The advice that comes from the head of the urban farm where we volunteer is, “Just keep planting.” There is, of course, a rhythm to understanding season and sun and how each affects plant growth. Yet, his premise is that the weather is so unpredictable here until it becomes difficult to say with certainty what will grow well and when.
That said, I suppose that it is strictly tradition that in the past, we have only planted in late spring and summer, leaving the lawn to the grass and weeds once the days begin to shorten in fall. So for the first time, we decided to take advantage of our wonky weather and establish a fall/ winter garden.
There are plants that grow well in cooler weather, including many leafy greens and root vegetables. So we focused on varieties within these broader categories, plus herbs like lovage (a substitute for celery) and cilantro, both of which love cold weather. For sure, we are traversing a steep learning curve with cool weather gardening, and the weather thus far has not helped us at all. In fact, probably the biggest lesson I have learned is to not stress about the weather (as if I could change it), but instead to enjoy the beauty of each day and the many blessings it holds. When it is warm enough (but not too warm), the tomatoes grow. When it is colder, we get good greens. If I could stop watching the weather, I might actually enjoy the goodness of the food.
We have had at least one funny surprise. Though we are starting increasingly more plants from seed, we did buy several plants from the grocery store, like these “collards.”
They were mislabeled, and we had a good, belly-aching, “you-had-one-job-to-do” laugh as we realized that our harvest was going to look a bit different than we planned. Equally funny is the number of days that we have had cool weather and I thought, we might actually get one carrot.
But…the fun of adding a little fresh green onion to a bowl of warm chili or soup. The beauty of the red mustard leaf, which I actually hate to cut. And the sheer anticipation of a day when we will harvest more than we buy—not just for ourselves, but potentially for others as well. In a time when food is regularly recalled and employment is uncertain, a head of pesticide-free lettuce can be a gift. In spite of the fact that our lettuce has not grown well this year (a defect in the manufacturer’s seeds, I am convinced), I embrace the learning curve and dare to dream.
In the meantime, we follow the advice of the urban farm manager: we keep planting. I take a cup of something warm outside each morning and make my tour from one end of the yard to the other, noticing each change, and no doubt overreacting to it all. After all, there is always the promise of what’s to come…