Sunday, April 22, 2007

Let the Gardening Begin

It’s spring! Which is exciting in itself, but even more so because spring is the seasonal gateway to summer harvests. And though I love the comfort and complexities of my winter root vegetables, and the heartiness and fantastic health benefits of winter greens, nothing gets my mouth a-waterin’ like the offerings from those small, tentative first-crops in the spring.

I think those first pickings are probably the most anticipated by gardeners and cooks alike. With my burgeoning green thumb, I find it invigorating to get out there and break the dirt for the first time since last summer (I don’t do winter gardening yet). My creative juices get flowing as I map out overly ambitious garden plans and fantasize about opening my own curb-market with the overages that will spring forth from my inner-city back yard. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

Even Michael has the bug. His big thing is manure and dirt -- at least once a week he’ll give me a report on the lowest price of soil and such from sundry locales. More than once I’ve cleaned out the car and found little baggies of seed packets for melons, dinosaur kale and other items that I know he palmed when I wasn’t looking.

Since our two-year old Zen loves being outside anyway, joining us in the warm weather and plentitude of fresh-turned dirt is a little slice of heaven on earth for him. Armed with a wee plastic pail and shovel, and an impressive fleet of little construction trucks, he can play for hours in that Georgia red clay. Here's an elegant shot of said dirt as pictured on Kicking the Gourd. Now the stuff in our yard is a lot less cultivated but still has the same lovely warm ochre and staining power. White socks? What are those?

We have an interesting mix in our yard/garden of some really rich soil. The natural landscape is rolling and sloping so the garden area gets a lot of run off water, and with it silt. That makes for a nice mix with the clay-heavy dirt typical of this region, and I suspect years of dormancy and natural composting have helped enrich the soil. Now if we can just keep it at this quality as we attempt our urban-agriculture experiment.

The down side of city living mean I can’t show you what I’m talking about at the moment because my camera has been pilfered by someone I can only assume needed it more than I. Imagine an expanse of dirt... with wild clover slowly taking over. That's it for now. I’ll be taking pictures of our undertaking soon and I’m sure I’ll have much to share as we blunder our way through our gardening experience.

Awaiting Georgia's spring harvest

Spring has sprung!
Typically I know spring is officially when:
1. the tax deadline has passed
2. the robins are back
3. I have to crack the seal over my eyelids each morning that formed overnight due to the astronomically high, record-breaking pollen count in and around Atlanta. (Counts of 150 are considered very high, and we top out well over 700. Yikes)

But once I’ve supplicated at the feet of the IRS, defended by way-too-late-planted grass seeds from the invading red-breasted hoard and built up enough antihistamines in my system to be able to stop sneezing for five minutes, a certain giddiness kicks in and I realize…

Spring has come to Georgia where a crop of seasonal produce will soon be jaw-droppingly abundant. Specifically this means it’s fiddlehead fern season! Yeah baby!
Bring on the ramps from up in them thar hills, those plump garden peas and the deliciously delicate sweet pea tendrils that make for a stunning salad or garnish. In-coming are the first squash blossoms of the year begging to be stuffed with all kinds of goodies like herbed crab salad and artisan cheeses from Sweetgrass Dairy down in Thomasville.

On the way are tiny tender pinky-sized zucchini and patty-pans the size of popped popcorn that are just begging for a quick pass in hot pan with brown butter and fresh herbs – how’s that for fast food? And in a few months time, fresh (swoon) chanterelles (which many don’t know are grown here in Georgia) will be available. But I’m jumping ahead…

As I encounter discoveries of the season I’ll share them with you. I know there are some farmer’s markets that I’m going to making myself a regular at this year. And I’m planning on touring some of the local organic farms. There are a ton of them within an hour’s drive of the city which my friend Sheri Davis, chef/owner of Dish Restaurant, turned me on to by pointing me to Georgia Organics. She uses a lot of seasonal and locally grown produce at her award-winning restaurant in the neighborly-swank Virginia-Highland district.