It’s snowing again. Hard. The wind is fierce. Winter has a long way to go yet. But last week brought the faint breath of spring. A couple of warm days swelled with transitional birdsong–not their nesting songs, but then again not the single, plaintive notes of midwinter. It was the loveliest reminder of what’s to come in another couple of months and enough to get me into the orchard to shovel nearly three feet of snow from atop a 12′ x 8′ raised bed. Who cared that I had to haul supplies on a sled? Who cared that I stood in snow higher than my knees as I shoveled? I put up a tunnel over that bed to thaw the soil for a few weeks to prepare for transplanting the first seedlings and sowing some seeds directly outside in mid-March–but that timing will depend, of course, on Mother Nature.
I always defer to Mother Nature even when I’m trying to fool her with raised beds and tunnels.
When the cold returned a couple of days later, I headed into the warm basement, undaunted, to plant kale, lettuces, arugula, broccoli, rapini, fennel, chard, fenugreek, spinach, radicchio, endive and other bitter Italian greens for that early bed–a green juice garden bed to bring an intense nutrient blast to our winter-weary bones. A happy thought!
Last year across those beds sprawled some 100 hot pepper plants, some 16 varieties form around the world– a treasure trove of complex flavors and heat for my table and Open View Gardens’ customers this winter in the form of dried and pickled peppers, chile and paprika powders. Until a couple of weeks ago I planned to rotate the crops in that bed (I leave 3-4 years between planting the same crop in the same bed–leads to a healthy garden and a lovely change in the look of things year to year) not to early greens–I had my eyes on a smaller bed for that), but to a later planting, one of my yearly experiments: Thai eggplants for pickling, perhaps, and sweet potatoes, or the Sicilian tomatoes and zucca, the seeds of which my daughter’s boyfriend brought me from his mother. But after embarking a month ago on a detox cleanse I read about in Outside Magazine, I have revised my garden plans quite dramatically to place ever more emphasis on nutrient-dense fruits, berries, vegetables that are also less likely to provoke allergies in people.
Dr. Alejandro Junger, in his book Clean describes the poisoned state of our planet and our bodies, decrying the over-reliance on drugs to cure our ills. He urges us to regain control of our health through periodic detoxing and healthy eating, by making sure our water is clean and by eliminating toxic products from our lives as much as possible. Common sense. If you can afford it… It is ironic, of course, that we pay less for things coated with chemicals than for things without. This is where gardens can and should come in. Community, school and neighborhood gardening programs. Gardens instead of lawns–instead of front lawns. Skip the mowing. I’ll go far as to say that if we can, we should grow even the smallest bit of our food, even if it means growing our greens in pots on a balcony. But even that is beyond the means of many people and beyond the comfort zone of others who lead such busy lives and “don’t have green thumbs.” And so to help out in some small way, I am planting my garden with an eye to deep nutrition; I’m planting lots of extra seedlings to donate to our local anti-poverty agency along with how-to grow instructions. I’ll be planting extra rows for the food shelf. And I plan to write here much more frequently about the pleasures and advantages of growing your own and cooking from scratch. All with the opening of cultural horizons in mind.
I’m nearly done with a month on Dr. Junger’s Clean program, and I have never felt better–my arthritis has backed off, I sleep well, my skin feels great, I have energy and mental clarity.
And I thought I ate well. Gardened well. Lived well.
Now I see I can garden better and create even healthier and more interesting subscription series offerings next fall by applying the principles of Junger’s program to Open View Gardens. I’ll be including more raw recipes, for one. More with quinoa and grinding our own flours and meal from nuts and seeds–I made delicious, nutritious cookies a few days ago with no dairy, no eggs and no wheat. Thinking about how to reduce the cheese and bread. Reduce, I say–not eliminate. It’s about balance.
In the garden, since nightshade vegetables–eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet and hot peppers, and tomatillos– are common allergens, I will reduce their numbers somewhat. I’m adding elderberries, hazelnuts, asparagus (after talking about it for years), quinoa (a long shot), cranberries, and more favas and other peas and beans, squash, and greens than you can believe. Perhaps letting an entire bed be run over by mint to dry for winter tisanes. Payng ever more attention to the wide variety of herbs I can grow. Cucumbers will weave themselves through many beds for summer green juices. Beets and garlic, onions and herbs, carrots and melons and fennel and parsnips. Foods that nourish, that contain few allergens, that participate fully in the ecosystem by attracting bees, butterflies, bugs, and animals of all sorts.
Down in the basement the first onions are up, some romaine and a couple of lettuces. Soon it will start to smell of the deep warm earth and hint at the harvest to come sometime in mid-spring. Upstairs the fig trees are fruiting. I’m heading to the kitchen to soak lavender seeds for a few days to help them germinate. Tonight I’ll read in Claudia Roden’s Arabesque, Paula Woffert’s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking and Ana Sortum’s Spice to help me keep exploring the great healthy recipes of the Mediterranean. I’ll keep badgering my friend Stephanie to post about that wonderful addition to the kitchen, za’atar.
Yes, it’s snowing hard and the wind howls so hard I’m not even heading out on my skis. I’ll get on my bike on its trainer, gaze through the window down at the snowy orchard beds and dream of spring awakenings!