Gardens are possible with one daily bit at a time, each day all season long. The first and heaviest task is digging up the 40 foot raised bed. Captain Wing was kind enough to leave his spade outside upon request. (I was very sneaky, and did not explain just why the spade was needed.) To keep from feeling daunted by the task, I set a timer for just 90 minutes. Then I climbed up on the bed and started turning over hunks of soil, chopping them into smaller pieces. The soil is rich but heavy, so I only finished spading about 40% of the bed. Luckily, last year Captain Wing had the forethought to concoct a special mix of shredded plants, wood chips, and mulch in a 20-gallon compost bin. This year he’ll add that to the soil to lighten it up.
Part of today’s spading job was clearing and harvesting the winter greens. They date from last October, when I took some expired seed packets and tossed them all around. Some took root and grew right through our winter as a fresh menu supplement. They are still growing, but it seemed a good idea to clear them all. That way we can have a neat-looking bed, and can rotate in new vegetables. (Yesterday I first pulled and cleaned all the scallions and leeks and a few potatoes. A sample of each made a good dinner with a butter pat on top.)
Here is a sample of today’s harvest: Kale, baby collards, celery, and turnip greens attached to a jumbo turnip. Because our building garden hose is turned off for the winter, I carried the greens up to the fourth floor and washed them several times in bucket after bucket of water, carrying the full buckets back downstairs to pour outside to keep the grit out of the kitchen plumbing.
The trimmed outer leaves below got a final scrub and rinse. Now they are wrapped in brown paper in the fridge. The tough cores and stems were trimmed away; they will go in the stock pot with vegetable peels and seaweed to make potassium broth.
One neighbor stopped by the garden patch and expressed an interest in the spading project. Afterwards I hung a gift bag on his doorknob with a sample of triple-washed leaves wrapped in brown paper with a greeting card. As it turned out, his household was fresh out of greens, and they were pleased to have them for dinner.
Then the 90 minutes was up. An hour later all the washing and toting were done and the greens were put away. Last I washed Captain Wing’s shovel, dried and polished it well, and put it back at his door. Then I lay down on the floor to stretch and straighten my back. Captain telephoned a minute later to express his concern and dismay that 1). I had washed and shined up a common garden spade, and 2). had used it to do all that spading. He laid down the law that tomorrow he will take over the spading project himself.
Next perhaps one of the neighbors can drive me to buy more topsoil.
It’s an amazing piece of good fortune to have that raised bed right outside our building. The whole garden dream is not about food really. It’s about something hopeful and pleasant for the neighbors to look at and talk about. This year it would be nice to plant sweet peas. They grow well in the cold, the sprouts are edible, and children find it fun to watch them grow. Sunflowers would be a cheerful touch too. We’ll see. One bit one day at a time.
Today up on that raised bed toward the end of that 90 minutes there was a peaceful interlude. In the east, fluffy towers of clouds turned bright gold in the declining sun. From the west a little charcoal-gray storm front rushed overhead, full of ice crystals. The falling crystals made a white gauzy veil with soft white noise around me and the winter greens underfoot, with the robins and house finches and juncoes bursting into song.