March 31, 2012
My son and a friend mowed the lawn this past week for the first time this year. The next day, the glossy black seed birds (whose name I can never remember) moved in like little gleaners pecking and bobbing their way across the newly mown lawn. And, the dandelions are in bloom, the clover is up and creeping Charlie has joined the henbit in its race across the back lawn.
The ornamental pear trees, planted years ago along corner easements around the neighborhood, which only two weeks ago were crowned with mounds of pink-tinged white blossoms, now have their leaves – as do the maples, poplars, oaks and other assorted trees that inhabit old neighborhoods like ours.
Jonquils have ceased their showy, yellow shouts and now sit in silent green clumps along the fence. Some type of purple-blossomed ground cover – planted by an unknown former tenant – creeps again across the rose bed at the sunny south corner of the front porch, while the neighbor’s lavender phlox tumbles over and down their retaining wall as if fleeing the riotous colors of the spring lawn in fear of getting lost in the confusion. Life reborn is everywhere this Easter weekend.
And my garden, such as it is? Coming along in fits and starts, thank you.
The tomato slips, in their cut off plastic pop bottles, have grown a couple of inches and added new leaves, this week. The pepper starts are not far behind. The lettuce, spinach and radishes in my south bedroom earth box have popped up for a look-see.
Out on the south porch, the dwarf orange tree that spends its winters huddled in front of the south window in that bedroom, dropping leaves, has now added leaves and taken on a proud green sheen out in the sunshine and fresh air. I’ve given up the hope of it ever producing oranges, but it has become like an old, stray cat that with some love and caring still manages to strut its stuff.
I replanted the beets and carrots in the one earth box that I thought an errant squirrel had dug up, only to find it had merely scattered the seeds into clumps clustered along the edges of the holes. Perhaps it was a near-sighted squirrel, too caught up in the joys of digging to notice the treasures it had cast aside. No matter. I’ll be pulling the beet thinnings for salads once the plants are up an inch or two, anyway. And the potato onions in the other earth box (and the pot full I planted inside late last fall and have now brought outside) are looking good above ground. So, I’m assuming they are busy doing their thing below ground, too.
Out in the back yard, some of the rhubarb is tall enough for cutting. A trash barrel of old soil that I had planned to mix with some compost and spread over low spots in the garden has, instead, sprouted volunteer potato plants. What will come of that remains to be seen.
The asparagus, which showed such promise only a week ago, is beginning to go to fronds in the unusual heat of this spring and something (perhaps another near-sighted squirrel) has eaten the tops off most of the new spears. We’ve not had our usual compliment of thunderstorms this year and it’s a bit dry. I’m guessing the squirrels are looking for moisture. I’ll have to test that hypothesis by leaving some pans of water under their favorite trees and see if that stops the plundering.
Last week I also spent a morning weeding and side dressing the asparagus and another two mornings hoeing a part of the garden plot and planting beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach and radishes at their usual time here on the plateau. The rest of the soil I’ll leave alone until time to prepare it for May planting.
I love gardening. It invigorates me. I find great satisfaction in hoeing and planting, weeding and tending and just rooting around in my garden. But, this year especially, I find an eerie anxiety underneath that joy. This wonderfully warm spring is not normal. We have been fifteen to twenty degrees warmer than average for almost the entire month of March. We were absent the heavier snows this winter that melt into and nourish the soil from late December to early February. The season of thunderstorms and squall lines that sweep across the Ozark Plateau from late February to early April barely lasted two weeks this year. Now we seem to have settled into a late spring-early summer pattern where those storms go north and south of us, leaving this area with only minor showers that will not nurture a garden in summer’s heat without the soil having drunk in the abundance of snow or rain that falls from January through May.
We are promised a return to more normal April temperatures at the end of next week, though whether brief or prolonged, I haven’t heard. Will April and May rain patterns return? May is usually our rainiest month. Last year, our rain patterns were fairly normal, yet in the extreme heat of this past summer, gardens across Springfield – including my own – stopped producing, even with watering three times a week. What will happen if we have another summer like that without the benefit of normal rain in the next couple of months?
I don’t think this is idle worrying. For a country so dependent on an abundant food supply to stock our grocery shelves, we are woefully isolated from what it takes to grow that abundant supply and what havoc the changing climate is likely to wreak on it as those changes grow more profound.
A new report this week, warned that we have reached another tipping point in climate change. For the home gardener and the small farmer who grow a multitude of different crops, there is still some time and flexibility to experiment, to try different vegetables, to spread out the growing seasons through fall and even into winter. But most of our national food supply – indeed, much of the world food supply – does not come from the small growers any longer, but from large farms growing huge amounts of only a few crops or from big corporate farms growing mono crops. Will these behemoths be able to adapt in a rapidly destabilizing climate? I have to wonder if, in the light of all this, the sudden updating of the Presidential Order on the steps to be taken in a national emergency is as innocent as the administration has tried to make it sound.
Last year was the first year since I’ve been gardening that everything I planted in May stopped producing in the summer heat – every single plant. It worried me then; it worried me through this past winter when I combed over past garden layouts and gardening notes; it worries me now, as I begin this year’s garden.
I still love gardening. But, more and more, I feel as though I’m watching a loved one exhibit symptoms of a dangerous disease that I know little about and may be able to do nothing about. For those of us who depend on our gardens to supplement our food supply, or help our neighbors who are without, it’s a little frightening. For those of us who see the earth as a whole of which we are only a part and on which we totally depend, it’s sometimes terrifying.
I don’t intend to give up on my gardening; it’s too fulfilling. But I must tell you, that these concerns over what lies ahead for us as the climate changes and what I might do about it in my own garden, have become as much a part of what goes on this week in the garden, such as it is, as any of the things I’ve come to love about it.