Mr. Sanders and I have flown the coop – and gone to Florida for an early Spring Break. This is an updated column from a few years ago, all about our favorite thing to do when winter weather is hanging on, when we are longing for summer. Grab your seed catalogues – time’s a wasting!
Seed packets are so beautiful. On the front there is an idealized illustration of a freakishly perfect tomato; it is round and radiates sun-warmth. This is so unlike the soggy cardboard tomatoes we have been buying all winter. On the back there are instructions about sowing the seeds after all danger of frost has passed. Hmmm. It’s not even mid-February and I am ready to hang up the snow shovel and start planting summer salads.
I wandered past the seed section of the garden department at the hardware store last weekend. Mr. Friday thought we were going in to buy windshield wiper fluid and light bulbs. Such charming naïveté! Instead, we walked out with wiper fluid, light bulbs and three seed starting kits, a handful of flower seed packets and a boatload of potting soil. I might talk a good tomato game, but I am longing to have hollyhocks and zinnias and armfuls of coreopsis. I am going to run through a Technicolor meadow of pollinating cutting flowers this year. Oh, and have a nice little vegetable garden, too.
I have been waiting all winter for this – I admit it. I have been thumbing through seed catalogues and imagining my new and improved raised garden bed, spilling over with cukes, beans, and tomatoes. I have been thinking about all those tender herbs that I will manage to coax along this year. I have pictured the extra little flourish and the modest bow I will take when I humbly present our salad greens at the Fourth of July picnic. Envisioning how I will please, delight, and amaze Mr. Friday when I whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the homemade salad dressing. I will embrace weeding.
Last year we over-estimated the number of tomato plants that two people actually need. We started with a dozen small plants, but were completely clueless about how big they would get. It got Tokyo-subway-crowded in that tiny little garden. There is science to be applied, and a lot of math, too, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac: Planting Space Resolve: fewer tomato plants in 2024.
We also planted the basil farm, which is our favorite ingredient, second only to garlic. We had half a dozen basil plants, which were well-tended and yielded a hefty amount of basil through the spring and summer. The plants were all pretty leggy by September, but I managed to fill a gallon-sized Baggie with fragrant basil leaves to tide us over the long winter months. You can never have too much basil.
Resolve: more basil in 2024.
The row of nasturtiums was shiny and bright with color for a few weeks. The plants did not self-sow, which was a disappointment to my lazy soul, because I never remembered to plant any more nasturtium seeds. My neighbor had mentioned once that she just loved nasturtiums, so I really should be concerned with her view of the neighborhood.
Resolve: be a better neighbor, and plant more nasturtiums.
I like to have slicer tomatoes sunning on the kitchen windowsill. I can always make a happy lunch of a tomato sandwich, Pepperidge Farm white bread and a thick schmear of mayonnaise. With some potato chips, please. There is nothing better than a home-grown sun-warmed tomato. But Mr. Friday is fond of some cherry tomatoes, which he likes to sear under the broiler, and serve with burrata, basil and good olive oil. He might prefer growing some Sungold or Sweet Million cherry tomatoes.
If you do not feel not up to the responsibilities of growing your own vegetable garden from seed this season, now that the snow has paused (Thank you, Punxsutawney Phil!), and the daffodils are popping up every where, please think about supporting your local farmers at farmers’ markets and farm stands and CSAs. They were cool long before Brooklyn with all of its mustachioed, plaid-sporting, artisan, organic, heirloom, microcosmically hip farmers, butchers, chicken farmers, bakers and baristas. We like locally grown and all the virtues associated with it.
I was appalled to see that the cheater’s way of buying lettuce at the grocery store has gotten so expensive – $4.49 today for a single puny bag of pre-washed mixed spring greens! I have had enough! Enough of the madness! I am fighting back. I have just spent $5.95 for 500 lettuce seeds. Let’s see what my actual return on the dollar is, at roughly 1.2¢ a seed…
Here is Burpee’s perky and un-intimidating video for growing lettuce. How to Grow Lettuce If I only harvest two heads of lettuce I will be slightly ahead.
While I was earnestly researching lettuce seeds I was diverted by the fantasy that I am able to grow hydrangeas, which are my favorite flowers (after violets, daffodils and lily of the valley) but which I can never seem to grow well. Maybe this year I’ll be lucky. I have finally determined where the wet areas are in the back yard, perfect for hydrangeas. I have ordered another Nikko Blue Hydrangea, as well as the lettuce seeds. I am crossing my soon-to-be-muddy fingers, and am hoping for an early jump on our summer salads.
“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens:
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
– Katharine S. White