It is time to begin, again. The emergence of spring's heralds-- the crocus, the daffodil, the ornamental cherry blooms in every third yard around Eugene-- brings me to anticipate, look up, shake my winter-softened arms out a bit. It's been a whole year. Almost thirteen moons, since I began the last season of watching plants grow and the burst of life run its course. I revisited my garden journal from 2015 recently and found that I was inventorying seeds, making garden maps for my new beautiful home, purchasing trays and flats and potting soil, and seeding onions at this time in February. I was re-visiting all my farming practices that I had first learned in this city three years prior, but unlike then, I lacked some of the key elements to start seed this early.
My onions grew ever so slowly, tiny green shoots that lazed by my bedside and reached toward the filtered, too-dim sunlight as it reached past apple tree shadows and spring rainbow storms. The tiny cabbage sprouts, so eager at first, faced a gradual death as they succumbed to an unknown wilt. Ah, and the beets! Direct-seeded outside, they suffered recurrent infestations of life miners, which, I learned by bringing a leaf in to the Master Gardeners next door to my office, were decimating home crops of chard, spinach, and beets all over the county.
Small failures aside, there was a most magnificent burst of life and bounty over the course of our warm spring, dry summer, and even into the golden fall. I made my first attempt at growing oats, Avena sativa, and fell madly in love with their dancing grains and sea-foam striped stalks. The birds nearly thwarted them all, but the few that grew from the first and second plantings were well spaced and vibrant, interplanted among four stout Purple Bumblebee cherry tomato plants.
Oh, the tomatoes! It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to place tiny flat seeds in a few planting trays and, nearly a year later, be relishing bag after bag of frozen garden tomatoes. This year I grew five varieties: the Purple Bumblebee, which produced few but stunningly flavorful, purple-smeared bitefuls of juicy summertime. The Woodle Orange won out for flavor, though. They turned from soft yellow to bright gold when ripe, and I watched the process on our two plants with delight and anticipation of adding thick slices to freshly rinsed salad greens. For preserving, my favorite was the Jersey Devil, whose seeds I saved carefully for this year. The tomatoes are long and pointy like peppers, and their uniform ripening and detachable skins won me over as I boiled and peeled gallons and gallons of saucers. Unfortunately, the majority of my paste tomatoes were of another variety called Sheboygan, which was delicious fresh but is not well suited for processing. Process aside, I'm grateful for their stamina into the fall and their weight and sweetness in my chest freezer. Bread and Salt was the last variety: a pink, heart-shaped tomato that was certainly enjoyable, but not memorable enough to save seed.
I jumped ahead; the story of the tomatoes begins months before I had any idea about the fruits. They sprouted to March's full moon, folded and skinny, curving up daintily from their cozy potting mix into the dim light behind my sliding glass door. There is so much hope this time of year: that each plant will thrive, that dreams will coalesce into tangible life, that warmer days will bring freedom and clarity to the fogginess of winter's routine. Whatever will grow this year is already germinating in last year's compost, on the bright surface, deep in the shadows, searching for the light and warmth of another springtime.