By Sally Holland
I have a bad case of Fake Spring Affliction. When temperatures rise to the upper 60s in the middle of winter it leads to a compulsion to cook on the grill or wash the car or mow the grass or throw a Frisbee or really do anything outside. For me, it manifests in a desire to plant my vegetable garden.
This year, Fake Spring Affliction has struck particularly hard in the southeastern United States. The disease first broke out in the Deep South toward the end of January when the green leaves of crocuses pushed up from what should have been frozen ground. North Cackalacky soon reported an outbreak of daffodils. In the old Dominion where I live, a purple sheen spread over the naked branches of redbuds. And nearby in the nation’s capitol, there was soon talk of cherry blossoms coming before the Ides of March.
Fake Spring Affliction has all but wiped out the indigenous ski bunnies. This year’s crop of Uggs is stuck in boxes on store shelves. Puffy jackets have fallen out of favor much like their cousins the puffy shirts did last century. It looks as if mosquito season might be officially extended to compensate for the weak winter.
Concerned as I am about my own case of FSA, I tried to consult a horticulturist. But when I arrived at his office I found a note on the door stating in no uncertain terms that the office would not reopen until real spring.
“IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, MULCH” the sign said.
I know what the horticulturist would have told me, “Look at the calendar, idiot. It is simply too early to plant. Vegetable gardens need the longer hours of summer sunlight and really don’t like it when their leaves get frosted or their roots get cold. If the weather were more reliable, you could chance it. But can you really trust the weather when it decides to be seventy degrees in the middle of February? It’s a fake!”
Yea, that’s what the horticulturist would have said.
My case of Fake Spring Affliction is cutting into my favorite time of the gardening year – winter. I always choose a chilly, gray day to purchase my seeds and thereby shift my mind to thoughts of summer. I buy into the pictures in the catalogs and on the seed packets that show healthy vegetables–no bugs or weeds in sight. The tomatoes are full and plump, the squash are blemish free, and the bean pods are bursting with flavor.
In my mind, I really taste them.
I always tell myself that this year will be different. This year my vegetables will look just like the pictures. This year I’ll keep up with the weeding and know exactly when my plants want water or when they just want to talk. We will forge a connection – a bond. I’ll care for the vegetables, and they’ll pay me back with a bounty of tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, zucchini, beans and kale. No bugs or weeds or birds pecking at my tomatoes or the mice chewing on my squash.
My case of Fake Spring Affliction makes me want to rush through this most pleasant stage of imaginary gardening and dive right into real planting. Daily, I have to remind myself – it’s too early. There is still cold to be felt. Promises of warm weather will not be kept.
So, I mulch. I pull out the dead plants from last season. I pick up debris that has blown into my plot. I fix the bench that my dog likes to sleep under during hot summer days. And I wait.
Interminably, I wait.
It’s not my fault if lettuce seeds accidentally spill from my pocket into some freshly worked soil right before a rainstorm. I shouldn’t be judged harshly if last year’s Swiss chard decided to winter over and offer an early spring crop. If sweet pea plants poke their heads up in the next few weeks, they are undoubtedly growing from random pods that I missed during last year’s harvest–pods that haphazardly ended up in the soil. And, then it rained on them.
If they came up in a straight row–well, then–it must be a miracle.