on Leap Day, hope springs

It’s just so confusing! In October we had a foot of snow and leaves still on the trees. That was just about it for the snow this year. January and February saw many really mild days that have coaxed out the daffodils and crocuses. Today, Leap Day, the forecast calls for snow, sleet, freezing rain — generally disgusting weather. Yes, I know that it is winter after all and it is New England as well. But what’s a person to believe in when the weather is such a tease? The answer is simple: my garden.

Christmas future

tomatoes (Christmas Future) on right

At the beginning of February, I planted a few tomato seeds that my neighbor gave me. After a month of sprouting and growing in a  seed-starter unit, they were ready to graduate to the two-inch square peat pots that you see here. (I’ve staged them with some “store-bought” tomatoes just to give them encouragement.) They are a heavy-maintenance project. Must keep in warm, sunny window; must keep moist, but not too wet; must re-pot repeatedly; must gradually introduce to the outdoors and real sunlight before planting; must be careful not to plant too early. The list could go on, and each year I claim that I won’t grow tomatoes from seeds again.

The return on investment — assuming that my time is worthless, which as a freelancer is sometimes true — it is still questionable whether you do better just buying plants in the early summer. Certainly at most garden stores and even at many big box stores you will find large and hearty vegetable plants for a couple bucks a piece. Being an organic gardener, I avoid those venues and browse my local farmers’ markets in the spring. Even the organic varieties aren’t that expensive compared with the time and effort it takes to nurture plants from seeds.

“so why?” you ask

The immediate answer that comes to mind is the perennial one that parents use with their children when they can’t think of an easy reply, “because.” Yes, because I need to see the possibilities. I need to know that there will be a time when real food will come from the soil in my backyard, and that food will taste so good. It is a leap of faith to put the tiny seed in some moist soil and believe that with enough love and nurturing, you’ll have a tomato to savor in seven months. Yikes, when you put it that way, it’s almost as long as making a baby! (Every parent knows it takes a leap of faith to raise a child, too.)

Christmas past

Christmas past: the last butternut squash from my 2011 garden

Isn’t she pretty? Wish that you could feel her. She’s just as firm as when I took her from the dying October garden. And I know that her flesh will be bright orange, sweet, and nutty. Oh, that I would age so well!

The winter squash varieties (butternut, acorn, Hubbard, pumpkin just to name a few) take a long time to mature and are best picked after their vines die back. But while you have to wait a bit for their tasty flesh, they are incredible keepers. Just store them in your cool basement and they’ll keep until spring. We’ve enjoy sautéed squash, squash soup, and my newest favorite thanks to the New York Times, kale pesto with roasted butternut squash. The latter is an incredible season stretcher since kale will survive easily through several frosts.

enjoy the bonus

Leap day is a bonus! Hope that you are enjoying what feels like an extra twenty-four hours.