Tuesday, June 3, 2014

vernal vigor

Some people are like ants. Give them a warm day and a piece of ground and they start digging. There the similarity ends. Ants keep on digging. Most people don't. They establish contact with the soil, absorb so much vernal vigor that they can't stay in one place, and desert the fork or spade to see how the rhubarb is coming and whether the asparagus is yet in sight.
Hal Borland

I am, I must admit, a bit of a distractible gardener. I have the best of intentions. Each year I start my seeds indoors, and I plant my early direct seeds as soon as I can work the soil. I wrestle the weeds into temporary submission.

Our garden is coming along.

I dream big. I add perennials each year, making our home here feel more and more permanent.

In moments of vernal exhaustion, I do take my Ball jar full of water and wander over to the asparagus patch, which I add to each year. Still unharvestable -- we will be able to take a bit from a few plants next year -- it is a sign of our permanence here, this three to four year commitment to patience and maintenance of something that gives nothing for years, after which you can eat your work.

It is worth the wait.

But I will admit it it. After my new seedlings and fruit trees and perennials go in and I care for them for a bit, they are kind of on their own. Because I have lacrosse practice to get to. And oceans and lakes to swim in. And a badminton serve to perfect. And adventures to take.

And so, I do so appreciate the hardy survivors. The ones that can live with my absent-minded watering. And with my propensity to weed in fitful and intense bursts, removing weeds by the wheelbarrow full instead of here and there as they come up. And I often place things in the ground without a good plan.

And even though I have reclaimed most areas of the garden by now, the weeds are like a waiting crowd of love stricken teenagers at the gates of a rock concert...just waiting for me to turn my back and stampede.

Case in point. It was time to accept it. My tomato seedlings, though started diligently inside weeks ago, were not going to make it. I had ordered a lovely selection of heirloom seeds. And started them in our new location for seedlings this year, in the windows of the shed. And I had watered them regularly. But it turns out they really needed those sun lamps after all, the ones I never retrieved from the basement, in order to get big enough to withstand the pelting rain shower that hit them one afternoon. I had put them outside to harden off...and then forgot about them as I hung laundry on the line. See? Distracted.

Dropping Elliott off in his classroom this morning, we checked out the message board to see what was happening today. It turns out they were making rhubarb sauce, from rhubarb they had harvested together the day before in the school garden. I made a mental note to myself: check in on our rhubarb. If the school rhubarb, which happens to be from the same farm as ours, is ready to be harvested, likely so is ours.

Elliott was prepared. They each had their own recipes for the sauce they were planning to make.

Funnily enough, it's not actually very nutritious because it's mainly made up of water. It does have a bit of vitamin C, some calcium and fibre, but that's not the point of rhubarb... Instead, it has an amazing flavour spectrum – one that floats, skips, jumps and crashes right over your tongue, from the front to the sides and back again!
Jamie Oliver, from Jamie Oliver at Home
I was curious about how the whole flavour spectrum would go over in Elliott's class. His clever teacher was planning to pour their sauce over ice cream, so it should go very well. I would think.

Leaving Elliott to the chopping and sweetening work of his morning, I headed to our favorite family farm and our favorite place to buy our plants. The plan was to purchase their heirloom tomato plants and head straight home to put them in the waiting beds.

I was there for tomatoes. But I found myself thinking about rhubarb. And what I was going to make with all my rhubarb at home.

I was thinking about the recipes in this book.

This man. He kind of had me at homemade pasta in this video Whack it out. Give it a little feeler. Squwiggie. Then the impressive pasta maker sound effects demonstration. I was his.

And I was thinking about the recipes in the section of this cookbook that he devotes to rhubarb.

When we purchased our plants two years ago, they looked much like the plant below.

I bought ours after a rather embarrassing mistake, thankfully pointed out to me by my father, before we tried to make anything from it.

Because the plant below? Not rhubarb. FYI. A lesson learned by my excited self who proudly announced our first spring here that we had rhubarb growing everywhere!

Not Rhubarb. But Burdock.

And I heard, two years ago, that our favorite member of the Snell Family had been out in the fields earlier that morning splitting plants to sell (or perhaps it was raspberries, which I also purchased that day, raspberries that now dot our fruit patch. For the sake of argument, let's go with rhubarb memory. Because it works with my story). I had scooped up three rhubarb plants that day. And they have ever since been her plants, just residing in our garden.

This morning, I filled my wagon with a frugal but respectable variety of tomato plants, realizing that indeed some of the seedlings at home would likely pull through their trauma. And headed home.

First thing I did was go looking for my rhubarb. Hmmm. It was strangely difficult to find.

Those extra few strawberry plants I had thrown in last year to give the kids something rewarding to pick and eat while we were out there had certainly done well. And had taken over the rhubarb patch.

It was still in there once I pulled apart the leaves.

I thinned the overgrown strawberries. But it was slow work, because I rescued many of the plants and will move them to the fruit patch.  Last year, I started a new fruit patch elsewhere, once I decided I wanted more fruit plants than I had room for in the vegetable garden.

I had to rescue them. They had pink berries.

Once cleared, the three rhubarb plants were there. But they were small. Thin. Leggy. And rather pathetic looking.

I walked to the barn where we keep a second freezer and pulled out a few bags of rhubarb from last year's much more hearty harvest, pre-strawberry invasion, a crop frozen back when we had too much rhubarb to keep up with.

I will get around to planting the tomatoes. Though I have not yet.

They smell like summer.

But for a while there, I did get a bit distracted by rhubarb rescuing. I did indeed wander off for a bit.
Rhubarb is a funny one. It's usually thought of as a dessert fruit but it's actually part of the sorrel family, so it's really more of an herb. If you've got any sort of growing space, it's definitely worth having a plant or two of rhubarb. Not only does it look beautiful, but I love having it in the garden for those times when I fancy making a tart, crumble or pie. It's such a treat to be able to go outside and pull some rhubarb off your own plant! It's extremely sour and very acidic, so regardless of how you cook it, you've got to balance the acidity with sugar. Because of this, it can really never be consumed in a healthy way (but we all need some naughty things in our lives once in a while!).
Jamie Oliver, from Jamie Oliver at Home
Now please excuse me. I have some reading to do.

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