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Time to Plant?

By Kate Gridley, April 4, 2011 - 2:23pm

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So the talk at church yesterday in all that beautiful sun was "Can I plant something?" "Is it time for peas? Lettuce? Spinach?" A year ago at this time it took all my will power not to plant the peas in the beginning of April. After a week when temperatures had risen into the sixties and a succession of blue sky days and bright sun, it was almost impossible to hold back. The sap had stopped dripping into the buckets. The Farmer’s Almanac read “Chipmunks are waking up and coming out of their burrows.” For a moment, listening to the cry of returning geese overhead, the cacophony of robins, the love calls of cardinals, and even the discovery of the remains of an egg ( surely from one of last year’s broods), I was tempted to think “Tomorrow I plant!”

But not this year. When we lifted the mulch yesterday while repairing the raised beds and building a tunnel over one of the beds, the soil was still completely frozen. And today, instead of planting in the tunnel, it is snowing outside, dark and damp.

I gaze at the bits of green under my grow lights with love. I have been thinning the seedlings and transplanting some of the larger ones. They are not going anywhere yet.

It is a precious moment when winter starts to dwindle in fits and starts, and spring begins to gain confidence as the days get longer, first slowly, then faster, and it is finally time to get our hands back in the soil, smooth out the lumps, cast off the winter coverings, and put peas in the ground. It is like the first stirrings of excitement when I begin a new painting: the markings of the design, the early splashes of paint, the careful building of layers, all herald something new. With plants, so much is beyond our control, and yet, at this time of year, it is all about planning and potential.

The raised beds between the house and studio where I paint every day are moist, the heavy cold water of melted snow drained away. Covered with the leaves and flecks of detritus from winter blows and bits of straw mulch from last year, the tips of garlic plants are peeping out of the soil. Sorrel, with its red-tipped green tinge is emerging, iris leaves tentatively poke through the leaf mulch, and some of the thymes that line the path have new tiny green leaves.

At church I asked my friend Abi who has a soil thermometer if she has taken a reading yet. It is more fun to ask her repeatedly over a season for the temperature of her soil than it is to buy my own thermometer. This way we chat about what we are planting, how it is going, what is different this year from last, and share part of the excitement of another growing season.

“Soil Thermometer? I haven’t even thought about it yet -- though Bill did go and look for the cold frame yesterday. I can't believe it, but I think we have lost the cold frame." How do you lose a cold frame?

Cold Frames. That could be the key for this need I have right now to dig. The one time I built a cold frame, I moved too fast and situated it below a south-facing roof. When the inevitable early April snow came, it slid off the roof and smashed the glass. We have found another south facing spot under a gable, and I could build a new cold frame in the next few days. Then again there's lots of room in the tunnel.

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TAGS: Kate Gridley, Gardening

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