There is little as satisfying as preparing a meal with produce that I have grown myself. While I certainly sympathize with the Little Red Hen, and understand why she didn’t want to share her bread with her lazy, good-for-nothing friends, I have a different perspective. I have never asked my family and friends to plant, weed, water, or harvest, so there is no reason to deny them the pleasure of partaking in a salad made from freshly-picked veggies. Or a sage-infused sweet potato gnocchi. Or a tabouli made fragrant with mint and parsley.
So, back in October, when daughter, Elana, and her fiancé, Adam, surprised me by building a cold frame in the backyard, I was thrilled. I had read up on cold frames – basically, mini-greenhouses — and fantasized about having fresh, homegrown vegetables during the darkest, coldest days of winter. Now, my dream was about to come true.
Of course, the very next day was the Halloween that witnessed a historic, freak snowstorm. I was convinced that this season we would, as in the year before, experience record snowfalls and low temperatures, and that my dream of having a winter garden would be dashed. However, the snow melted in a matter of days, and I transplanted the parsley from my summer garden, saying a little prayer while patting the soil around the bunch.
After the kids departed for Chicago, I did some more reading. One source told me that in some parts of Europe it is traditional to plant seeds in cold frames on the shortest day of the year, so I planted lettuce and radish seeds on December 22, the solstice in Great Britain, and drank a cup of tea in solidarity (and to warm up – it was cold outside).
Little did I know that the winter of 2011-2012 would be another type of record breaker. It was the warmest on record, with the least amount of snowfall ever.
But it was, in fact, still winter so I didn’t really expect much to grow. Imagine my surprise when, after a couple of weeks, the seeds began to sprout. And they actually grew, albeit slowly. The enterprise was not without its bumps. Remember that old science lesson about setting fire to a piece of paper by putting it under a magnifying glass in the sun? Well, in mid-March, local meteorologists predicted two days of temperatures in the 80s, and guess who forgot to take the glass cover off the cold frame? I now have some green lettuce leaves with crispy brown tops. Luckily, that didn’t stop the rest of the crop from flourishing, and we should be enjoying salad in about two weeks.
And, here it is April and I am still harvesting parsley from last summer’s plant. Won’t it be neat to showcase it, and the lettuce, on the seder plate this weekend?
I have to admit that I had worried about becoming blasé at having access to homegrown vegetables and herbs all year. So far, no problem; the joy is still there. To see green sprouting in the midst of gray, barren trees and hoar frost-covered lawn was both comforting and inspiring. Next year, when a real New England winter is sure to rear its cold and snowy head, the green will be even more rousing.
I have already begun fantasizing about erecting one of those pop-up greenhouses. How big a unit can I fit into the backyard? I wonder if I can get oranges to grow? How long can I go between visits to the supermarket produce department?
Will my husband have me committed?