Monday, September 17, 2012

Seasonal Jet Lag in the Garden


Bee in last of the basil flowers. Who am I to deny his harvest?
After three years of gardening and farming in Tokyo, I should be accustomed to the turn of seasons. I should know that these hot September days belie the fact that cooler temperatures are coming, but I just can't believe it. My Midwestern seasonal sensibilities tell me otherwise. Vaguely lower temperatures (88-degrees versus 90-degrees) don't seem much different in the blazing sun as I sweat similar amounts whether working in the fields or trying to write at home. Winter is a far-away land, a dream. To my Midwestern self, summer remains firmly entrenched. My beet and kale seeds will surely protest. My inner calendar remains out of sync. It's a sort of seasonal jet-lag.

Since returning from China I've gone to the garden every day. Four weeks off in total - two in Hokkaido and two in China - meant a long list of chores. My first day back, Takashi-san told me what I already knew: "It's time to get ready for winter vegetables. Summer is over."

Intellectually, I understand that he is right, but I still struggle each year, each season.

My biggest problem is that there are still viable plants in the garden. It goes against my inner grain to pull up a still blooming marigold or basil plant and toss it on the compost heap. I have the same problem in spring when my komatsuna and other greens bolt and blossom. Green life is a beautiful thing that my eyes and soul feast on in all forms. My garden is not a utilitarian space devoid of aesthetic pleasures, although tidier folks will heartily disagree. The bees and pollinators are so happy, the flowers so pretty (and edible) that it seems foolish and wasteful to remove them. Am I lazy? Am I just a poor planner? Does this make me a bad farmer? Am I just a gardener? (No offense intended by that last question. I'm having a green-thumb identity crisis.)

The corn and daizu were easy - they had finished up before we left for Hokkaido and I let them dry standing. I cut off the corn stalks before heading to China and laid them out to dry. The daizu I simply left standing. When we returned, the beans rattled in the pods (two plants of heirloom varieties still stand, though, as they are too green yet) and the stalks were pretty much ready to be chopped up and added to the rejuvenating layer of the lasagna bed. I'll plant the garlic in about a week or so.

Lone watermelon with sunflower and daizu in background.
The same was true of the watermelon. I returned to find eight luscious lovelies lolling about in their fruity and vegetative come hither way. I gave away four and ate one with friends. The remaining two are destined for my stomach and the tatami master who kindly passed me another seven old mats the other day to finish lining the path and cover over the newly topped up lasagna bed where the garlic will go. (My idea is that they'll prevent some erosion from promised rains and speed fermentation.) These final pushes of summer heat dried the vines in short order before I added them to the lasagna cum garlic bed.

Standing beside the row, I console myself with the fact that those marigolds and basil will mulch the rhubarb, and that the handful of green tomatoes will be a tasty dinner experiment. I think how beautiful and delicious the purple daikon will be and how happy I will be to cut fresh greens for our winter salads. I think of the seed tray I'll be starting this morning of kales and calendula, and how lovely they will be. I look at the nira blooming nearby and some tall graceful weed with lavender blooms going gangbusters in my wild west wall bed. "Those pollinators will be just fine," I think as I bend to cut and pull.

Marigolds beautifully mulching the rhubarb.

Then the butterflies arrive. Not the white cabbage moths that party like college freshmen on my lavender, but a majestic black and white fellow nearly the size of my palm lands on the basil flower. A smaller orange and black one drifts over shortly after to see what the marigolds have to offer. And now I see a busy group of tiny bees working away at those same blossoms, and I feel guilty and sad. Who am I to remove these things in the name of seasonal progress? What does that mean, anyway?

I let an afternoon shower shoo me home. I plan to go back and map out the winter beds. Surely, a concrete vision will give me the gumption to do what should be done. But here I am with no map yet drawn and butterflies on my mind.

4 comments:

Amber @ The Cardboard Collective said...

So glad you're back in Tokyo! It's lovely to hear you talk about being back in your garden again. It must be a great feeling! Growing from a concrete balcony definitely takes a lot of the romance out of it!

I'd love to know your list of winter vegetables that You're planting. I always have a hard time knowing what to plant here in Tokyo and when!

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

It is good to be back in there, although there is heaps of work to be done. I just finished the winter vegetable bed prep yesterday, and will be planting seeds next week. Another seed tray is loitering out there - kale and friends - and the garlic will go in by the end of the month. I'll do up a post specifically about what I'm planting, too. Good suggestion!

Van Waffle said...

I resist the change in seasons, too. Here I must accept the inevitability of frost any day now. That means the garden must be put to rest. There is no hope of growing any winter greens like kale with so many rabbits and a hungry groundhog around.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

Yes, and I admit that there are times when I truly miss winter's lull in activity. As much as I adore those winter greens and other vegetables, sometimes I wish I could just plant the garlic and put the beds to rest under a thick blanket of snow. Winter is my favorite season, and therefore when my mind feels the most alive. The freedom of not having to be in the fields is sometimes a nice thing. Plus, it's a good excuse to eat all those things I canned earlier!