April 24, 2018
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Seeds may need more love than gardener has to give

By Kathryn Olmstead, Special to the BDN

If seeds must be planted with love in order to thrive, my garden is at risk.

Some people can’t wait to get out and dig in the dirt as soon as the frost leaves the ground. Not me.

“I’ll spend one hour in the garden,” I told myself on the sunny day in May I had determined would be planting day. My dog, who retreats when I talk to myself, hovered at the edge of the yard, a safe distance from my grumbling.

Having spent last summer under sheets of black plastic, the small garden plot was covered with straw in the fall and a layer of manure this spring.

“All you do is scratch away the straw to make a row,” said my experienced gardener friend. Well, the straw was hard packed and the dirt beneath didn’t look that great. Nonetheless, I raked a few rows with a little hand tool, sprinkled carrot seeds, poked in beans and covered the rows with handfuls of manure and straw, coating my face with dirt as I swatted black flies with my muddy hands.

I have always planted squash on little hills, but these poor seeds are buried in dirt surrounded by a nest of thatch. Six nests of squash seeds, three rows of beans, one row each of carrots and spinach and two rows of Italian beans and I was done.

I decided to plant a few rows of arugula, lettuce and more spinach in a small garden nearer the house. The hour was up. I rewarded myself and my apprehensive dog with a nice long walk.

“You had better do something about that woodchuck living under your garage,” my friend had warned. So I took the advice of another master gardener.

“Pee in a jar,” she said, “then sprinkle it around the woodchuck’s hole.”

I considered a more direct approach without the jar, but what if someone should drive in? I followed her instructions precisely.

The next day, it didn’t just rain, it poured in sheets all day long.

“See,” I told yet another gardening friend. “Of course my seeds will rot in the ground. I’m not supposed to be good at summer things, like gardening. I’m a winter person.”

It’s true. By the time I have finally accepted I can no longer ski, the weeds and invasives can be so thick in my gardens I can’t find the flowers.

But flowers are not as important as vegetables. This is the year to get back into vegetables. I must improve my attitude so this little garden will grow. My life could depend on it.

A week passed. We in Aroostook County are congratulating ourselves on living in a place that might have severe winters but not the violent tornadoes wreaking havoc in other parts of the country.

Then at least two twisters touch down in The County, toppling trees, ripping off barn roofs and bringing torrents of rain to gouge huge gullies in the fields and roadsides. I had just read that Mother Nature is beginning to fight back against our destruction of the Earth — that earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and hurricanes are not just happening more frequently by chance. Her message had even reached Aroostook.

I feared my seeds had drowned.

My friend took pity on me and raked new rows in my little plot so I could replant the garden. This time, I said, I will plant my seeds with affection.

Sprouts had appeared in one of the six nests of squash, so I replanted the remaining five. Beans, carrots … what’s this? A single sprout in the row of Italian beans? I decided not to disturb this row and the one next to it in case other seeds were germinating beneath the surface.

I drove six tall fiberglass stakes around the perimeter of the bed and measured for fencing. I checked the garden every day. New sprouts appeared only in the rows I did not replant. Should I have left the other rows as well?

I made a trip to Orono and met up with a friend who tried to lure me away from Aroostook onto beautiful new bike trails.

“I gave up vegetable gardening long ago,” she said. “In Orono we have a wonderful thing called the farmers market. Come biking.”

Well, I have to admit, biking is more like skiing than gardening. But this may be a crucial time for my garden up north. I even have a small sign of success. The woodchuck seems to have disappeared.

Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She can be reached at kathryn.olmstead@umit.maine.edu or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.

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