The summer of the year we bought our house, I planted a few tomato seedlings in the heavy, clay-filled soil of a small garden bed in the backyard. That first harvest was pretty good, so the next year I decided to expand and built two 4’x4’ containers for Square Foot Gardening.
Over the next few years that expanded to include different pots and buckets and grow bags until I tore it all apart and built five new, larger containers, taking up most of the south end of the yard with mostly tomatoes, but also cucumbers, lettuce, chard, herbs, peppers, and zucchini.
For the past few years, instead of buying seedlings in May, I’ve started most of my plants from seeds under grow lights in the basement. It’s just about time to start tomatoes, peppers, and chard. While I haven’t sat down and done much planning on paper, I have at least mused about sitting down and doing some planning.
You can tell that I came to gardening late because I still haven’t really incorporated its rhythm into my own. Seed catalogues arrived in January and I ignored them because, to me, it was far too early to think about a garden. It was, in fact, the exact right time to be thinking about a garden because it was the time to order from seed companies with the reasonable expectation that they will arrive in time to be started in March. Following the rhythm of a late-to-gardener, I started thinking about my seeds on March 3rd. Looking through my stash from previous years, I realized that 80% had passed their expiration date years ago. I tossed them out1 and hit the web in search of new ones.
When the pandemic hit last year, seed companies were slammed with people who suddenly decided it might be prudent and enjoyable to grow some of their own food. It’s the same this year. A note on the homepage of William Dam Seeds notes that orders are taking six weeks to ship.2 Shit. Tomatoes need six weeks indoors before being planted after the last frost in early-to-mid may, which was at that point 10 weeks away. Starting seeds in the middle of April was not an option.
All the other large seed companies were warning of similar delays, so I found a few small ones that weren’t or that offered expedited shipping. Among them, I found a farm store in Vankleek Hill, Ontario called Good Food Garden that had a lot of what I was looking for. The prospect of not having seeds had me a bit freaked out, I guess, and in my panic I didn’t realize I had indicated that I would pick them up at the store, which is a roughly 1,000-km round trip. I placed my order at 9:42 at night and by 9:48 I had received an email from Peggy asking if I did in fact want to have them shipped instead. I did and asked how much more I owed them, to which Peggy replied: nothing. Instead, I should tell people about their little shop just south of the Ottawa River, about 70 minutes from Montreal. Which is what I am doing right now. My seeds arrived today, nine days after I ordered them, meaning you still have time, especially for late starters like summer squash and cucumbers.
Like most things in 2020, the garden was very disappointing last year. The expired seeds were partly to blame, I think. I had also let the soil levels in my containers get too low and hadn’t beefed up the nutrients by adding any new compost, so the plants had less to feed on. I also lost interest in taking care of it almost immediately. By the end of tomato season, I am usually sick of tending to the garden, but last year I didn’t even harvest my first radishes, which grow in 30 days, before I’d had enough. I had told myself that with all the time at home and, early in the spring, no jobs on the horizon, that I would be extra attentive. That, just like the hordes descending upon Dam, Richters, and Veseys, I would prove my worth in a post-apocalyptic world. I lied. A pandemic is a hell of a thing.
The grow light stand is currently holding piles of unread issues of The New Yorker as well as crocks of vegetables I started fermenting last spring and also quickly ignored. I’ll move the magazines again and dump the crocks and then start hoping that things go a little more right this year.
As for this issue’s title, it’s taken from The Field Behind the Plow, by the great Stan Rogers, about people who probably (and more deservedly) also get sick and tired of taking care of what they planted, but still have to do it.
What I’m Consuming…
This profile of Suresh Doss from last weekend’s Globe and Mail. Suresh is such a great resource to have in Toronto, turning a deserved spotlight on the amazing hole-in-the wall, mom-and-pop restaurants that fly under the radar with most food writers in the city. If you haven’t seen his map of them, do so now. Find a place near you and chow down! (He’s also a very nice, approachable guy who has always been extremely encouraging to me as I figured out what form my writing should take.)
I’m a little late to the party, but I’ve really been enjoying the Chinese Cooking Demystified YouTube channel. I think I first became aware of them around this time last year, when Helen Rosner wrote about their experiences under lockdown in China. And I was reminded of them a few weeks ago when someone highlighted Chris’s terrific dissection of a Binging With Babish video as a model for how to point out someone is wrong without being an asshole about it. I will refer to it regularly when I write my dissection of just how wrong a different Binging With Babish video is. I’ve been working my way through their “Want to Learn Chinese Cooking? Start here” playlist and I’ve already noticed and improvement in my stir-fries.
As I mentioned in the last issue, Beth and I have a streak of eating dinner together that this week passed our 365th. We listen to a lot of podcasts while we eat. Mondays are often My Brother, My Brother, and Me. Wednesdays belong to Judge John Hodgman. And recently we’ve been filling in other days with episodes of The Ratline, investigating how a prominent Nazi managed to escape capture after the end of the war, and Strong Songs, which breaks down songs to help better understand why and how they work so well. It helps to know a little about music, but it’s definitely not required to deepen your appreciation of songs that you probably already love.
What’s On The Menu…
Nachos! I had a strong craving for them today and I decided I will put them on next week’s meal plan. Nachos are really one of the most social foods, so it’s no wonder I haven’t had any in over a year.
We are about to head out to pick up dinner from Imanishi Japanese Kitchen. Such terrific, homey food. I can’t wait to have a curry spring roll. And you can order online through Ambassador.ai, so they don’t get dinged with a service charge.
I just learned of the existence of John’s Movies, the precursors to the amazing How To With John Wilson on HBO/Crave. I’m slowly making my way through them. I enjoyed the series so much. This is like finding a hidden room in a house you’ve owned for years.
Yes, I am aware that the expiry date on seeds may be totally fake, depending on the type of vegetable. Read on to see why I didn’t have faith in them.
A friend just told me that the seeds she ordered from Dam in late January still haven’t arrived.