Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vegetable Musical Chairs

I'm a planner and a list-maker by nature, one of those compulsive types who sometimes writes down tasks after having completed them, simply for the pleasure of checking them off as done. So you can imagine what the lead-up to this year was like for me: umpteen spreadsheets and to-do lists and timetables and budgets, to the point where my computer ran slow from so many open windows. They are my security blankets, the lists, helping me to keep breathing when too many thoughts crowd my head.

But lists are only as good as the circumstances they organize. My seeding plan, for example, was predicated on the assumption that we would have built our greenhouse in March, and it would be ready and warmly waiting for the seeding bonanza of April. That's not exactly how it worked out. Construction was postponed seemingly indefinitely—first because Brendan and Katia, through no fault of their own,were delayed in closing on their house (and the site of the would-be greenhouse). Then there was the problem of the frame, which we had planned to purchase from some friends who backed out the last week in March. We found a greenhouse company that promised to deliver on Saturday the 3rd, until they realized that we were in Hardwick Massachusetts, not Hardwick Vermont. April 1 found me without a greenhouse or a place to put it, watering my ever growing number of trays in a shower.

Change of plans. I drove to New Hampshire, loaded up the truck with greenhouse parts, and decided to make it happen. The first step, the foundation, proved the hardest part. Based on our admittedly limited sample set, I'd put the probability of sending a three-foot post into Massachusetts soil and not hitting rock at about 3 to 12. These are neither good betting nor good construction odds. We pried out rocks; we dug holes, and after two days of sweat and tears, we had twelve posts to show for our labor. Erecting the bows and attaching the purlins and ridgepoles seemed like nothing after the first Herculean task, and with Brendan's help we soon built endwalls. We stretched the plastic over the frame and admired our handiwork.

Next we needed heat. An electrician lent us a propane heater, which we rigged up to provide warmth at night. The 200,000 BTU heater proved massive overkill, however, so I slept in a tent next to the greenhouse to monitor for melt down, and we left one roll-up side slightly raised to avoid cooking the plants. All seemed well—my plants were shooting up and my greenhouse finally felt like a proper structure. Until the heater ran out of propane Thursday night. One week's supply had cost $85, so we knew that our jury-rigged system needed changing. Besides, I didn't relish the thought of driving an hour and a half to the propane dealers each week with a 100 gallon tank in the back of the truck.

We called the propane company and asked them to come connect a small heater we had purchased, which promised to be energy efficient, thermostat controlled, and infinitely safer than our first model. But a solution so neat would have ruined our record of near catastrophe, so the good beurocrats of Massachusetts intervened. They've banned the use of vent-free heaters (what we had) as a primary source of heat, and the propane comany's alternative system would run a cool $1200, not including propane. So, without going into too much incriminating detail, I'm headed to Connecticut on Monday in search of “alternative” options.

In the meantime, I'm playing vegetable musical chairs again, carrying sixteen flats of cold-sensitive peppers inside to warmth at night and out to sun by day. I'm constantly commuting between fields and the greenhouse (they are separated by approximately four miles of windy country road) to water plants or work the land where they will ultimately grow. I'm seeding. I'm digging pathways. I'm trying to make sense of all those best-laid plans amidst the hustle of spring.

But Sunday morning, having worked a seventeen hour day the preceding day (which was my birthday), I decided to stop. We went out for ice cream. I ate food while seated. I went for a walk and admired the fresh green that comes and goes so briefly each year. Then this evening I sat down to make my list for the coming week.


LP said...

Happy belated birthday -- but everything you want to do is illegal!

Kevin said...

damn, look at that lettuce. I am jealous of your lettuce, MK.