Spring Just Needs a Jumpstart

Weather got you feeling helpless? Here's what you can do about it:

Yet another spring blizzard is crawling over the online weather maps.  The monstrous green swirls engulf and obliterate the few patches of anemic grass at the edges of driveways and shoveled footpaths. I’m craving bare dirt with true ferocity.

If you are like me and not a hardcore gardener, you probably breezed right past the Equinox and the traditional time of planting starts. But today is March 31th, the day my gardening calendar advises removing the mulch from beds of perennials. If I could find those beds, I undoubtedly would. But they are locked down somewhere beneath a crust of melt-and-thaw ice, so let us take the planting calendar’s advice from March 26th and start some seedlings instead.

Now is a great time for nightshades: tomatoes, peppers (both hot and sweet), eggplants, and/or herbs. You can purchase seeds at any local gardening store or order seeds online from FEDCO, a cooperative seed organization based in Waterville, ME. FEDCO is my go-to, as they offer a staggering variety while supporting organic, sustainable farmers. Each seed provider is rated on a scale of 1-6: 1 for small family businesses and 6 for multinational corporations.

No need for volume- a pleasant mini-garden is achievable with just one or two flats in a south-facing window.

Step 1: Get out those planting flats, or for a cheaper fix, saw off the bottoms of milk jugs, perforate lightly, and place in a water-collecting dish.

My family eats an inordinate amount of tofu, and those deep rectangular containers are perfect for seeds. If you have heating pads, it might be time to rev those up as well. Of course, Hadley Garden Center has it all. Amherst Farmer’s Supply sells seeds, flats and heating pads at fair prices.

Step 2: Quality soil.

Preferably untouched by mischievous indoor cats or sleepy rodents. (This is a particular problem in my household. I have no idea how common it is to find stir-crazy cat-leavings in the soil bag… probably best to splurge and purchase a fresh one each year. ) Besides, if soil therapy is what you’re after why not go for something rich, fresh, and pleasant?

Step 3: Read the seed packets before you plant.

Everything needs something slightly different.

Step 4: Get your hands dirty.

This is the best part. You can pat soil into flats and pretend that you’re sitting outside on sweet fresh grass.

Step 5: Water, watch, and wait.

Someday soon (a week or two) those seedlings will peak their tiny helmeted heads up and weave towards the sunlight.

Step 6: Go for style and arrange sprouted flats on windowsills all around the house.

If you crouch down at eye level, you can pretend that the world outside is lush.

Or, you can cheat a little. Farmer’s markets often sell starts. The Winter Farmer’s Market will continue at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School right up until April 18th. The Farmer’s Market behind Thorne’s Market opens on Tuesday April 21, at 1:30 PM.

If you have any need of inspiration, (or a yearning for sweet warm air) stop by The Botanical Garden at Smith College. The current exhibit is Vaughn Sills’ Places for the Spirit: Traditional African American Gardens, black-and-white photography documenting the intricate gardens of the South. It is well-worth your time.

Afterwards, I suggest an amble into the greenhouses: the ultimate cure for winter blues.

I can walk for hours between mosses and ferns, feeling my lugs opening to all the possibility and potential of this coming summer. Because summer will come, just as inexorably as winter did. And when it does, we will have three blissful blistering months to pop warm tomatoes from their vines and pinch juicy leaves straight from the basil bush.

These fantasies look small and distant, but today I can get my fingers around the edge of them, into the dirt.

"Seed Starting" by K.B Owen licensed under CC BY 2.0