Spring finally breaks the chill and lifts a gardener’s anxiety

Like many fellow emigres I’ve met here, I quickly learned to grow tomatoes, beets and so much more.

I confess that before I blessedly emigrated to the Rock 14 years ago I was not much of a gardener. Too busy with career and city life. But, like so many fellow emigres I have met here, I quickly learned to grow tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, beets and so much more. I even learned to can what I don’t eat fresh. I consider all this a right of passage entitling me to be called a Rock dweller, along side the generations of farmers and others who have been here all their lives.

And, like all the rest of us newbie Rock gardeners, in January and February I sat indoors, anxiously awaiting spring’s warmth and sunshine so I could get outside with my hands in the dirt.

Unfortunately, 2023 turned out to have a very chilly start to spring, making it just about impossible to get started. Consider this: During March, the coldest day was March 1, with the highest temperature hitting just 43 and the overnight low plunging to a frosty 31. It got a bit better by March 25, when the day’s high was 60—not toasty but sweatshirt-able—and the days’s low was 34 —still goosebumps weather not good for baby veggies.

Then in April, our coldest day was April 9 when the high was a wool-cap-around-the-ears 47 and the low was a too-cold-to be outside 37. By April 29, things finally got better with a day’s high of 66 — almost T shirt-able — and the low was a survivable 44.

Now in early May the sun finally stayed out for almost a whole week — until an inch of overdue rain poured down on Cinco de Mayo.

It is amazing how much warmer weather coupled with hands in dirt will change your attitude for the better. The other morning I was fascinated as I watched the bees pollinate the gorgeous blossoms on my ancient Gravenstein apple trees. The blossoms were magnificent and I consider them a sign of rebirth after watching the trees hiberate since October. And I imagined how many big, beautiful apples I will be harvesting in September. Rock dwellers will always tell you that Gravensteins make the best apple pies and taste great when you just pick one off the tree and bite into it.

Then my eye was drawn to the thyme and oregano I had planted the week before, looking ever so healthy and already growing larger. I could tell how great both will taste when crushed and spread on barbecued chicken or pork by July.

Finally I went to my raised bed veggie garden and noticed that overnight a half dozen baby russet potato plants had emerged. I had planted the sliced seed potatoes — eyes up, of course! — on March 28 and I watched with anxiety as nothing happened for more than a month.

Had my seed potatoes rotted in the cold weather? Had birds plucked them? It sent a shiver down my spine that was not caused entirely by the stubborn cold weather.

But today the shivers are replaced by smiles and gratitude. Apple blossoms, young herbs, sprouted baby potato plants. Soon to be joined by tomatoes, zucchini, onions, beets and so much more. Life on our Rock is renewing itself once again.

Harry Anderson is a retired journalist who worked at the Los Angeles Times and now lives on Central Whidbey.

Photo by Harry Anderson
Photo by Harry Anderson