As children, my brothers and cousins and I spun sticks in the soil, drawing tiny revolutions in the earth, chanting a silly song and urging the “doodlebug” to rise. We never saw one that I can remember, although we chased plenty of fireflies and dodged a thousand dragonflies in the meadows. As an adult, I learned that “doodlebug” is one name for an antlion, an interesting burrowing insect, and I did get to see one once with my children at a local nature center, a childhood dream realized.
As gardeners, we draw larger circles in the soil, as we circle through the seasons. However, our circles are not literal, but rather conceptual, for gardening is not a simple story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Rather it is a circle, the “wheel of the year,” an idea often associated with Pagan beliefs, but very practical and present in any agricultural society. In fact, in awareness of the seasons, the Farmer’s Almanac still includes a guide for “planting by the moon.”
Each season has its focus, but there is great deal of overlap as one season merges into the next. In a nutshell, winter is for dreaming, for seed orders and for planning. However, it is also a time to plant seeds indoors to get an early start, especially for those of us in a geographic location with a relatively short growing season.
Spring, then, is for preparation, for tilling and amending the soil, and for planting. However, it is also a time to begin to harvest the first crops: to pluck tender young sorrel on frosty mornings, to harvest chives, and asparagus, and the red/green stalks of rhubarb. Rather than calling up the doodlebug by spinning a stick in the soil, we are giving to the earthworm, and to the other subsoil species. We are nourishing the “biology” of the soil through composts and cover crops gently rolled into the earth, with the slow motion “low till” method that we use on our farm.
Summer is for nurturing, for tending and weeding, for side dressing and pest management, for watching and watering. It is a busy season, full of wide-brimmed hats and basil lemon-aid. But, it is also a time for harvesting, nibbling as you go, for preserving summer bounty in pickles and jams, that you will pop in your mouth in mid-winter, a visceral reminder of warmer days. And, summer is a time for planting successive crops to replace things already harvested, or cover crops to nourish the soil and to prevent a rampant takeover by weedy invaders.
Autumn, the bountiful season, is for harvesting by the wheel-barrow full, for preserving, for storing in the cellar. It is the time for a post-harvest pampering, spa days for the soil, as cover crops are planted and composts applied. However, it is also a time to plant next summer’s garlic and one last crop of salad greens or kale, which may re-emerge, tender and ready for the table, in April.
Day follows night. The moon waxes and wanes. Colored leaves pour like nutrient-rich rain upon the earth, until the snows come and the garden sleeps. Winter again. And winter is a time for dreaming.
Wherever you are, whatever the weather, I wish you a beautiful season.
A note: The contents of this essay are the basis for one of the talks I am doing locally, along with a book signing. I hope to post the "lesson" content of the class during the next week. Stay tuned! :)