In April we New Hampshire farmers are all a’tremble. Actually, everything on the farm in April is all a’tremble, with eagerness, especially after a winter as long as this last one has been.
There is the garden soil, trembling and ready. In the soil we’ve planted the cold tolerant crops, peas and beets and carrots and salad greens, the seeds trembling and ready to sprout.
There are the transplants too, vibrantly green and ready, cabbage and broccoli and scallions, kohlrabi and lettuce and onions, nurtured for six weeks in the greenhouse. In April we harden off the little green babies, putting them out in their basinets for a nap in the afternoon sunshine, progressing to an entire day cavorting in the fresh outside air, and finally trusting them out for the night, albeit tucked into a mini-greenhouse, a knee-high version of our larger hoop house.
We harden the transplants off for a week, in the hope that they are sturdy and hearty enough to stay at the trembling and ready stage when we finally plant them out in the April garden. In April, there is still a fine line between shiver and shrivel, and trembling and ready. We cross our fingers and look all around us for the signs of April hope.
Yes, the trees are a’trembling too, with that exquisite faint green of new leaves uncurling. And the grass, that green trembling haze. And then of course there are the draft horses, trembling at the gate, longing to make the earth tremble as they gallop to the green grass.
Sadly, that grass is a month or more shy of being ready for grazing.
We commiserate with our nice horses, tucking tired old wrinkled old dried up carrots from last fall’s harvest into the horses’ hay as a treat.
We too are still eating those tired carrots, and some sprouting potatoes, as we’ve already eaten all the rutabagas and turnips and beets from the root cellar. We’ve also already eaten all the yummiest things from the freezer: broccoli and beans and greens, pesto and salsa and red peppers.
Now we have to invoke the mighty kitchen ingenuity spirits, to help with what’s left: the eggplant, the baked-and-frozen-before-it-goes-bad winter squash, the jars and jars of marinara sauce. All delicious in their own right, of course, but we are challenged by eggplant, squash, and tomato: how to make yet one more inspiring (or at least edible) vegetarian meal?
Happily, our canned fruit and jams are still going strong, and our pickles and cider. Not quite a meal, but at least it peps up the rest, just as we hope the carrots pep up our horses’ hay meals.
Because, we have to admit, we farmers do have the pleasure of a little April grazing. Not in the garden or fields, but in the greenhouse, which has doors flung open and sides rolled up and fans running, lest, even in April, the temperature soar above the ideal seventy to eighty degree range.
There in the greenhouse, my farming fellow and I stand a’trembling, before the altar of lettuce, lettuce that is bursting out of its one-inch space, lettuce which needs to be “singled,” as we say. In each little space there may be two or even three lettuce plants, two inches high, because we’ve sowed seed enough to ensure good germination. Now we want just one lettuce in each spot, so it will grow straight and broad and strong.
We are at that wonderful April moment: clipping out the extra lettuce! Clipping out every tiny, sweet, tender extra bouquet of leaves, and popping every one into our mouths. Yum. Yum. Yum.
It’s been a long winter. It’s been a long time since fresh greens, of any kind. It’s been a long wait. And it’s worth it. Oh, we tremble, with that wonderful eagerness of spring, and the lovely exultation of lettuce, all at once!
Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Apr 16 – Apr 22, 2014