having great germination rates, so I’d say throw yours in some dirt. Having plants ready to go in the ground once we’re frost-free is my favorite way to say HELLO SPRING!

  11. Hannah says:

    Here in Northern California we are belated on our gardening chores – last weekend we dug in the remnants of the winter garden (mostly arugula gone to seed). Our strawberry plants have blossoms and tiny green berries, and we just seeded our wildflower border (a little late I think?) with all sorts of bee-and-humming-bird favorites. Daffodil, hyacinth, calla lilies are all up, and the sweet little jonquils are actually about done. Best harbinger of spring: laundry on the line.

    This year, inspired by you, I saved a few of the nasturtiums that clog our front yard and planted them in a big pot on the back patio. We are planning some nasturtium-infused booziness later this summer :)

  12. Frances says:

    What a treat to read the above reports from warmer (and colder!) climes.

    If it’s any consolation, I’ve got a snowdrop coming up through the ice here in North Adams.

  13. Amy says:

    I was excited to hike on the trails behind my house here in Colorado. At 8100 feet we are still getting a ton of snow ( a foot over the weekend) which is good for the skiing but not so good for the hopeful gardener.

    I asked for a greenhouse (balcony sized) for my birthday which will hopefully keep the bears and other wildlife out of my vegetables. There are yogurt containers with tiny little seedlings hanging out on every windowsill. We have the beautiful sun shining down almost everyday and my plan is to utilize every available outdoor balcony space for my garden…eta May or June….sigh…

    • alana says:

      A greenhouse! Lucky lucky. And with all that Colorado sun- you’ll be able to grow anything. I lived in a house with a greenhouse in Santa Fe and anything you brought in there would sprout almost immediately. I didn’t garden yet, so I didn’t appreciate it! But now I think back on it, and I can even remember the smell in there. Wonderful.

  14. tess says:

    Spring will come! Over in California (we’re in Santa Cruz) I see the big bursting rosy buds of the bigleaf maple catkins, and periwinkle flowers everywhere, whole sheets and yards of neon yellow sourgrass flowers, all the japanese cherry blossoms, and the white delicate blossoms on the wild plums all over town, the happy yellow clouds of acacia blossoms on the trees near every road, the light light green of new leaves on the walnut trees, as well as citrus trees loaded to breaking point in everyone’s yards with meyer lemons, oranges and mandarins, and in my yard the favas are flowering, the heads of garlic I couldn’t find in the dirt last year are shooting up their green sprouts, the strawberry plants are filling out, the gooseberry is just starting to leaf out, the daffodils and narcissus are all out, the potatoes I also forgot last year are up and growing in random places in the garden, the rosemary bushes are coated in blue flowers and buzzing with a few bees already, the nigella seeds I scattered in the fall have become foot tall delicate plants, all lacy green and starting to bud, the sweet pea seed from the fall are also now tall plants reaching for the sun….. hmmn, all I can think of at the moment. Can you feel Spring heading your way yet? Thanks for everything!

    • alana says:

      Oh, Tess- thank you for this. Everything about it makes me feel warmer. And I have to ask- nigella? Do you save and eat the seeds? I wonder if it grows here?

      • tess says:

        I bet nigella (or Love in a Mist, as it’s sometimes called) would grow there, in a moist and sunny spot! I do save the seeds, and sometimes we eat them, but mostly I scatter them around everywhere, like the Lupin Lady in Miss Rumphius.

  15. Luba says:

    In San Francisco, the cherry blossoms have bloomed and are fading into their purple leaves, and the pink magnolia trees just started. I love coming upon one, in full array, and remembering that I saw it bloom last year. During all the other months I might walk or drive by that same tree oh so many times, but now is it’s moment to grab attention! It is cold though, by our wimpy standards (50s). So, things are in bloom, but I still find myself wanting to make a warm soup…

    • alana says:

      But then again, didn’t Mark Twain say that the coldest winter he ever lived through was the summer in San Francisco? All that fog! So soup weather will continue on, right?

  16. Sue says:

    Here in New Haven CT the sap is running like crazy and we are boiling boiling maple syrup. And with it, we stare so closely at the ends of tree branches, seeing the tiny little buds that will soon be leaves, and believe.

    • alana says:

      Here too! I feel like everyone is tapping their trees this year. We only have pine trees on our little acre, but I’m excited to try everyone else’s maple syrup.

  17. narf7 says:

    Another flipside post to our situation…”SOON” we want rain…lots and LOTS of rain. Autumn is dry and crispy and the grass is dead and the hose is faded and overused and life is starting to crack a bit on the edges and without rain what are we?!!! Our harvest is on the turn and winter veggies are our main concern but to have winter veggies, surely you need “winter?!!!”…please take some of this heat, this dry Dry DRY weather and send us some of those rainy days that you lament so much…Sophie can even borrow my bike and even though my sneakers might be a tad too big, she is welcome to swap them for her wellies ANY DAY…

    • alana says:

      So true! If only we could spread all this weather around and get the sun and rain just when we needed it–but then I guess life would be FAR too predictable.

  18. narf7 says:

    (oops…”Sadie”…please accept my appologies Sadie! ;) )

  19. Terri says:

    I’m in St. Louis. Hallmarks of spring…We are nearing the end of canned stuff from last year and looking fwd to a new year. The seed catalogs, also known in our house as Food Porn, have been coming. They arrive on the cloudy days and fill my heart with glee.

    The earth smells of musk and love. The garlic is coming up. We have spinach, lettuce, carrots and lil baby broccoli heads in a cold frame. The tulips and daffodils are coming along and I’m planting peas this weekend.

    St. Louis is often cold in the winter, but usually we get a fair amount of clear, sunny days. This year has been cloudy and snowy. We needed the moisture after last years drought, but I have been in desperate need of sun. Two days ago, it got so bad with the clouds I was trying to figure out why some wise woman hasn’t figured out how to put Prozac in a spray bottle, or perhaps a nice little seasonal Zoloft Salt Lick for the corner of the kitchen, but the sun came back today and all is well.

    The beauty of the seasons is that I always have something to look forward to, and can appreciate the starkness of winter, even when I am weary of it. I think my body and soul need the rest that comes with winter, just like the garden. And, just like the garden, I’m ready for spring.

    Thanks for your blog and blessings on your new projects.

  20. Kimberly says:

    This spring and summer, I’m going to garden vicariously through all those that have posted and through you, Alana. I’m expecting twins this June/July. So I have a different kind of garden growing :-) That said, our usual garden plot will be resting since there’s just no way I can prepare, plant, tend and harvest while 8 months pregnant. I guess there’s a way, but it might start labor, which wouldn’t be fun that early. My loving partner will be busy taking care of every whim of mine (yeah right) and our 4 year old :-)

    • alana says:

      Oh Kimberly, I’d say you’re growing plenty this season. Good for you for giving the garden a rest, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your pregnancy! Better put that 4-y-o to work, too–you’ll need as many people to bring your snacks and water as you can! And if trained right, kiddos give excellent foot massages :)

  21. melissa says:

    Here in very southern Southern California, the first week of March can often bring snow to our local mountains — and it did again this year. Where we live, in the foothills below those mountains, I have lettuce, carrots and radishes growing. My winter supply of spinach continues (I use the “cut-and-come-again” method of harvesting it) and I planted tomatoes and peppers (cheating — didn’t grow them from seed) last week. It’s a little early still for tomatoes, so they will limp along for awhile before taking off. If you’re interested, you can see some photos of out first week of March here: http://darbysdaily.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-week-past-on-west-coast.html I love your blog and you book — have made made of your recipes. Thank you! Melissa

  22. Julie says:

    Oregon is always green,
    but that’s often the mold and moss. ;)

    We went to the home show, sadly no farm booths this year, so I’ll have to buy my lettuce starts at a garden shop. No worries, the ones from last year (my first endeavor at patio gardening) were such a winning crop that I don’t care where we get them from, they just ARE arriving on our back deck. And soon.

    (I was on my bike yesterday, as I am nearly every day. I completely understand Sadie’s need.)

    • alana says:

      Oh, Julie- I dream of that Oregon moss! The last time I was out there was just over ten years ago right at this time, and I remember thinking that everything was so alive in a way I had never seen. In my memory it was some sort of green wonderland.

  23. Liz says:

    The bike thing, for sure. I’m a city dweller (much to my chagrin, at least half of the time) and there’s always some expanse of time in the winter when I give up cycling as my main mode of transportation and settle for public transit and walking. Everything takes LONGER and feels so out of my control. And then, this weekend, I got my bike tuned up – new chain, new brake pads, many new things. And it was 12 degrees here (celsius, as a Canadian I don’t understand Fahrenheit for anything other than cooking) and it was the most incredible feeling of freedom to bike.

    Also though, Daylight Saving time – while this week it has been so hard to get up when it is still dark out, I can’t express how rejuvenating it feels to be able to cook dinner while there is still natural light streaming into my tiny kitchen. It makes me WANT to cook again. Right now I’m dreaming of the most flavourful new potatoes and summer peaches and the first asparagus and strawberries and I can’t wait for that feeling of inspiration that comes from the market in spring.

  24. Mindy says:

    Last night I made the pizza sauce recipe from your book. My husband and I loved it! We’ve been making pizza at home for a while but always buying over salted, processed sauce and then the marvel of your wonderful sauce! I think it helped clear a week’s worth of grumbles it was so good. Thank you.

  25. Melissa says:

    I’m in “wine country” of Northern California, in Petaluma. The ornamental plums are in full bloom. When the breeze blows, the petals fall and it looks like its snowing.

  26. Cara says:

    I grew up in Massachusetts with the seemingly endless winter. I found my way out to southern California a few years ago and the seasons are so mild and warm! I’ve finally realized how early I should be planting for spring! I have so many young plants strengthening up and seedlings just getting started. This is the big year for me too. I’ve finally put enough work in ahead of time to really bring a big healthy garden together… I hope. I’m growing tomatoes (sweet cherry, brandywine pink, and black krims), tomatillo, several varities of basil (lemon, lime, siam, and thai), eggplant, zucchini, yellow summer squash, cucumbers peppers (bell, sweet itlatin, banana, and jalapeno), corn, amaranth, quinoa, chamomile, watermelon, okra, chives, lemon balm , thyme, sage, cilantro, dill, potatoes, artichoke, asparagus, strawberries, and lemon grass. Just a few ornamentals- zinneas, poppies, and giant sunflower. I’m dreaming big this time. So long as I can keep the gophers at bay I think it’s going to be one lovely and delicious summer!

  27. Jana says:

    Like you said, I have every inch of my garden mapped out… but what will actually be accomplished is yet to be determined. 2 babies tend to change plans and even erase them. Luckily here in Worcester County, MA there are plenty of farmers doing what I wish I could and I can buy anything I need from friendly faces who can certainly use my money.

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  29. mbaker says:

    I have hear it is lack of vitamin D-3 that makes those of us in northern climates crave things. I always get terriblevthese cravings in February and March for fresh veggies. I am so glad that we have grocery stores who can provide us what we crave year round, in the way of veggies and fruits no matter where we live. We are very lucky to have that because so many countries don’t.

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