“Plant your peas on Good Friday,” my grandmother used to say, advice that never entirely made sense to me given the month-wide variation in the date of this holiday and its unrelatedness to any given year’s weather. Still, I remember her words each Spring as pink, blue and yellow foil-wrapped bunnies line grocery store shelves and real bunnies forage in my backyard.
Good planting weather is as late as Easter this year. Or, I should say, later, since we’ve yet to see enough spring sunshine to warm and dry the earth into a truly workable state. Diane and I took advantage of the short dry spell a week and a half ago to fork up a few barely-tillable beds and plant an early salad mix of mustards, tatsoi, kale, and arugula, as well as mixed lettuces, scallions, radishes, turnips, and spinach. Since then, we’ve had rain, snow, more rain, a little hail, and rain. Have the seeds we planted been washed away by torrents of water cascading over their beds? If not, will the seedlings be able to push up through the crust of dirt compacted by the rains? The slightly warmer temperatures predicted for the coming week may provide the germination conditions we need in order to find out.
It’s frustrating to be off to such a slow start, to be sure, and a little frightening to have our livelihood so vulnerable to the vagaries of weather. As I celebrated this Easter afternoon by scratching furrows in the wet earth and sowing both sugar snap and snow peas (it was raining on Good Friday), I remembered a particularly droughty summer of my childhood, a summer of yellowed corn and stunted alfalfa, crops my family depended on to feed our dairy cattle. I remembered throwing handfuls of driveway dust into the air and shouting “Please rain! Please rain!” as I pranced in an improvised rain dance with my brother and cousins; I remembered watching the sky with my father in fear and disappointment as storm clouds passed to the north of us once again.
It’s one of the facts about farming—you can do everything right and still the weather can do you in. But it’s this direct relationship with nature that draws me to this work. Take the tomato seedlings growing on my porch. I planted them, I water them, I adjust the grow light over them to help them grow strong and sturdy. But I didn’t make them sprout, I didn’t make them push forth their new young leaves, and though I will work hard to nurture their growth into large and fruitful plants, it won’t be my efforts that cause them to ripen their sweet, fragrant tomatoes. No, the life force in these plants is not of my creation or under my control. As the Easter evening cools around me and the vespers of frog-song begin, I’m grateful to be a witness and partner to this mystery, in all its wild unpredictability.