Hope Springs Eternal

| By Janis Gingermountain |

After a long, hard winter it feels as if I need to cultivate a little bit of hope. Where better to do that than in my armchair, with a cup of hot chai, leafing through the organic seed catalogues and dreaming of my upcoming garden?

HopeI’m fingering seeds, thinking it’s time to start some flats in my little greenhouse. Basil seeds they’ll be, saved from my big, brave plants in October. Once they were tiny, weak seedlings growing in a cardboard egg carton, then eager little plants stretching toward the sun, soon to produce big, shiny leaves for making pesto.

Coriander seeds, round and sturdy, promise feathery plants ready to grace a piquant salsa. I’ll do a planting every three weeks. I save zinnia seeds, too, rubbed from tough old dried flowers, a rain of small black orbs. They’re seeds brought along from the late nineteenth century, saved by Fred Nixon since he was a boy, and handed on to me. They’ll produce shaggy cream, red, gold, and orange flowers just right for a Mexican bouquet.

Waiting in my enclosed garden are three brand-new raised beds. I’ll go to a farm the next county over and order a couple of truckloads of the finest cow manure ever, to fill my beds. As proof of the pudding, at my last visit a proud cow stood like a statue on top of a very high pile.

Another spring ritual is the planting of 200 wee grass-like leeks. These have to be carefully tended: weeded and hilled up as they grow. In October there will be the miracle harvest of thick, sturdy plants.

You could say that the growing season begins in October with the planting of 250 garlic cloves: the biggest and best of the July harvest. Already in December little green shoots have appeared. By early spring they are a foot tall.

I always look forward to trading. My Amish friend Naomi wants herb and perennial plants, which I exchange for her kale and some eggs. Joyce and Phil are generous with their home-produced maple syrup, while I supply them with leeks and tomatillos. Our Amish friends down the road press our apples for cider and give us several gallons. Kathleen keeps us supplied with butternut squash, and we share sweet potato plants and recipes. Claudia is especially generous, giving us apples, pears, rhubarb, and red raspberries. She might take a few basil plants from me.

With my small supply of herbs and vegetables I manage to make it occasionally to the Saturday farmers’ market to sell salsa baskets (tomatoes or tomatillos, a small onion, some garlic cloves, a jalapeno pepper, coriander and a recipe), sprouting jar sets, raspberry vinegar, garlic braids, herb bunches, flower bouquets, and bags of “Catnip for your cat.”

At the end of a produce-laden summer my favorite thing is to see the dining room table overflowing with glorious vegetables: Amish paste tomatoes, acorn squash, Hungarian yellow peppers, onions the size of softballs, and much more. Hanging from the ceiling beams are bunches of catnip, thyme, mint, rosemary, and lemon balm.

“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet” Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says. That is just what I am meant to do on my beautiful land, where herbs and vegetable plants also do their part to kiss the earth. I can’t help but walk slowly, meditatively. Hope springs eternal, I think, as I pat the seed into the ground or into growing trays, and later on watch seedlings emerge and healthy green plants mature.

Janis Gingermountain has a small cabin in the mountains, where she gardens and writes essays and poetry about travel, spirituality, and nature.

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