Cabin Fever & The Spring Garden

It happens every year in late February – early March. Cabin fever sets in. This winter has felt especially grey. I find myself daydreaming of spring breezes, and getting my hands in the dirt.  When I work my day job from my home office, I have a view of our back garden, including the main herb bed and the raised beds we use for vegetables. It’s too early yet to search for bursts of spring green, but with the lack of snow cover (at the moment anyway) it looks like a blank canvas stretched out on the ground before me. And that holds promise.

Probably two thirds of the herbs in the main herb bed are perennial, so if they all survive the winter, I’ll just be tucking a few annuals in here and there. But I’m excited about my plans for two of the raised beds that are currently fallow. As a small aside (I promise it’s related) one thing I’ve been focused on in the year-plus I’ve been away from the blogosphere is learning how my body works. I have lupus, which is a chronic auto-immune disease, and food and lifestyle have significant impacts on when I’m sick versus well. And one thing I’ve learned is that my body has a very hard time tolerating nightshades, specifically tomatoes and peppers. I can tolerate potatoes a bit – but if I eat them more than 2-3 times in a month, I don’t feel good. Unfortunately, this means I can no longer even eat my award-winning Roasted Tomato & Lime Salsa. So I’ve decided to not even grow tomatoes and peppers in my garden this year. Now, I’ll still be a team player and buy some tomatoes and peppers from the farmer’s market in the summer and make the salsa for my menfolk and to enter in the county fair, but I just can’t cope with having the plants in my garden, at least this year. Tomatoes and peppers have been mighty hard for me to give up.

But there’s no great loss without some small gain, and the gain is the opportunity to completely redesign the garden plan. And I’ve decided – because I also happen to make award-winning pickles – to have a pickling garden this year. I’ll be growing cucumbers of course, predominately the tiny gherkins called Parisian Pickles. But I’m also going to grow bunching onions – the red Crimson Forest, as well as a green variety called Warrior. Carrots will be included as the round Parisian variety. I’m also excited to grow the dwarf Gonzalez mini cabbage again this year, which we’ve already winter sown in a recycled cider jug greenhouse. Though we’ll likely plant a second round directly in the garden as well. I’ve also ordered seed for Long Island Improved Brussels sprouts, though it’s a bit of a space eater so I’m not sure where I can squeeze it in. I’d like to fit in a plant or two if I can, for a few jars of pickled sprouts (oddly known as “frog balls” in some circles).

I’m also excited to begin work on the woodland edible/medicinal garden I’ve had planned in my head for several years. On the west side of our property adjacent to our driveway and garage, there are several trees on a down slope below our compost and wood piles. I’ve ordered some live ramps (wild leeks) that should arrive in the next few weeks that will get tucked back there. I’m also hoping to pick up a couple of elderberry and witch hazel bushes to form a hedge between the trees on the western property line. Eventually, I’d also like to add fiddlehead ferns, winterberry, wild ginger and get some mushrooms going. But if I can at least get the ramps, elderberry and witch hazel in this season, I’ll be satisfied with that start.

And then there’s the orchard – I’m hoping this season is the one that sees our apple trees come into bearing, though I might be a touch optimistic at coming up on four years since we put in the trio of bare-root whips. The pair of hazelnut bushes we put in at the same time have refused to grow, though they leaf out nicely each season, so I need to troubleshoot what’s holding them back. Perhaps they need more or different nutrients. It’s high time for a soil test to get to the bottom of it. The blueberries and persimmons didn’t survive, but we’ve since added some raspberry canes that got a good start last year, so I’m optimistic for a decent little crop this summer, though probably not enough for preserving. But really, the best way to eat raspberries is sun-kissed and sitting in the grass, so that’s alright by me.

And of course there a million miscellaneous things that I dream about in the garden – establishing morning glories well enough that they self-sow every year (as they did over the cattle fence from the farmyard of my childhood), finding a spot to grow some pumpkins for fun, replacing the foxglove by the sidewalk with a riot of snapdragons, and laying down a carpet of white scilla and galanthus in the front yard for a charming spring surprise… so until the weather warms and the ground thaws, I can content myself with daydreams – and planning.