Wendy Johnston
Appalachian South Folklife Center, Pipestem, WV
I like to think of the early things you get from the garden. From nature, as your Spring Appetizers. Just as much, or maybe more work goes into their preparation and their delicious taste tides us over til Summer’s first bountiful course is served.
This year, thanks to some wonderful help, we were able to overwinter three raised beds covered with hoops, filled with spinach, lettuce, kàle, carrots, cilantro. Every few weeks when the weather got warm enough I was able to sneak out and partially uncover them enough to pick a few things for lunch or supper. Then came the real cold and snow beginning on February 13 and lasting through the second week of March. I would stare out at the snow covered beds and depending on my mood would imagine the plants either thriving in their warm cocoon of plastic and row cover or freezing and dying since some of our temps had been below zero degrees. Then came some warming days and the snow and ice slowly melted, I was able to peek into the tunnel and low and behold everything was still green and growing. I couldn’t wait to uncover them completely. Soon it was the last week of March and although it was windy and a bit nippy out I uncovered all the beds. I weeded and planted new seeds in the bare spots including a new bed filled with onions, beets, carrots and peas. I was very excited to get this done before I left the first week of April for the beach. Hoping they would grow quickly for my veggie CSA shares that were supposed to start the first week of May.
So far we have delivered two weeks of our Spring Appetizers. I found myself worrying that I wasn’t adding enough to the baskets when this revelation hit me. This was just the start, like receiving the first course of the most wonderful meal you can imagine, a meal to last the entire summer and into the fall.
When talking to new gardeners like those in GASP, a WV Grow Appalachia site at the Appalachian South Folklife Center, it is hard to get folks excited about growing food until they actually are able to harvest it from the ground. The overwhelming sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that comes from that can not be replicated. It is easy to get discouraged when waiting for summer vegetables. If you are a patio gardener and buy those 4 tomato plants in early May it is hard to imagine that it will take at least 8 weeks to get the first tomatoes. Most people get discouraged and forget to water or care for these little plants because they can not see the fruit developing. When you plant even a small patch of greens, lettuce, onions and radishes early in Spring, usually within 4 weeks you will be close to harvesting small bites. The best thing about the lettuces and greens, they keep producing even after harvesting. These early fruits of your labor should be considered the Appetizer course, holding us over til the next course is served up by Mother Nature.
Note: Besides being a site coordinator for Grow Appalachia, Wendy Johnston is co-owner with her husband Steve, of Oakwyn Farms LLC. They operate a seasonal CSA from their farm in southern West Virginia and raise and sell grass fed beef and lamb.