Sunday, January 24, 2010


My first seed order has arrived! Never has such a small box conveyed more promise and excitement for me. With this affirmation that I am a bonafide yeoman farmgirl, I figured that I ought to start behaving like a proper small business owner and begin keeping track of business expenses. So I traipsed on out to Staples, loaded up on printer ink, tupperware boxes, and filing supplies, and came home determined to put my farm in order.

I've been fortunate this winter, in that I've accumulated a small collection of second-hand seeds from Don, my former boss, and Katia, my future co-farmer, as well as some odds and ends I've picked up froms seed swaps and conferences. Second-hand seeds are the remainders at the end of the season, which, while not ideal, are still perfectly good, if you don't mind a little uncertainy in germination rates. I did some research about seed viability rates and set to work sorting my seeds into keepers and tossers.

Only, I have a really hard time throwing away seed. Even when I know it's virtually useless (onion seed, for example, is generally worthless after one year. So onion seed from 2006 will unquestionably suck), I kept pushing my tossers into a third pile, the "don't expect much from them, but hey, maybe a few will sprout?" group. I have a sneaking suspicion that a similar lack of willpower may account for Don's including 4-year-old onion seed in his gift to me...

Gradually, my collection took on a semblance of order, neatly sorted by family and best-by year. At the bottom of a box stuffed with empty seed envelopes from past years and some free samples packets of mixed greens, I stumbled across a strange treat: an unlabeled envelope from a 2008 seed swap. At the time of acquisition I was apparently without either a pen or good information, for the seeds within are completely anonymous, unanchored from variety name or grower identification. A few look to be parsnip seeds (no good by now, most likely), and some others are identifiable as lettuce, though no telling of what stripe. But then there are four huge red beans, lightly speckled with a few black streaks. I immediately thought of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, imagining my little beans twining out a window and over the snow, climbing up into the clouds to fame and fortune. I tucked my mystery beans safely away for spring.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Deep Freeze

Last night, I watched a movie all about dirt. The documentary was, in fact, entitled "Dirt!" (the exclamation point conveyed by the somewhat manic animation sequences depicting the microscopic life of dirt), and it did an admirable job of describing a conventionally unglamorous substance as worthy of awe and admiration. I came out of the screening with the same buoyant, yearning heart that Coca-cola commercials instilled in me as a child--I wanted to sink my hands into soil, to nurture seedlings, to walk barefoot on freshly turned earth. Which, by the way, is not a good way to preserve soil tilth, but which nevertheless is fiendishly tempting.

I came out into the snow and felt the first pangs of the winter farmer doldrums. Thus far, long- anticipated rest and other seasonal distractions have kept me from missing the dirt. Besides, I've been more than sufficiently busy, between planning next season, visiting family, and (lately) substitute teaching sixth grade math. But the numbers finally got to me. I'm tired of Excel spreadsheets, converting yield per foot into pounds of seed per acre. I'm overwhelmed by seed catalogues and their relentlessly positive descriptions. I'd like some more kale to accompany my veal and potatoes. Watching "Dirt!", I felt envy rise in my chest at the muscles and tan lines of farmers. I'm winded by a romp in the snow, and I haven't lifted anything heavier than a cast iron skillet in months.

I have a plan, however. As soon as I am unemployed again (but before the financial ramification of this state have fully sunk in), I'm buying some dirt. Potting soil, some trays, a few more sprouting jar lids. I'm going to fire up the grow lights that Andrew's grandmother donated to the cause, and I'm going to grow. I'll start my onions, certainly, but I think I'll throw some greens into the mix as well. Maybe a kumquat tree for the corner? Or perhaps I could convert the defunct front porch to our cottage into a very cold cold frame?

Then again, I might feel completely satisfied simply to sit on the kitchen floor with a handful of finished compost, entranced by the sweet promise of fecundity.