A.V. Walters

Garden Starts

I don’t know why I’m surprised by it; it’s the same every year. It’s as though someone pulled the plug and then all the green runs out of the landscape. It starts at the top of the hills, and in just a few weeks, we go from spring green to that golden-straw color that says summer in California.

Last week when we got home it was still green here, but flying in, over the Central Valley, I could see that the hills and everything east of us was already dry. We usually get a longer run of it in Two Rock—through June, usually. But this year’s dry winter is leaving its mark. Between last week and now, our hilltops have turned from green to gold. Where they’ve cut hay has gone gold. Yesterday there were deep ridges of cut hay, showing the contours of the hill. We wanted a photo of it—in the elongated evening light—but before that could happen, they’d bailed it and now the hill is punctuated with lines of square dots like a computer punch-card.

The bottom of the valley is still green, and near the creek it’s even lush. The pond is shrinking by the day, and only a few, stubborn egrets remain.

Today, with our head-colds in check, we finally started putting the garden in. We’d dug in the buckets the first week of May, so I was surprised that the soil in them was still loose and soft. It made planting a breeze. We put starts in 38 buckets—about half tomatoes and then some squash (more to come), peppers, eggplant (more of these too), and cucumbers. The rest will filter in over the next couple of weeks, and then there’s just watering and weeding.

Since we have the advantage of being pre-plowed, it’s odd to be planting and weeding simultaneously. But, the interval of absence, since the early May plowing was enough for weeds and (and quite a few, volunteer squashes) to get going so, Rick hoed the long garden. I have trouble eradicating vegetable volunteers but he’s an editor, amongst other things, so cutting things out (except being a smart-ass) doesn’t bother him at all. We’re not sure what kinds of squashes these were—last year, we turned out a bumper crop of four kinds of summer squash and at least twice that number of varieties of winter squash. But the plow spreads the seeds and there’s no telling what’s what but, judging by general location, we think most were yellow, patty-pans—they weren’t too popular, so a lot were left where they stood. (Won’t be planting them again, anytime soon.)We’ll let the “escaped” potatoes stay to see how they fare with the gophers. They were planted in bins, with bottoms, but in the early plowing this spring, Don wasn’t watching where he was going and he mangled the bins, spreading potatoes throughout that whole corner of the main garden. So, we shall see.

This year’s garden is a bit of a cheat. Usually we start a lot of our own seeds. This year, however, the trip away interrupted that, and we couldn’t rely on folks here to make sure that starts would be watered while we were gone. I know that sounds odd—well intended farm people not taking care of the garden—but, I speak from experience. (I think I’ve mentioned that this is not a dirt farm.) We decided we’d put in store-bought starts on our return. That’s a much more expensive garden approach than that to which I’m accustomed, but there it is. We’ll fill in with seeds—lettuces, radishes, beets and such.

We were running errands the other day and came upon an innocuous sign reading, “Vegetable Starts” with an arrow pointing down a rutted country lane. “Turn there!” I said, but, too late. So, we circled around and came back. We carefully worked our way down a terrible road in a borrowed car with bad shocks. (My car’s not back from the shop yet and, beggars can’t be choosers.) Finally, like a breath of fresh air, there it was. Senk Farms.

It’s a wonderful little operation, many kinds of vegetables, at very reasonable prices, lavender, honey, pick-your-own strawberries, home made jams.  Their starts are healthy, appropriately sized in their containers (not root bound) and lush. They had the widest variety of heirloom tomatoes I’ve seen this year! They had everything except pony rides for the kids. The women running it were very, very nice and helpful. Who knew that that unpretentious little sign would lead to the solution to this year’s garden dilemma? We gathered up the little pots and she came over with boxes. I went to write her a check—and, pointing, she told me just to put in the slot in the wall. They run on the honor system! Did I fall into a time warp? It makes me want to spend my money there. Later, I checked them out online—and they list their vegetable selection for the year, complete with what’s low and what’s gone already. I think I’m in love. We were going to finish the garden up from seeds, but now I think I’ll go back to Senk Farms for one more round.

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