Two Springs ago I began this minor treatise on planting a vegetable garden. Written from deep inside an early April reverie, I was pining to germinate something, anything really. Amidst icy sleet of an upstate New York “mud season”, I designed, and planned and prepared to plant a garden. Anticipating all that I knew this generous ground would bring forth, if it just had some seed and someone to plant.
“My organic heirloom seed order from Seeds Now is here! There are forty-nine tiny plastic bags spread across my table, and a stack of empty peat pots in the garage. Unfortunately, I have underestimated the chilly reality of the North. I am about a month too optimistic. My vision of a knees in the dirt, direct planting has transformed. It is more a Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness meditation in dirt and patience.
Spooning the mixed peat and perlite into the small pots, armed with tweezer and chopstick, I drop each seed into the earthy mix. An “Om” here and a “Pea” there, topped with a prayer and a pat for good measure.
“You will be a grand Cantaloupe! You will be the first Pea of the Spring!”
A healthy dose of encouragement is always a good idea. Tiny Chamomile dustings, wrinkled dried beans, they all have the miracle of “concrete potential.” They could be an abundant plant with the right environs. They could create and recreate themselves, transmuting soil and seed into something that has never existed before, in exactly this particular way. Each seed was offered what I knew to give: time in the dark to incubate, warmth for encouragement, a bit of direct sunshine and enough water for “damp.” Life starts in the damp, and dies in soggy.
Some of those seeds must be coiled springs, set to explode at the first moisture. As the snow swirled across my waiting garden, the Kale has germinated in under 48 hours. We may be having some for dinner before it’s warm enough to plant in the garden! Others, like Amaranth and Borage seem quite comfy in their dark warm spot. As weeks go by, I begin to think that they are smugly enjoying my meddling attentions. Through weeks of gray clouds, I shuttle them from garage to spare bedroom trying to find a temporary sunbeam. I imagine how these transplants from a proper British Herb Garden might respond to my muttered queries on their much anticipated arrival after these weeks of attentions, and no visible sign of “green.”
“We are considering germination. We will get back to you when we are…….(sigh)…..ready.”
They aren’t ready, it isn’t time…yet. Nothing is more ambiguous than “concrete potential.” In my chilly garage are all the makings of a glorious vegetable garden, it already exists out there in the Ethers. I am imagining it. I am hoping, no expecting some Findhorn scale bounty (https://www.findhorn.org/aboutus/vision/) complete with homegrown pollinators.
Bees! I have read the books, taken the classes, dreamed of bees, and yes, even dreamed that I WAS a bee. I have assembled my hives, arranged for a Beekeeping friend to migrate some of her ladies to my silent boxes hopefully in May, when they have regained their robustness. Bees don’t wish, they do. They act on what is there.
With the help of a Beekeeping mail list, a small library, and all the observation skills I can muster, I have assumed the mantle of responsibility for these miracle workers.
I will try to make the most informed beekeeping choices. I will keep them warm in winter, cool in summer, keep the bears away and feed them when they are hungry. All the while knowing they are completely in charge of their own survival. They are carrying me, I’m only along for the ride, and maybe some honey. “
That was two Springs ago. This winter we were warm in sunny Tampa watching leaves the size of bedspreads grow sprout out of my white Bird of Paradise. I grew Basil and Parsley in a pot by the pool and listened from the screen porch to the “Uh-UH” birds comment on our private conversations.
The bees have survived a second hard winter in the shed at the back of the barn. When I last checked in April, the golden hued “Italian” bees greeted me at the door as I removed the mouse guard. This, a metal gate with holes the size of bees. It makes bees come through the door single file while keeping out cold and the “winter hungry” mice. They were gloriously happy to fly out the now open windows in search of a Spring that wouldn’t arrive for another month.
The Russian crew next door are a bit more curmudgeonly in chilly temperatures. Note that Dr. Zhivago stayed in the Ice Palace until there were flowers blooming. They may be grumpy, but they are pragmatic. These dark ladies may swagger but they are less likely to blame a beekeeper for accidents of broken combs or spilled honey. They just get down to the business of cleaning it up, putting their world back in order and you had best “get out of the way.” On this cold day, a single dark Russian bee came out of the hive, buzzed with great agitation, spun on her back legs and strode back into the darkness.
“It’s not time!!!”
She spat at me. Returning to her post, she tucked her fuzzy body back in formation. For the entire Winter, months and months of cold, they surround their Queen in a tight ball of bees, rotating from inner to outer circle as their own survival dictates. The bees stay close, hopefully to the abundant stores of last Fall’s honey. Abundant honey unless, that is, a greedy Beekeeper has taken too much for themselves.
Bee Lore says the Russians high survival rate in cold, wet weather comes from their cultural sensibility to keep their numbers small until it is absolutely “Spring.” The “Spring” that matters: when the sun comes back and there is actual food out there. They don’t lay eggs until it stays warm. I think the elegant Russian Queens don’t care for a cold backside.
What changed in 2 years? Time feels shorter, kids and grandkids don’t wait, they keep growing like Kale. I like to be in places where the sun shines and green things grow all the time. The time to do what you want is right now.
My grass is too long for suburban standards; we no doubt look abandoned, but only by human standards. The Owl house, bat house and blue bird houses are in place, only the Purple Martin condo is still tucked into the barn. Fruit trees are blooming, last year’s Sunflowers have tossed their seeds about, and I’m sure the bees are grateful for no mowers, they have had every Dandelion and clover to savor in peace. None of these living things makes a reservation with me or keeps a schedule. They show up and grow when the time is right. And so will we.