By Jessica Tunis
The hills are green in California again, that brief window of lush growth that flushes even the driest hillsides with new blades of grass and wildflowers. In the garden, on the farm, herbs are bolting, the umbel heads of cilantro and parsley revealing their floral nature, at last. The first red strawberries swell beneath the rounded leaves. Raspberry flowers are dropping their petals and beginning their transition to softness and fruit. Lupines on the steep, distant hillsides are the same color as the dusty blueberries we buy at the farmer’s market in tiny cardboard half-pints, each small berry a victory against the marauding birds. It’s picnic weather, hiking weather, breathe in deep weather. It’s work in the garden weather, get ready for summer weather, stay up past dusk and slap mosquitos weather. Rhubarb and rose weather, tomatoes in the ground weather. For a brief moment last week, the sky clouded over, and a light drizzle fell, just enough to remind us of the winter that is already fading in memory. We soaked in the gray sky like we soaked in the sun, savoring the last dregs of cool cloud that will soon be all too scarce, come summer.
It’s hard to dwell too closely on scarcity now, though, when our whole region seems to be swelling with the promise of spring. The loosening of Covid restrictions, the profusion of birds and flowers, and the gathering momentum of the summer crops seem to . . . not promise, but perhaps allude to the richness and abundance of the coming days. We temper that wild exuberance with the thought that no such bounty is ever promised, only intimated. Nothing is owed us. How lonely that revelation felt, to first take in, but what a complex practice of reciprocity and gratitude it has led to. Everything the earth offers us is freely given, not owed. And our work too, the good work that fuels the spirit and tends the garden (wherever it is found,) is a gift as well, an honorable labor offered and received. Lest we wax too poetic here, sometimes this labor of love looks like sweating and swearing as we push wheelbarrows of compost up a hill to the top of the garden, or staining yet another pair of jeans grubbing out endless batches of weeds, or collapsing in exhaustion at the end of a long day digging new beds.
When such a tiredness creeps into the bones, a refreshing beverage is often in order. This rhubarb rose syrup we posted a few years back does the trick, lemme tell you. The color alone brings enlivens a body. But sip it slowly, take it all in, flavor and color and scent alike. Whether spiked with gin or topped with sparkling water and lemon, it’s a most worthy springtime beverage. Rhubarb is one of those plants that our ancestors must have had to really work at, to figure out how to utilize best. After all, the leaves are poisonous, but the stems are exquisite, especially when sweetened or fermented. It makes a lovely jam, too, paired with rose geranium leaves; see also this recipe for Rhubarb Jam with Rose Geranium and Raspberry Vinegar
, from another bygone spring day.
Oh, how they pass, the days. How they keep on, every year, coming and going from our skies like flocks of migratory birds, like a flush of wildflowers that flares and fades. The calendar pages flutter in a gusting wind. In the garden, each spring is new, but we carry the lessons learned from the preceding years into the next season, holding them loosely but close at hand. How many combinations of sun and chill, drought and rain? How many intricate shadings, of compost and leaf duff, crop rotation, pests, and predation. From three primary colors, a rainbow is formed. From 26 letters, we speak novels, encyclopedias, newsletters. From each wild, distinct season, another year comes into focus.
Today we plant the first cherry tomatoes, fluff the soil one more time to ready the garden for peppers, eggplant, more tomatoes in the coming weeks. Squash seeds tucked into the ground now will rival the nursery-grown starts in a few weeks time, if you can keep them safe from the birds. Ditto the beans and sunflowers, in the Three Sisters garden. We’ll find space for a few more herbs, to replace the ones that are bolting (and becoming woodier as the plants channel their energy from leaf to flower and seed production). Our friends at Sea To Sky Farm, up on the hill in Bonny Doon, run a CSA and sell at the local farmer’s markets. When they realized they had seeded more herb starts than they had space for, they asked us if we wanted to sell any down at the store. Of course, we were happy to. Not only because the plants themselves are beautiful, but also because it’s a great example of the way reciprocal relationships work. We all help each other out, and the bounty is spread around within the community. When the time came for Sea To Sky Farm
to replant after the CZU fires damaged their orchard, we so appreciated that the farm went out of their way to buy their new guavas and citrus trees from us. Keeping your money local feeds the soil of community, keeps the local foodwebs and social fabric strong and resilient.
We visited the opening day of the Scotts Valley farmer’s market recently, and got to meet and chat with the farmers a bit. (Many of the farmers are working the booths themselves, because help is so hard to find these days! You can tell a lot about a person by their hands; there were many we saw there that were calloused in familiar places; short nails, and strong, working hands, hands stained with earth. Capable hands, that offer labor, that tend the earth, that keep the people fed.
The store is full to the brim at this moment, of citrus and avocados and decidious fruit trees, herbs and the first selection of summer crops; tomatoes, peppers, corn, eggplant, beans, cukes and squash and herbs . . . and more, of course, too much to list. The season is just beginning, a dial slowly being turned, louder, more! You may have heard that nurseries have been having a hard time keeping fruit trees in stock; one unexpected side effect of this virus has been an increased interest in home gardening, so much so that the wholesale nursery stock has been terribly depleted! So when the chance came to pick up a huge order of fruit trees, we jumped at the chance. Even though that means that the edible nursery will look like a jungle for the next few weeks, we know that these babies will be flying out the door soon enough. Get ‘em while they last! Get your hands in the dirt, and at the end of the day, treat yourself to a taste of spring refreshment, whatever that looks like for you.