The peas are in the ground. That statement should have exclamation points after it and stars surrounding it. Getting the first furrows dug in the garden and dropping shriveled peas into the good black earth marks the beginning of another year of gardening.
It’s a welcome beginning, though it is only the smallest step among hundreds to follow in the next weeks and months. Still, it is a start, and Dick and I are delighted to have the garden underway.
The weather last week was too good to resist. I had a couple of days of teaching to prepare for and then to carry out, but despite the busyness of the week, Dick and I found a late afternoon to gather rakes and hoes from the potting shed, drag the leaf covering off a section of the vegetable garden and dig into the rich earth.
After 50-some years of gardening in the same spot, adding mulch and compost to the area repeatedly, we now have soil that looks for all the world like crumbled chocolate Oreos. At least, that’s what I think as I dig inches deep into the ground.
In the last years of my dad’s life, he and my mother bought a small farm and moved out of Oak Ridge. The acreage included two large chicken houses. My dad, having been raised on a farm, went right to work raising chickens. A wonderful by-product of his endeavor was the litter he cleaned out of the houses after each batch of chickens went off to market. We’re talking thousands of chickens and many truckloads of chicken litter.
He spread the manure mixture over his garden patch, around his raspberries and strawberries and in any other area where he hoped to grow a crop. The result was soil so rich he declared that if someone threw a billiard ball onto it, the ball would grow hair.
When I’m in my garden, I often wish my dad were still alive to see what miracles Dick and I have wrought with our efforts to enrich the dirt. We haven’t raised chickens, but our daughter Missy had hens for several years, and we reaped the bounty each time we cleaned out the henhouse.
Years ago we used to occasionally close a steer into a barn stall while we fattened the animal. Mucking out the stall after the beef went to market yielded more riches for the garden, as did all the composted waste from the kitchen and the garden and the leaves that fell from 11 maples surrounding the house. A spring truckload of mushroom soil was the other additive we relied upon.
In the early years of our gardening, I beat the earth with a hoe in my attempts to weed. My shoulders ached from the effort, and the weeds went right on growing. Now a gentle tug brings up the most stubborn weeds, roots and all — chickweed, lamb’s quarter, henbit. Only the invasive Bermuda grass leaves me stymied, and even it is easier to battle than it was years ago.
The garden is a good place to be on a March day. By the time you read this, spinach and lettuce seed may have been scattered over a cleaned-off patch and broccoli and cabbage plants may be standing in a row.
The flower beds, too, are up and running. As I’ve said before, daffodils cover the hilltop. I’m busy deadheading the earlier ones, but the later hybrids are opening day by day and many of those are among my favorites — single flowers and double ones, daffodils with pink or bright orange centers and smaller narcissi with two or three flowers to the stem.
The aromatic daffodils are coming into bloom, and between them and the hyacinths now flowering, the hillside smells wonderful. I step outdoors frequently each day just to amble around and sniff deeply. We forget over the long winter how wonderful a spring day can smell.
In another week I may be complaining about pollen coating the outdoor furniture and blowing in through every open door or window. I may be sneezing and rubbing my itchy eyes. I may feel overwhelmed by the list of spring chores that present themselves at every turn.
But for now spring is a novelty, a welcome season we’ve bounded into, all our senses eager for whatever the world offers. Cold will doubtless invade once more, but we’ve had a glimpse of what is to come. And we can scarcely wait.