In the past few years, my garden has been a source of both life lessons and writing material. This year, however, the cold, wet weather that has called for school closings has also kept me out of my classroom. The call of the outdoors is strong, though, and last week, in spite of the still-squishy ground, I spent a little time outside where I managed to learn something about expectations and flexibility.
Last year, I started my garden a little late, and the yield from some of the early vegetables was underwhelming. Determined not to repeat that mistake, I took advantage of some nice weather in February to get a jump on the season. The garlic I planted in October was doing nicely, and in anticipation of spring planting, I had left extra space between bulbs. Armed with an array of garden tools and great expectations, I planted seeds – lots of them. When I was finished I stood back and imagined the beets, turnips, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cabbage, and mustard greens that would soon be peeking up between the garlic.
Then, the snows came. Before the first arctic blast hit, some seedlings emerged, but most of them disappeared, victims of either the sub-freezing temperatures or the hungry critters that left tell-tale footprints between the rows. There were exceptions, though. A few hardy turnips and mustard greens and most of the spinach defied the weather and continued to grow.
Even after being coated with ice several times, they stayed green, waiting patiently for the few days of sunshine when they could grow a bit and put on a new leaf or two. During one of the warmer spells, I was able to harvest a few spinach leaves and a turnip. The turnip was undersized and split, but I decided to rescue it from the ants that were crawling all over it. I didn’t end up using the turnip itself, but the leaves, along with the spinach, added some zest and color to a couple of salads.
After the last snow melted, I began to watch the garden a bit more closely, waiting for the surviving greens to mature. I didn’t know what to expect from the turnips since this was my first time to plant them, but I watched for the spinach and greens to shoot up like they did last year. Instead, the spinach continued to hug the surface of the ground, and the greens bushed out, looking more like leaf lettuce than the tall, narrow plants I expected.
A few days ago, I risked getting my shoes muddy to do a garden check, and I was surprised at what I saw. One of the mustard green plants, the runt of the litter, had bolted and had a center stem full of little green buds. I looked a little closer and noticed that the lower leaves on all the plants were beginning to yellow from age, and the spinach leaves, while still mostly horizontal, were large and fully ready for harvest. A three-day rain event was predicted to begin within the hour, so I ran into the house, grabbed some plastic bags, and went to work. I brought in two full bags and an extra handful of produce before the rain began again.
While I was racing to beat the weather, I didn’t have time to think deep thoughts, but later I was struck by the flexibility the plants showed in very negative circumstances. They were blanketed in snow and subjected to freezing temperatures, but still they found a way to survive. Instead of reaching up for sunshine that was hidden behind the clouds, they huddled down to take advantage of the warmth that was stored in the earth beneath them. They continued to grow – just in a new direction.
As for me, I was reminded that, just because what I see doesn’t meet my expectations, I shouldn’t stop looking. If I had waited until the warmer temperatures and sunny days brought the plants up to the expected height, I might have missed a really good harvest – and those greens were really tasty!
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