The steam rising off the pans of boiling maple sap, the receding snow banks out the sugar house door, the pair of newly-returned turkey vultures soaring overhead – these are all signs that spring, however delayed, is finally upon us. The spring peepers will soon be calling from the marsh at night, a chorus of optimism if there ever was one, and it seems a good time to introduce a new project, a series of seasonal reports and opinions on vegetable growing. This has come about through a chance encounter with Matthew at the Connecticut Flower & Garden Show where I was lecturing this winter. I stopped to admire his gallon jar filled with kernels of ‘Magenta Parching’ corn and one thing has led to another.
By way of introduction let me say that I have been raising vegetables on this southern New Hampshire hillside since I was a teenager, half a century ago. This has been purely non-commercially, although it has served me well as a practicum for my years as Science Editor of Horticulture magazine and as host of PBS-TV’ s The Victory Garden.
In my semi-retirement I have the luxury of reflecting on the whys as well as the hows of what we grow and eat. The booming enthusiasm for whole food and food that has been locally grown is both welcome and laudable, but it should not eclipse the homegrown. Just as recycling a grocery bag is trumped by reusing one, and in turn by not needing one at all, so the case can be made for the superiority of raising at least a portion of one’s food. It is not just the calories consumed or the dollars saved that matter. There is also the connection that is established to those who labor elsewhere to feed us.
To grow even a few vegetables at home is a lesson in ecology, and a reminder that the domestication of plants for our benefit requires that we, in turn, provide our plants with a level of care , from fertilizer to pest control, that their wild progenitors do not need. Finally there is the well-being that comes from a sense of self-reliance, and a generous measure of good health from the exercise. All these things we hope to expand upon in the months to come.
I am joined in this endeavor by Birgitta Keinanen, a source of inspiration and ideas, who, though younger than me, spent a dozen years gardening at Rosaly’s Garden, the oldest and one of the largest organic producer of vegetables in this state. As the first buds swell and we ready seeds to go into the soil again, wish us well, as we do you.
Roger B. Swain