April 2, 2016

Why I Know It's Spring...

Gardeners determine the first day of spring in many ways.  Some see a robin or hear a woodpecker and think to themselves, “Spring is here”.  Others mark it by spotting crocus, dandelions, or daffodils.  The evening serenade of marsh peepers from the nearest vernal pool has its own cheering section.
Crocuses are one way...
I brook no argument with those milestones, but I have my own:  the first day of spring is when the fence goes up for our vegetable garden.  Last year, the Winter That Would Not End did not give way to spring until May 2.  This year, that date was March 26.  What a difference a year makes.
A good garden
needs a trench
While the process has changed, for us, putting up that fence is a tradition that goes back decades. Once upon a time, the fence raising was preceded by rototilling the garden plot – a day-long process in and of itself.  For the past ten years, though, our vegetables have been grown in one plot of an acre-size garden and the town has thoughtfully provided the tilling service as part of our community garden fee.
Anyone who thinks a fence is just hastily-put-up stakes and netting has never had the experience of coming out to see everything in their garden chewed to oblivion by burrowing varmints.  Our fence begins with wielding a sledge hammer to pound ten stakes 18 inches into the ground, and it followed by the digging of a trench at least six inches around the perimeter of the site.  In a 600-square-foot site, that one task consumes an hour or more. 
The first six inches of the fence
is below ground to deter varmints
Only when the trench is done does the four-foot, half-inch mesh fence get affixed to the posts.  Rocks are added along the fence line to further deter would-be subterranean intruders.  The top of the fence is secured to the steel stakes and tightened where needed.  Four hours after the process began, the gate is installed.
Betty’s seeds arrived months ago (she orders early every year to ensure getting everything she wants).  The seed packages, in turn, get arranged and re-arranged on the dining room table as the layout for the garden takes shape, and a few elements of the garden don’t wait for the fence.  Leek seeds went into egg-carton incubators in mid-March, for example.
The fence is up and peas are in
We also have the complication that we’ve created two small raised beds at our new home.  The beds total just 64 square feet, but we’re starting spinach and lettuce in them with the idea of making that our “kitchen” garden while leaving the community plot for corn, squash, and other space-hogging vegetables.
But as soon as the fence was up, Betty was planting a row of peas and otherwise working the soil inside our plot to make it ready for the onslaught of planting that will come as the month progresses.
Outside Farnham's on the Essex River
Five hours after we started, we had a fence, a gate, and our first crop in place.  We celebrated by driving up to the North Shore for our first plate of fried clams and onion rings of the season at J.T. Farnham’s. 

Which, of course, raises the possibility that the beginning of spring may also have something to do with eating beach food…

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