Last month was the wettest April on record in these parts. And right now May isn’t exactly feeling dry. Lake Champlain has reached record levels; the rivers leap from their banks; the fields are soggy. Even our pond which never ever floods is making noises about heading out over its banks and down to the driveway. The temperatures are as variable as the moisture is not–shifting between 70 and 30–that, at least, is normal.
At this moment my raised beds are looking fine–draining the moisture, staying warm enough for the early vegetables to germinate and grow. Under the tunnels fennel and cauliflower and radicchio think I’ve planted them somewhere in northern Italy. But there’s more rain to come. And just as easily this water could evaporate and the heat rise and we could be dry dry dry–not what you want for a raised bed. And in our clay soils, raised beds are a must. What to do what to do.
Gardening in these conditions takes patience and vigilance and an understanding of each variety’s needs and habits–some things that should be easy to grow won’t make it; other things that people think don’t/can’t grow in Vermont will flourish. Surprise is a given. I’m fine with that.
But this is ridiculous. I’m staring at the sky–it is a dull low gray and releasing fine mist. Again. The thermometer hovers at 50F. The weather reports warn of another 2 inches of rain on the way. Somewhere on a Vermont road a truck is making its way here with a delivery of 120 bushes: blueberries, raspberries, elderberries, strawberries, currants, horseradish. Will the truck make it before those clouds really let loose? I’ve got to get them into the ground before the next rounds of rain.
Am I crazy to keep at this experiment-in-eco-gardening in the middle of climate chaos?
Some days that question spins just above my head. Some days, when the weather conditions are perfect, it stays tamped down and silent. And when I lose a whole bed to late blight or a fruit crop to a hard frost in May, it taunts me. But then again a version of this question has haunted all farmers, all gardeners who have ever worked these Vermont soils. Some would say uncertainty goes with the territory.
But it’s not uncertainty and changeability that has unnerved me. There’s something else behind that concern–as we blacktop over more and more land; as we push wildlife to extinction and poison and over-harvest the wild foods, I hear between the drops: “It’s too late to save the planet…your efforts are too paltry, too insignificant to have an impact…” There’s dismay.
So as the rain pelts down, what else can I do but put my boots on and go out to plant elderberries and hazelnuts, raspberries and currants–for us and for the wildlife? To play my tiny part in conservation, restoration, and experimentation without doing harm to to ecosystem? To never give up no matter how much I resemble Sisyphus?
And there are the great wonders that give me spring hope. In the copses, the Eastern towhee, one of the birds we’re working hard to help, is back and imploring us to “Drink-Your-Tea”; the ferns raise their fiddleheads (undisturbed by any foragers), the trillium blanket the near wood’s edge. In the orchard the two young peach trees we planted last year are in full fragrant blossom, looking terrific after the winter (we’re on the edge of their growing zone). Whether the bees will find them in this cool sodden mess of a sky is another question.
And then there’s the artichoke.
One of the six I tried to winter over under a sagging, snow-loaded tunnel has sprouted new growth! It made it! How extraordinary. Every time I come close to despair about the condition of the earth and our behavior toward it, these little miracles restore my good mood and determination.
Soon the truck will arrive and I will have new residents to look after. There’s no time for gloom (even in the rain), only time for work and for wonder.