It is 12 degrees outside and my garden is invisible under the ice and snow. It is that time of year, late February, when in Chicago we all begin to question, “Just why is it we live here again?” As a gardener, February is an especially anxious time. I spent January combing seed catalogs and circling which new crops I want to try this year. By early February, my seed orders were submitted and I’d sketched a crop layout for this season. By late February, I am ready to get digging again, but I live in Chicago and Mother Nature and I have differing opinions.
So why is it I am so anxious to start in the vegetable garden again? Many reasons I suppose. One is the quiet time it allows me. With three small children, a husband, dog, and a goldfish, it seems to be the one place where I am left alone to just work. And I enjoy the work. I find it inspiring to see the tiny plants sprout, grow, and eventually tumble out of their beds as I scrub dirt from my arms. There is a happy tired that comes from harvesting a basket of backyard produce. And it is satisfying to nurture an idea into reality, a seed into food.
When we bought our Evanston home two years ago, I was excited to plant flowers throughout the yard and enjoy the myriad of colors all summer long. But for me, it has always been even more enjoyable to relax in the garden if I am also eating a white cucumber or a handful of spicy arugula I’ve just picked. And if I can convince my friends or family to pick our homegrown fruits and vegetables and taste with me, well, that’s even better.
I enjoy the fact that in a life of computers, TV, digital music, and tablets, the vegetable garden is a place that hasn’t changed much since I worked beside my grandfather as a little girl. It brings back memories of the dozens of tomatoes ripening on my grandparents’ kitchen shelves, picking raspberries with my brothers, and climbing our grandfather’s plum tree. Memories I hope I can create for my own children.
My garden is about creating something bountiful, when in late February that seems just about impossible. It is about putting a pencil to paper and imagining a harvest. It is about getting dirty, but reaping the delicious benefits. It is about feeding my family in what I believe is the healthiest way possible.
And ultimately, isn’t it February’s cabin fever that makes us Chicagoans savor those first warm days, breath deep, and dig back in?