I tramped out into the backyard this morning. It is a rainy, gray March day, but, un- deniably, spring is on its way.
I walked down to the back garden for the first time since December. Until last weekend, the back garden was still under snow. It has emerged now: rough, grass-grown. I will need to rototill it again this spring and inch it that much more along the "real garden" continuum. It is just past being considered a raw sod garden, but not by much.
The garden by the house - the one I call the kitchen garden - is in much better shape. That makes sense as it was already established. It is too wet and muddy to begin spading the soil, let alone adding the compost, but that time will come.
Work lies ahead, starting with the seedlings. Actually, starting with the pots for the seedlings. I made them from newspaper last year, which allowed me to plant them directly into the ground. That method worked really well and I will do it again this year.
What better way to spend a gray, rainy, chill March Saturday than making seedling pots?
Last year I grew broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplant, pumpkins, zucchini, artichoke, and some potatoes. Plus herbs. All but the zucchini, pumpkins, and potatoes were in the kitchen garden.
Yeah, it was kinda crowded.
The artichoke never made it to the flower/choke stage; eggplants and peppers didn't do so hot either. That is because the broccoli overshadowed everything. I had no idea broccoli got so big and broad. So they are going down to the back garden this year.
I'm going to try the artichoke again in a large (very large) planter. The cherry tomatoes will probably go in planters this year as well, as they got lost in the uproar in last year's garden.
I will probably cut back on the herbs. I liked them for the smells they released whenever you brushed against them, but I never really used most of them other than the basil and the chives. The chives wintered over; I transplanted some of the ones that remained from Ellen's gardens from 30 years ago. A good friend recently rhapsodized about fresh cilantro and I promised I would plant some for her.
My biggest problem is knowing when to stop. Last year I wanted to grow so many things that the kitchen garden was way too crowded. Even after I ripped the broccoli out, the eggplants, onions, tomatoes, and peppers were constantly elbowing one another. Moving the broccoli from the kitchen garden to the back garden should help free up some space.
Maybe I can put some into my dad's garden. Yeah, that should work. Dad is here working on the house with Warren this morning, and I asked him casually if he would like me to start some plants for him. I'll slip in some of my own as well.
As I plan this year's garden, we continue to eat the bounty of last year's garden. As I type, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini are thawing in the sink for tonight's meal. When I wrote about our grocery bill being less than $200 a month, last year's garden is a huge part of that.
Following up on the great food discussion, I tracked all of our grocery costs in February. We finished the month at $158.46 for groceries, with an additional $11.26 for household items such as dish soap and toilet paper. Our eating out bill for the month was $66.88, which we both consider higher than average but included the tail end of the New York trip as well as Warren taking his daughter out for her 16th birthday. During the month of February, we had friends over for dinner on three separate occasions and I was also the hostess for a quarterly potluck with girlfriends. (Being the hostess means preparing an entrée for five.) So our February grocery costs included four social occasions. (Okay, I'm bragging.)
I'm tracking our expenses for March as well. Halfway through the month, our grocery bill is at $73.59 and our eating out is at $7.90. I figure we will once again come in under the $200 mark. We couldn't begin to do that without our freezers and the gardens.
Besides the pleasure of eating food I grew last summer, our low grocery costs help on the money front.
Money is an issue because medical bills are an issue. I am still dealing with the economic fallout from Dr. Bully riding roughshod through my life. Even with the hefty discount I get from OhioHealth for being both uninsured and not financially flush, I am still paying off his charges to my account back in July and October, the bulk of which could have been avoided if Dr. Bully had just asked me the simplest of questions regarding my medical treatment. When all is said and done, Dr. Bully will have cost me almost $1000 in unnecessary and unwanted testing and OhioHealth almost $700 in write-offs. I see my oncologist next week and will ask him if we can push my next visit after that 180 days out, rather than 90, so I can get caught up on the medical bills.
So the low monthly grocery bill feeds more than just our satisfaction in eating healthily and economically. It helps me thwack away at the medical bills as well, and allows me to feel a little less like Sisyphus toiling away eternally with his boulder. I am grateful for the bounty of last year's gardens in so many ways.
Except for the food we continue to cook and savor, last year's gardens are now a memory. This year's gardens are still a dream.
William Rainey Harper, on establishing the University of Chicago, said "now the dreaming is over and the real work begins."
I know just what he meant.