I was frowning as I was looking out my kitchen window at my main vegetable garden. There were wispy clouds in a powder blue sky. The February sunlight was brightening the landscape like a toddler’s fresh, innocent smile. I should have been happily surveying a yard recently swept clear of decrepit corn stalks and battered bean vines. Instead, all I could see were the glowingly healthy weeds. Perennial weeds, grasses and mallow, were covering large parts of my garden beds that were directly in my view.
Another family member asked about my pained expression, then giggled at my response. She knows how I enjoy myself once I get out in my garden. She simply said, “Then, you should go out there and pull some.” I realized I was momentarily suffering from the sort of paralyzing that happens when you try to think about the whole work load, instead of just getting busy with something. So, I went out with a determined smile, ready to dig at some of those gnarly roots.
I grabbed an emptied chicken grain sack, a spading fork, a dandelion weeder, and a large plastic bin. I had decided to be optimistic about what I might find out there. My father had told me the day before that some of his carrots had overwintered nicely in spite of lack of insulation. I knew I still had some potatoes underground. The bin was for things like that I might find.
Like a missile with exact coordinates pre-programmed, I zeroed in on the most visually offensive site. The garden soil was responsive to the gentle pressure of my bare foot on the spading fork. The well composted earth in the raised beds was crumbly damp and ready to give up the tree-trunk like roots of the mallow, as well as the dense mats of grass. I tried to move in a calm, methodic way, to avoid wrenching my winterized gardening muscles. Soon, I had two bags of weeds as a reward.
There were a few three foot high elm tree seedlings to deal with. They didn’t have leaves yet, but elms are the trees that infest my yard by the 100’s every year. There are also Russian olive, oak, and maple seedlings to contend with, but nothing in the same masses or as well rooted as the elms. On this day, these were again the hardest to pull, their roots going straight down with a tenacity that denies deforestation; but I knew this was probably my best chance for a counter attack. Later in the season, they will not only have new roots to strengthen them, but it will be harder to extract them with other things growing around. I loosened the dirt as deeply as I could, wrapped the above ground portion of the sapling around my fist a couple times, and exerted as hard and steady a force as possible. All five that I took on were conquered, and I tried to ignore that I was only clearing about nine square feet out of an acre.
Working on a distinct area of the garden usually brings the most satisfaction, as I can easily relate to progress if I see whole spaces being cleared of weeds. However, an especially large mallow or dandelion would occasionally taunt me in my peripheral vision from an adjacent raised bed. It was while on one of these side missions that I discovered two neat rows of yellow onions still growing. I proceeded to weed that whole raised bed so that I could fully enjoy looking at the jaunty row of onion tops. I thought I had lost them amidst too closely packed foliage last summer, but like the onions the winter before, these had hung on to be ready to take advantage of the demise of the warm weather crops.
As always, weeding out the grasses was the most tedious work. There were areas where it had established itself like a wall to wall carpet. This is not my lawn grasses, but something that infected my yard a few years ago and goes to seed before I can blink. Even in these cool February conditions, it looked like it was ready to shed seed soon. This inspired me to keep working on it, but I found it helpful both psychologically and physically to vary what plant type I was weeding. I also took some time to pick up handfuls of debris that was collecting in the cracks and crannies of my paved raised bed paths. These leaves and sunflower seeds had been small enough that the blower and raking of the work crew had missed them. I took note that at least cutting down the sunflower heads, even though harvesting them had been out of the question when my mother was ill, would have been good to do. Now, I was going to have sunflowers sprouting in the pea gravel sections of the paths like mad. Or was that me who was going to go mad seeing them there? With my approach of letting things reseed to some extent where they naturally will, maybe some of the inconvenience can be moderated by calling it “thinning and transplanting” for this year’s crop. I can also see if it is worth putting my planned chicken tunnels there for a while.
One small patch of newly hatched lettuce seedling volunteers caught my eye. I mean brand spanking new, tender little lettuce plants. They were a pretty soft green, speckled with red. There will probably be more soon. This is the stuff of spring. And hope. All of this is why I should go out and visit my garden on a crisp February afternoon.