the garden congress

I’m carefully picking my way through spring tasks like thinking about the garden and typing up the girls’ portfolios for the year of homeschooling to send into Vermont state. The state office that oversees home studiers invites parents to begin submitting portfolios in March. Though most of my friends submit in the summer, last year I submitted ours in March and now I think it’s become a tradition for us. Something about acting like the year is already over helps me see how much we’ve done, and what I’d still like to do. And the change in perspective, the “this is all extra” reframes things as special and fun again.

Raising children has so much repetition, it’s so helpful to find these mirror-flip moments for yourself, catching the light and flinging it back on what you’re doing, in a new way.

Like when the four-year-old asks “to do potions” versus when the eight-year-old tells me she wants to do a science experiment. One sounds delightful and easy, the other sounds intimidating and fraught with possible errors. In reality, they are same experiment, the same work, the same amount of engagement.

Back to that other spring task: thinking about the garden.

I could list all sorts of things we did wrong in last year’s garden. It was neglected, beloved, dehydrated, crowded, and much of it was planted in too much shade. But upon looking through the seed catalog one last time before ordering, I realized I could at least claim to be totally different than the person who went through the seed catalog, for the first time ever, last year. I read for different details, paying more attention to things like days to maturity and transplanting than I did before. So even though I don’t think I’ve learned all that much, I can tell I’ve learned a little bit. And that’s how it goes.

Whenever I talked with the neighbors about the garden, I naturally listed all the things that weren’t going quite right. But then I always added, “I just love it though.”  I noticed that all the time I spent in the garden, I enjoyed. It was a deeply relaxing place for me to putter around. it was a place that was quiet, patient, and tranquil, three attributes to which I constantly aspire.

In our part of Vermont, gardeners wait until the end of May for a last frost. People plan to plant on Memorial Day weekend. So I still have some time to get things going around here. Last year I learned that all of the major seedling sales are in May, so I’ll be prepared this year to buy things that I don’t want to start from seed, like broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, and pumpkins. Another thing I learned: those sales happen once, and then they are done! If you see them, it’s very nice to buy a few strawberry seedlings and put them in a container on your porch.

young corn

borage, post bloom

The other day my friend Bridget asked me what I will plant again, so here’s the list of what I’m thinking through. I link to Johnny’s because that’s who we primarily ordered from:

  • Zucchini: I’m linking to the type that we planted, I loved it. It had lovely coloring and the blossoms were gorgeous. Several times I fried the blossoms up (never bothered with stuffing them) as a pre-dinner snack.
  • Basil: I loved having several rows of basil. Such abundance! I could use as much as I wanted, and make as much freezer pesto as I wanted. I pinched off the flowers whenever I saw them beginning to appear and was able to eat off that first planting all summer.
  • Beets: Our beets did not get big enough in time for the season. I cook with beets infrequently, and anyway I do like getting them from the farmer’s market, where they seem to spill over with abundance.
  • Borage: an easy plant that shot right up and was soon covered with dozens of soft purple and blue edible flowers. The bees adored it and the kids did too. We’ll do this again. 
  • Kohlrabi: This is a forgiving cheerful little plant that we like to eat raw. I planted too much of it, and will likely just do a small row of it this year.
  • Beans & peas: These were planted in an area with too much shade. I will try them in a new area this year.
  • Tomatoes: I had terrible luck but I will try again, of course. Likely with the Sungold cherry tomatoes, which are so delicious
  • Carrots: I spent quite a bit of time replanting carrot seeds after rain downpours, so this time I will buy pelleted seeds that (should be) easier to keep track of.
  • Corn: The five stalks of corn that we grew did not provide us with more than a meal or two’s worth of corn, but it was so fun to watch it grow. The plants are fascinating, tall lean Abraham Lincolns standing stately in the garden congress. We’ll try a few more varieties this year, just for fun.
  • Lettuce: I only planted one type and it thrived. I was totally bored of it within a week or two. I’m leaning into greens this year. They are so interesting and relatively easy to grow, mine seemed to do well because they got shade from the afternoon sun.
  • Kale: Same as above, but I never tired of our kale, beginning in July on through September. It was so delicious.
  • Herb bin: all the herbs, besides the basil, were in a container near the kitchen door, which was lovely. I encouraged the girls to eat whatever they wanted from the container. This year I will plant basil and dill in the garden, but keep parsley, oregano, mint, and chives in the handy container.

an August evening.

6 thoughts on “the garden congress

  1. Rachael thank you for posting this! We live on 20 acres of old farm land in Maine and do no gardening. We have lovely farmer’s markets here and I love cooking with fresh produce but growing my own has always felt daunting. Now with this virus and uncertainty it seems like an essential skill to foster and I’m going to give it a go. So, a couple of questions for you:
    1. Any gardening books you recommend? I rate my knowledge of gardening at 3rd grade level(actually, many 3rd graders probably know more than me 🙂
    2. I’ve already seen our resident ground hog out and about. Concerns about pests and ticks have been a big deterrent for me in the past, thoughts?

    Thanks Rachael!

    • Hi! Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch are considered old hat pro pro gardeners and they live in northern Maine! You may enjoy his book “the new organic gardener” or her book “The Garden Primer.” I’ve read several books on gardening (including Barbara’s) and I’m still not sure that I’ve learned much from them. I do enjoy them though and use them as base references frequently. Honestly all the basic information I find on the Johnny’s website for each plant helps a lot. Johnny’s and the fabulous FedCo are BOTH in Maine!
      I don’t have tips for a ground hog but I think you’re right to worry about him! Your Maine gardening neighbors might have more ideas…they must!

  2. Thanks for sharing this! No garden yet, but I think I may try an herb bin after hearing about yours. And I hope your next tomatoes turn out. Nothing like just off the vine tomatoes!

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