Middling, Muddling March

March is a middling, muddling month on a New Hampshire vegetable farm.  It’s not quite winter; it’s not quite spring.  It’s snowy mud, or muddy snow; it’s icy rain or rainy ice.  The barnyard is mucky, the path to the woodshed is sticky, the track to the greenhouse is sloppy and slippery.

Of course, once we get into the greenhouse, we are delighted.  It’s not March at all!  It’s July, in our propane-heated greenhouse, with the rich smells of warm dirt and green onions and tomato and basil seedlings.  We throw off coats and hats, and revel a while.

But as soon as we step back outside, we remember that it’s not quite time to cast off our long underwear.  Yet it’s also not quite time to fit into those trim high summer season workpants, since middling March also means a difference for our middles, which are a little more middly after a few months closer to the wood stove and the cook stove.

In fact, even in high summer, when my farming fellow is at his fittest, there is one particular pair of summer season pants that are a little snug. 

“I thought those were your new pants,” I said, the first time I saw him trying to stuff in his shirt and zip those pants up.

“They are,” he answered, resting a moment from his labors.

“They seem a little tight.”

“They are,” he held his breath and zipped.

“But why did you buy the wrong size?”

“Well . . . that was the size that was on sale.” 

This made me laugh, and also sigh a little.  Surely we must have ordered those pants in March, the month of middle and muddle, the month of hoping for the best.

In March we are also faced again with that small mistake we made, lo! so many long years ago, when we first moved to New Hampshire, and needed to buy more three inch pots for transplanting seedlings.

We didn’t have quite enough of our old, sturdy, lovely, plastic pots, which we bought in central New York State, where a body could go right to the greenhouse store and point to just what kind of pots the body wanted.  But here in New Hampshire, we had to start ordering from catalogs, which entice you with sales, and also confuse you with their almost-sounds-right sizes.  Plus we had to order in a hurry, because we needed the pots.  Right away!

Thus we got ourselves in a muddle worthy of March.

When the new pots arrived, they were a far cry from our old pots.  The new ones were flimsy, meant for one season of use, and they were all hooked together to make an instant “flat” of pots.  We were in such a rush that we started using the new pots right away, snapping them apart to make them more like our old pots, and hoping for the best.

Alas, we soon discovered that the new pots were horrible, dreadful, miserable pots, and we’d gone too far in the box to return them.  And worst of all, we had 2,500 of the new pots.  Two thousand, five hundred. 

We moaned and groaned.  “We’re going to have to use those horrible pots for the next ten years,” I said, “before they wear out.”

“Maybe they won’t last that long?  They’re only meant for one season,” my fellow tried to sound encouraging,

But on a farm with a tight budget and a green sensibility, things must, should, do last much longer.  From hoping for the best we muddled on to making the best of it.

And yes, more than ten years later, we are still making the best of it, using the flimsy, the tippy-overy, the dreadful pots of March.  By last count, we still have 1,200 never yet been used “new” pots. We muddle through, looking ahead to the day, oh ten or more years from now, when we can get new sturdy, lovely pots. 

Meanwhile, in the here and now, we will very soon have muddled right through the beginning, and the middle, and the end of March. And then it will be Ah!  April!

Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News, Mar 19 – Mar 25, 2014