Spring’s “Almost But Not Yet” Quality Reveals Our Dance With Nature

Spring is here—kind of—and the time to get in the garden is close. How close? It's hard to tell, but that's where intuition mixes with science and research to make farming an art.

by Rachael Dupree
PHOTO: Rachael Dupree

The beginning of 2018 has been marked by some pretty interesting weather so far. We’ve received above-average amounts of precipitation, and the winter seems to be drawing out, with what we hope will be our last snowfall occurring just this week. As a result of all this cold and wet weather, things are off to a slow start this year. The redbuds—the first blooming tree in our area—are about a month late in showing their color, and our garden plot has yet to be tilled. It’s almost time to move, but not yet.

I must admit, I’ve kind of enjoyed this drawn-out time indoors. I’ve relished in the quick snows that have graced our land the past month, and the cold, wet weather has allowed me time to get revved up for all that’s in store for the gardening season. I’m determined that this is the year we make a legitimate attempt to keep up with the garden, but with a little one in tow, the mental preparation required to get out the door to do anything is half the battle. Needless to say, the extra time to pep and prep has been much appreciated. It’s almost time to get outside, but not yet.

In Kentucky, we look to the horses to kick off the garden season. Derby Day, the first Saturday in May, is the traditional day around these parts to start putting plants in the ground. I’m not sure we will be quite on track this year, but considering the lagging spring, we’re not doing too awful. I have four flats of seeds planted—a mixture of medicinal herbs and edible-garden staples—and I have a few more things, namely beans and radishes, that I want to direct-seed. However, the weather must must must comply. It’s almost time to plant, but not yet.

Our garden is situated in a valley and has characteristic Kentucky clay soil. With more than half of the year thus far in rain, take your best guess at the state of our soil. Our wise, experienced neighbors warned us about not to prematurely work the wet soil—if a handful of it clumps up when you squeeze, you need to wait a little longer or you’ll pay for it all season. So here we are, waiting and waiting, and except for a little mulching and weeding of the asparagus patch, we wait some more. It’s almost time to dig, but not yet.

This short season before the growing season—the almost not yet of spring—can seem like an eternity. It becomes a dance. A guessing game. It’s a lot of looking at weather forecasts and gathering supplies and second-guessing whether you’re ready or have what it takes to make your visions come alive. After spending the winter reading all of the books and doing all of the research, you come to the conclusion that farming is all science, but it’s this time of year when you begin realize there’s an art to all of it. It requires a sensitivity to your surroundings and being in tune with the land. It requires good timing, just like a well-composed symphony.

I try to remember that as I sit in the almost but not yet. Soon enough, we will be busy. The land will have dried out and be ready for tilling and planting. The weeds will be growing. Things will need harvesting. And we’ll be off and running until things begin to quiet down again in just a few short months.

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