Monday, March 8, 2010

As the Vernal Equinox approaches, you will find me ripping out weeds.

The back garden is, once again, an unkempt field meadow of oxalis and wild onion. This happens every year. Every spring, as I rip out weeds, I promise myself that next year, I will not allow the yard to get this wild, and every year, I allow the weeds to become overgrown again.

I think the problem is that I tend to hibernate between the equinoxes. According to Wikipedia, hibernation "is a state of inactivity and metabolic depression in animals, characterized by lower body temperature, slower breathing, and lower metabolic rate." Inactivity and depression? Check, check. Lower body temperature? Well, my feet have been kind of cold lately. Slower breathing? Maybe, sure. Lower metabolic rate? "Uh ... check," I sputter through a mouth full of peach blackberry scone.

I completely lose interest in gardening in the winter. Every winter. I always say I will plant a "winter garden" (after all, this is California! you can do things like garden in the winter!), and I never do. Ask me about the garden in January, and I'm likely to respond with a noncommittal shrug, while thinking: Ugh, I couldn't care less about gardening. You know what? I don't think I'll even bother this year. Also, if I never see another zucchini again, that would be wonderful. Now, please excuse me while I bake some more scones. Meanwhile, the last tomatoes of the season rot on the vine, the greens and herbs bolt and go to seed, the lawn turns into a bog, and the oxalis, nasturtium, and spiny-brambles-that-never-seem-to-actually-bear-blackberries begin to take over. While I am hibernating, presumably under the influence of my cold Northern European winter genes, those golden rolling California hills are turning green for a reason. The reason, it turns out, is big, strong, knee-high, sometimes elephant-eye-high, weeds California native plants.

But the days are gradually starting to lengthen again. It is no longer dark when I leave the office in the evenings. And then yesterday was a beautiful day. The kind of bright, warm, breezy day that only happens in Oakland in the spring, before the foggy-freeze-your-posterior-off-cold summer sets in (only in the Bay Area are you likely to hear "it was a cold, hard summer that year").

Suddenly, Steve and I couldn't wait to get out in the garden and yank out weeds. Since we can't just let Joe crawl around the back yard, eating dirt and dog poo, we moved the playpen into the back yard, and Joe played with his toys and watched us working and watched the dogs playing. This actually worked for a few minutes! Must have been the novelty of sunshine and fresh air.

Talk about pretending to be a pioneer woman! Weeds as tall as me! I felt like I was clearing virgin forest for my homestead. But there is something so satisfying about ripping giant weeds out of the soft damp ground. Something addictive, almost. Something that tempts me to wax on about the good earth.

I cleared a bed and planted some heirloom chard and a mesclun lettuce blend. Yes, you heard me right. Swiss chard. A couple of years ago, I was cursed blessed with an abundance of self-seeding chard plants. But eventually, they died out and lost the competition with the wilder weeds. At first, the lack of chard was refreshing - who can eat that much chard? - but eventually, I began to long for Deborah Madison's "Onion Chard Torta" (in this book). I even bought a few bunches at the farmers' market! It felt more than a little wrong to pay good money for something that grows like a weed in my yard. What can I say? I think I might actually like swiss chard! I'll be sure to let some of this chard go to seed, so that I can enjoy it for eternity the next several seasons.

So a small area has been cultivated, the beginnings of a spring garden are in (although the dogs have started digging in it already, so it's unclear how this will end), and Steve and I are excited to do more planting. Chard, at any rate, can be trusted to survive our frigid summer. And then, sometime in late September, when the days get short again, I will likely lose all interest in gardening and let the last of the tomatoes rot on the vine.


  1. are speaking my thoughts. on saturday, i, too, began the deforestation of my backyard. i am optimistically planning my garden. yay! but also, my winter garden this year was a sham--i got a few turnips and lots of chard and it was otherwise a dud. i did do one bed of cover crops, but that means more weeds to pull and till. doesn't seem worth it. maybe we should do a babysitting exchange to allow the other some weeding time, eh? brava, inder, thanks for the post!

  2. A babysitting exchange sounds great! I'm thinking, we come over, hang out on your porch and entertain Joe and Eli while you work (maybe pitch in and help - I like yard work!). Then, we do it again at our place!

    Warning: Our back yard is a bit "Deliverance" right now.

    BTW, I covet your warm microclimate and sunny back garden.

  3. This is a beautiful post, Inder. It captures those seasonal urges perfectly. Bravo for Spring and for good, fresh writing.


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