Months ago, I set up two little shop lights and placed four flats of seeds underneath. Those plants grew, and I put many of them out in the field to deal with fall and winter. And then I planted more and they grew. The shop lights, the timers, the shelves, the whole thing grew and grew until it's climbing a wall in my basement now. It's kind of like I imagine riding a horse would be, this growing a flower farm thing. Let loose the reins for a moment and let the plants do their thing, hold them back now until conditions outside are right. Some seeds go in the fridge for weeks before planting, some are covered after planting because they like to germinate in the dark. Some like the summer heat, and some like the long cold slow of winter.
Now, in January, we have the following plants out in the field battling it out for themselves: Rocket Mix snapdragons, Amazon dianthus, Spencer sweet peas, Dara Queen Anne's Lace, Bupleurum, Bells of Ireland, Meadow Pastels and Champagne Bubbles poppies, Sublime larkspur, La Belle ranunculus and Galilee anemones. There are roses and hundreds of peonies. This sounds like an impressive array, but the plants themselves look worn and weatherbeaten.
There was ridiculously warm wet weather right up until the end of the year, and then the bottom fell out of the thermometer. I watched my plants, growing lushly and happily, get frosted and yellowed overnight. And now, I don't know. Will they hang on until temperatures pull back up in the spring? Are they growing good roots down there? Or have I killed them all by my bumbling inexperience? I am careful to apply everything I read and know, and these are the plants that are supposed to be able to make it over winter in my climate. Still I chew my nails. I haven't seen it happen yet.
I know, in a logical sense, that the first years of any new endeavor are going to contain the most failures. How will we learn, I tell myself, if we don't kill some plants on the way there? At the same time I'm so frustrated by what I find I don't know. I've been gardening for years, have a horticulture degree, for goodness' sake, but here I am new and it all means nothing. In this place, with this soil, this climate, I haven't yet paid my dues. You will work with me, at my pace, says the land, or we won't work together at all. Slow down, it says, listen, and learn. I am trying, but today my hopes for fields full of flowers are at a miserably low ebb.
Quite apart from the actual yield of fruit and flower that we expect, we are beginning to see another interesting harvest. We're learning lots of lessons among ourselves on what it means to be an employee, a shareholder, a good worker or a slack one, how to meet a deadline, what working conditions are actually adverse, and so on. How will we set up a farmer's market stall? What's necessary to good customer service? How do we spread the word on the existence of our farm? All of these make for fascinating discussions, at least for me, which the rest of my crew seems to tolerate or join in on to varying degrees.
The first cabbages have come up. How I love their little heart-shaped seed leaves! We're not focusing on growing vegetables and fruit, as most of our field is devoted to flowers. But growing food connects us to the ground we came from in a way nothing else can, and I can never give it up. Cabbage, as humble as it seems, thrills me in a different way than the hundreds of flower seedlings we've already grown. Sorry, flowers, I love you, but cabbage is food.