Whenever somebody up this way likes to claim we’re lucky to have four seasons, usually as a snappy retort to somebody else complaining about how truly miserable Vermont winters can be, my knee-jerk reaction goes, four seasons compared to what? What we more accurately have in these parts is five seasons, like so: Summer (it actually does start sometime in June as it should, possibly around June 21), Foliage (in other places it’s called fall, but it can be dang cold already up here during Foliage, which is a fancy word that makes Vermonters feel better about at least having this glorious asset many others do not), Winter, Mud Season (in fairness, it’s only a few weeks long), and then Still Winter, which is what we are in right now. But Mother Nature finally must relent to the tilting of the northern hemisphere back towards the sun, and so the organic stew is indeed stirring under the soil, bubbling up through the root systems, and climbing up, up, up into tree limbs and branches. So now we have the beginnings, at least, of what all those ‘peepers’ on tour buses will come up here to see during Foliage along about mid-October. And meanwhile, some hardy Vermonters will stubbornly dress in shorts and T-shirts effective immediately, even if their lips turn blue.
And so here we go with vegetables and herbs, round two. The second growing season has arrived for us in our new-old Vermont house, sort of (we may have a hard frost tonight, dammit). The Chef has been itching to start seedlings inside, buoyed by the success of our first attempt at container gardening last summer, in which we had a respectable crop of tomatoes. But we didn’t start those from scratch—we bought them down at our Big Box gardening store, somewhat fully formed, and then planted them in nutrient-rich potting soil in a galvanized tub from our Big Box department store. The tub was the type you fill with ice and bottled drinks when you’re entertaining outdoors; it was attractive and dirt cheap, so to speak, and after the Chef drilled a few drainage holes into the bottom of it—voilà! The thing morphed into a planter. And then we enjoyed fresh tomatoes for much of our short summer. Because this little experiment was so successful, we decided to expand it this year. (Plus, our little in-ground garden was a complete failure because 1) not enough sunlight in that corner of the yard, and 2) critters decimated the few things we planted that actually germinated, before they were even close to ready to harvest and eat.)
I brought home seeds from this company, which happens to be one of our clients at the marketing agency where I work (and also happens to be my kiddo’s name, which is cool), which made the Chef positively giddy. The company has been around for several decades, headquartered just over the state line in nearby Cambridge, NY. The seeds are high quality, and the guys there are super nice and knowledgeable. So this year we’re planning to grow a bunch of herbs, vegetables, and flowers. Last year something ate all of our sunflowers, so we’re skipping those this time around and trying several other varieties, including mixed wildflowers.
The Chef started some of the seeds indoors in the mudroom a couple of weeks ago, using a few cast-off plastic planter thingummies from last year, and then placed them all inside a fish poacher that’s acting as a makeshift saucer to catch the drainage. The mudroom gets wonderful afternoon light through its southern- and western-facing windows, and the window seats in front of them conceal a wall of radiators underneath (remember, Still Winter, so the radiators are still doing their thang). Turns out, the little seeds Chef David planted (well, all except one variety), germinated very quickly, and appear to enjoy the abundant light and the warmth coming up through the wood bench.
Meanwhile, we were stoked to find the Big Box department store had already restocked its seasonal shelves with a brand-new supply of the same kind of tub we bought there last year, so we snapped up a bunch more of them. Soon we’ll start thinning out the tender little shoots, and not too long after that, we’ll be past the threat of a hard frost: outside and into the tubs they’ll go, looking so cheerful lined up on our back deck; we hope the traffic coming and going through our back door will dissuade any would-be thieves from nabbing or nibbling on our crop—we had zero problems with our tomatoes last summer. This is about as excited as I’ve ever been about growing my own food, even if I still must pull on my down coat to go and check on the progress of things, at least in the very early morning, and before June arrives.
We achieved this other milestone yesterday, which makes me positively giddy: a local garden center and nursery will deliver a large truckload of mulch to our driveway tomorrow. This is a thing I lobbied for at length last year, but never quite won over the Chef to my way of thinking, which goes like this: mulch covers a multitude of sins, and even if you have more of a brown thumb than a green one, still dresses up your yard and makes you at least look competent. We have several trouble spots in our lovely back yard, which soon will be all gussied up in new mulch. We’re also talking to the very nice people at said garden center about several mature and fast-growing arborvitae to plant along one length of fence where our house sits just a tad too close to the neighbors next door, who live in a multi-family dwelling that can generate some noise. This project will be carefully coordinated with our ongoing fence replacement, to resume shortly, and which we hope to have finished completely by the end of summer. So we’ll have a pretty, new fencerow with more pointy copper caps, and some lovely arborvitae in front of it for privacy—eventually, at least.
As much as I wish all these projects could happen immediately and then be done with them all, ‘yard-crasher’ style, two working people on a budget dictate a timeline more aligned with a ‘this-old-house’ kind of outcome: We’ll achieve progress slowly, steadily—and measurably—but without a satisfying or spectacular reveal or ta-dah! at the end. Still, our place looks better now than it did a year ago.
Hoping you’re already wearing shorts and T-shirts, wherever you are.