In my garden, April starts the new year.
I feel like an April Fool often enough that is is not a bad start to the season. What really makes me think of new year's, though, is how much April tells about the previous year. All my mistakes are in front of me. I can make resolutions and plans before I forget what I did and why it worked--or didn't. The cover crops I didn't plant in time, the beans I ran out of in March, the greens I'm tired of or the salads I love. That fantastic squash that has kept since October. I'm learning that no, I actually won't remember it all later. Got to take a long look and write it down.
Spring has come to our riverbank. The river still roars, but it's going down. Shooting-Stars and Baby-Blue-Eyes are blooming in the woods and meadows. We'll collect their seeds, for planting with the fall rains. Greens bring their wild flavors to the table: miner's lettuce, chicory, corn salad, cress, sorrel, sylvetta, dandelions. The rain makes them lush. Rain is something we've had lots of. Actually, rain is pretty much all we have had. The garden is ankle-deep in places, and squelches everywhere.
In high spots, my peas--planted in February--are finally 6 inches tall. Little lettuce seedlings are just big enough to recognize in the garden beds. (No problem recognizing the weeds, which are at least 10 times bigger.) In the greenhouse, tomatoes and peppers sit in their pots, reaching for the sun and hoping for a lot more warmth than they are getting right now.
We are still eating the overwintered brassicas in the garden. Rapini (green flower stalks) from overwintered turnips and kale are an easy, prolific, and zesty alternative to broccoli. We love them steamed and served cold with olive oil and lemon, or added to pasta. Mustard greens, dragon's tongue. Green onions, chives, sorrel, lettuce, arugula, cilantro. It is good to stop and think right now, during the "Hunger Gap" before this year's garden has produced new food. What should I have done differently? Why did the gophers get all the potatoes? Why didn't I plant endive as a change from kale?
April is the test of the homestead garden. Is there food? What don't you have to eat that you could have? Myself, I am wishing I'd planted more parsnips, carrots and beets--those sweet comforting roots. Next year, I promise myself. Next year I need to start more things in July and August.
Since I seldom actually do, I'm thinking I'll start more perennial vegetables now. This is when perennials shine; they send up sprouts and make food before this year's sowings can get to edible size. I've been eating sorrel, green onions, and sylvetta since February. Miner's lettuce and Erba Stella too. Did you know that hops send up edible shoots in spring? Why don't I have those? I'm planting Caucasus Spinach, rhubarb and asparagus, more sorrel, more green onions, and perpetual leeks. Perpetual Spinach is one of my favorites, so versatile, and resistant to both heat and cold. I have set aside a new bed for perennials. All they need is an new layer of mulch every year. At least I'll have spring greens covered. Just sowing some root crops for fall will be easy.
Once the last frost is past, a different kind of magic is in play. The three sisters transform the garden--dignified corn; beans racing skyward in spirals, boisterous squash sprawling and romping over the ground. Suddenly things happen overnight. Sunflowers! Tomatoes! Zinnias! It's all primary colors and bold strokes. Watercolors give way to crayons. Delicacy gives way to exuberance. I love both.
At this point in the year, I can get in the car and drive to summer. Just a little further south, a little lower elevation. (find your last frost date here.) If that's where you live, you can start summer planting with sunflowers and quinoa, the early birds. Then beans and squash. Leave things like melons and okra (and setting out peppers) til it gets hot. Here, where it's still pea-planting time, I'll be waiting for the river to go down.
Jamie Chevalier lives and gardens on a river in the Coast Range of Northern California. She has gardened professionally in Alaska and California, as well as living in a remote cabin, commercial fishing, and working with seeds. She is the proprietor of Quail Seeds.