Out in the Garden at Last

Now that warmer, sunnier days are here, I’m finally gardening outdoors in real dirt.  Potting soil and indoor spaces are great for starting heat-loving plants and for giving a jump to early season vegetables, but they don’t offer the pleasure of kneeling next to a bed of real dirt, moist from rain, rich with compost, warmed by the sun and ready for seeds.

In late March and early April, I did set out sugar snap peas and a few starts of lettuce, radicchio, fennel, broccoli, and cauliflower and even planted a cold frame with short rows of radishes, turnips and lettuce, working quickly each time before heading back indoors.  The air was still cool and the soil barely warm.  But last Sunday, Earth Day 2012, was warm and sunny, my first real spring outdoor garden day.

I knew what I wanted to plant—beets, carrots, chard, fennel, kohlrabi, turnips, radishes—so it took just a few minutes to pull the seed packets from their storage box, put them in a basket and head out to the waiting garden bed. I’d worked some compost into the soil the previous week so all that was left to do was to rake the soil level and smooth and attach the T-tape irrigation to the water line, stretching out the four long strips at one foot intervals on top of the dirt, a blank canvas ready for seeds.

What pleasure sitting in the path pondering how to fill an open garden bed!  Eighteen feet divided by seven vegetable varieties would give me seven two-and-a-half-by-five foot sections.  The irrigation tape suggested four short rows in each section.  That spacing would work for most of the seeds in my basket, especially because I’d be thinning out and eating plants as they started to grow.  Should I plant the sections by height, by days to harvest, alphabetically, by contrasting foliage?  Beauty trumped practicality as I imagined a pattern of beet leaves, carrot tops, chard stalks and fennel fronds alternating with the bulbs and tops of turnips, kohlrabi and quick growing radishes.

Actual planting brings its own sequence of pleasures: cutting a shallow furrow in the dry surface to expose the moist soil below, opening the seed packet and shaking a few seeds into my palm, studying them for a moment, taking in their size and shape and how very small they are before dropping them into the furrow at regular intervals, covering them with a layer of dirt and patting the furrow closed.  Beet and chard seeds are rough and ragged-edged, turnip and kohlrabi are tiny red or black balls, radishes are a little bigger, round and pink, carrots and fennel are the most seedy looking reminding me of cumin or caraway.

Seeds of: Chard, Beets, Kohlrabi, Turnip, Radish, Carrots, Fennel

Moving my way down one side of the bed and back up the other, I felt the sun warming my back.  The golden, late afternoon light reminded me that this time of day is my favorite for planting.  When I was done, the dirt looked like it did when I began but I knew what was beneath the surface.  I spread a blanket of Reemay over the bed to keep birds and cats from disturbing the hidden seeds and to add a bit of warmth to the soil.

Monday was sunny but Tuesday steady rain fell all day, a good soaking.  By next Sunday, there should be radishes pushing up through the dirt followed in a few days by turnips and kohlrabi, then later beets and chard and finally carrots and fennel.  I’ll check each day for the pleasure of finding green shoots against the dark earth.