It’s beginning to feel like it’s always been winter. The damp, dark days have overtaken my mind. I can barely remember what it feels like to have sun on my body. I feel sluggish, melancholy, tired, and generally fed up with this season. I've had enough of the rain and the steel-gray skies.
So, I dig out my dusty gardening shoes—ugly flower-patterned shoes still dirty from last year’s garden—and venture out in the cool morning. My destination: the shed where Gerry tucked away my gardening paraphernalia last fall.
As I climb up on top of tires to reach the top shelf I have only momentary thoughts of spiders—worse yet, mice!—hiding on the shelves that have been undisturbed for so many months. My resolve to get what I need quells those fears and I grasp the plastic tray I need for the morning’s project.
Later, I stand at the kitchen counter tearing last Sunday’s newspaper into strips. I roll the strips around a can to make little pots. Fourteen of them, nestled together in the plastic tray, filled with seed starting medium. I pour water into the tray and then, when all the water that’s going to be soaked up has been, I pull out my seed envelopes.
Brandywine, Stupice, Manitoba, Pruden’s Purple, and Red Delicious Cherry. Little packages filled with the promise of hot August afternoons, bare feet, and cold glasses of Chardonnay. And tomatoes. Fat, warm, sweet, juicy heirloom tomatoes. Three seeds per pot, only the strongest will ultimately survive, and a light dusting of soil to cover them.
As I work my mind wanders, and I'm back in last year’s garden picking treasures for salad: lettuce, radishes, carrots, peas, and yellow nasturtium blossoms for color.
In my mind I’m reaching for fat pods of peas that I split open, pop the individual peas into my mouth, then reach down and give each dog a half of the pod; all three of us thankful for the garden’s bounty.
And I’m picking the first ripe red cherry tomatoes of the season: one for Gerry and one for me so we can enjoy the first taste together. There is nothing on this earth that tastes as good as a sun-warmed, freshly-picked tomato.
By September I will have had enough of the tiny tomatoes as I struggle to keep up with how many, and how fast, they ripen late in the season. I’ll make a mental note not to plant them next year, but the lure of those early-ripening fruits will win out and I’ll be unable to resist picking up a packet of seeds.
Now, with each newspaper pot home to three tomato seeds, I place a clear plastic cover over the tray and carry it to the mini-greenhouse set up in the dining room—the only south-facing window in the house. I gently place the flat of pots on the greenhouse shelf and smile at the sense of satisfaction I feel at having completed the morning’s work.
I’ll watch these pots closely over the next few days and, at the first sign of germination, will remove the plastic dome that covers them. My usual morning routine will change; as I stop by my plants before leaving for work every day and turn on the grow light. When they're tall enough I’ll run my fingers gently across their green stems, or turn a gentle fan on every day to simulate the wind, so they will grow strong like they would if they were planted outside.
In time, when it’s warmer, I’ll begin moving the plants outside for an increasing time every day to harden them off, and prepare them for the permanent move to the garden. Then, when the time is right, I’ll dig holes, fill them with an unlikely mixture of fish parts, aspirin, eggshells, bone meal, and vermicompost: their first real meal to help them grow and prepare to set fruit.
For now, I return to the kitchen to put away my gardening supplies and begin to clean up the mess I've made. As I scrub my hands, I see there is dirt underneath my fingernails and that makes me happy. I’m content when I am in my garden and the sight of my dirty fingernails reminds me that I’ll be back there, physically and mentally, before much longer.
As I reach for a dish towel to dry my hands I glance outside and see that the sun has broken through the clouds. Farewell Winter, you’ve had your run, we’re on the cusp of a new season today.
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