To Be Normal; Part One

Do you ever wish you were a normal person? I do, all the time, and I tell myself I’m not alone. Everybody else wants to be normal too, right? This morning, for example, I was panting over my pitchfork and my 7-month-old belly, wondering why I can’t garden like a normal person. You know, the till-the-soil-with-a-machine, make-tidy-rows, plant-your-garden-in-a-day, weed-with-a-hoe, kind of normal. Every year I fully intend to do this, to be a normal gardener, but then I get down on hands and knees and start ripping out quack grass. Following the stringy, white roots snaking through the soil I shudder to think how a tiller would extend the weedy web even further (chopped up roots can colonize freshly cultivated soil with vigor). Then, the quack grass leads me to a bed of lettuce I planted last fall. It’s coming up nicely and getting a head start on all the slugs so I certainly can’t till it under either…

What happens next is my version of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, titled, If You Give Me a Pair of Gardening Gloves. The lettuce surrounds some oregano, which needs to be trimmed of old growth. I take the carbon-rich trimmings to my compost pile and, on the way, stop to look for the garlic cloves I planted last September. The pungent greens, ready to burst through the dirt, are next to a saskatoon berry bush that needs watering. While soaking the shrub I notice a pile of dead leaves to be raked away from nearby chamomile seedlings speckling the soil. As I take the rake back to the garage I know I’m starting to slip. The normal garden is eluding me faster than quack grass spreads. Still, I rack my brain to figure out how I could skirt around the calendula and cilantro I scattered in October, the perennial herbs anchoring almost every bed, the 100+ garlic plants, and the self-seeding flowers that will attract pollinators, to make something orderly. Something I could plot out on graph paper. But it’s impossible.

Just when I’m dreading my wild and weedy gardening future, I notice the feathery green top of a parsnip coming back to life. Then another, and another. I’d forgotten I’d left them in the soil to sweeten up over the winter! Soon I’m harvesting a bucket full of roots, ones existing only because I’d let them grow where they’d blown in. Parsnip takes two years to produce seed. If you don’t harvest the root the first season it will grow into a tall plant and produce a magnificent amount of seeds that will wind up all over your garden. Upon discovering my self-seeded treasure I soften a bit. I may not be normal but I’m not a failure; I’ve got parsnips to prove it.


After digging out the parsnips I realize I can’t let my heavy clay soil sit for long; I’ve done this before and working with it afterward is like trying to massage concrete. Fortunately I have some snap pea seeds on hand and I plant a little patch to fill the vacancy created by tonight’s supper. I suppose I won’t be tilling through this either…


Our red willow Christmas tree also functions as a pea trellis. I put straw over the planted peas so they stay moist.


Peas…and an earth worm!


scrubbed parsnips ready for roasting (and soup the day after)

Roasted Parsnips to Boost Morale

  • Chop up parsnips and toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt (I use my rosemary salt).
  • Place on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown and soft. If you’re in a hurry it should only take about a half hour at 415 F. If you have time, roast them slower with less heat.
  • Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt and fresh green onions. If you harvest the parsnips in spring (like I did today) the green onions will be the only other thing in the garden ready to eat, which makes for a fortunate pairing.


PS. There are many areas of my life where I’d like to be more normal. I was going to address another in this post, but I’ve got to get to school. Check back later.

*This post shared at RealFoodWednesday


My less-than-show-piece garden

I used to be so hopeful when planting my garden. I’d think about all the seeds ready to burst forth and imagine my plot carpeted with showy foliage. Every May I’d wonder if I should contact the local horticultural society to register my garden for the annual tour. It’d be a pity not to show this off, I’d think to myself. Then June would come. And the weeds. And the slugs. And the blight. And who knows what else. These days, as I seed my garden, I’m more pessimistic (realistic?) about the whole thing. When something actually surfaces–and stays alive despite ragged holes crunched out of leaves–I’m blown away. Flourishing, heck, even surviving, plants are a miracle.

Perennial violets are edible and medicinal. I tell my girls they can only pick them if they promise they'll eat them.

I tell my girls they can pick these violets (edible and medicinal) only if they promise they’ll eat them.

Someone asked me recently if I’d planted my garden already, after telling me she’d planted hers on Saturday. I looked at her hard and realized she meant something totally different than what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks. I clued in when she said she’d finished seeding hers in a day. I imagined her drawing the hoe through deeply tilled soil, getting crumbly black dirt in the heels of her shoes as she dropped seeds into neatly spaced rows.

Rosemary that over-wintered--a total surprise for our climate!  I surround my rosemary with rocks for heat retention. (Not that this helped during the winter.)

Rosemary that over-wintered–a total surprise for our climate! I surround my rosemary with rocks for heat retention. (Not that this helped during the winter.)

My way of planting is a back-breaking, multi-day procedure. First, I yank out all the sunflower stalks and other woody material I didn’t clean up before the snowfall. Then there’s the seed bed preparation: I hack at the clay with my pitch fork (no tiller for me, no siree, that would be too easy) and then rub the hard lumps of clay into mini lumps of clay until my hands are raw. I plant wild, row-ish looking things that wind around scattered perennials and fall-planted vegetables.

Sometimes this works. Other times it turns out like the arugula bed I seeded a few weeks ago. The seedlings managed to bust through the crusty soil, and before they even developed their first set of true leaves something devoured every green speckle, in just two nights. My friend, Bonnie, says the deer are noshing on her new raspberry canes and special-ordered fruit trees. No, this gardening thing is not for the faint of heart.


Lovage–a celery replacement great for soup bases. I know I’ve said chamomile is the hardiest thing I grow, but I was wrong. It’s lovage. Too bad we can’t survive on it.

Perennial green onions. They produce green onions all summer long and can be harvested multiple times. They are also shade tolerant.

Perennial green onions. They are one of my first edibles and can be harvested multiple times, producing all summer long. They are also shade tolerant.

When Belén saw the title of this post she wasn’t impressed.  “Why do you write just bad things?” she asked. I told her it’s not fun to read about perfection all the time. She responded, “I think you need a little good and a little bad.”

So here’s the little good: hardy perennials and wild finds. My perennials are mostly berries, herbs, and edible flowers and every spring I wish I had more. (All the above pictures are perennials.) When I’m sweating over my lumpy soil, the rhubarb, mint, and raspberries are already unfurling leaves, all on their own. Too bad there isn’t a winter-hardy tomato perennial! As for wild finds, we ate our first harvest of wild asparagus this week. I located the greenery last fall (see picture here to scope out your own) and marked the spot: third spruce tree along railroad tracks. We found it last Wednesday and we’ll go back for our third cutting today. So, if you see me walking around town with a knife, you’ll know what I’m up to.

wild asparagus

Wild asparagus–I leave the thin stalks to support root growth and only harvest ones thicker than a pencil.

Belén collected dandelions on the way and termed the whole excursion a "real success". I think this was mostly due to the dandelions.

Belén collected dandelions on the way to the asparagus and termed the whole excursion a “real success”. I think this was mostly due to the dandelions.

Belén and me

Belén and me.

So, all I can say is best of luck with your gardening endeavors! If you can nudge a piece of land towards production you’ve got my admiration. (Dirty) Hands down.