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March 17, 1995

St. Patrick's Day. Traditionally the day to plant potatoes--in honor of the potato famine that brought the Irish to this country. But my clayey soil's never been dry enough or warm enough six inches down to plant potatoes this early, not even this year. So, I marked the day, instead, by the plantin' o' the greens--Arugula, Buttercrunch, Carmona Butterhead, Endive, Escarole, Simpson Green Leaf, Purple Oak Leaf, Romaine, and Radicchio. A double row. Forty three plants in all. Usually an exhausting task given my desire not only to get them comfortably situated and fed, but also to have them attractively arranged from one end of the row to the other. Butterheads at each end of the row gradually rising toward the tall romaines in the center. Ruffled leaves alternating with straight edges. Dark greens or reds alternating with light greens. A compulsive's delight. But the soil was so easy to work and the mid-sixties temperature so comfortable to work in that it took me only a couple of hours to plant the seedlings protect them against cold and rabbits and deer with a polyester row cover.

Speaking of row covers, I removed all the layers from the spinach I started last fall, pulled away the straw mulch from the sides and top of the plants, and discovered that the entire row had survived all the severe cold snaps of January, February, and early March. So, in a few weeks, we'll be eating spinach from the garden, thanks to the insulating powers of straw, the cold resistant powers of spun bond polyester, and the toughness of spinach itself. But the two artichoke plants didn't fare anywhere near so well. Only a few freeze dried tatters of them under the straw. Something there is that doesn't love an Iowa winter. On the other hand, the artichoke that wintered over in the Plexiglas-covered outside cellarway has been sunning itself on the terrace wall for the past two days. The herb plants have also come up from the cellarway and are taking the sun at the south end of the gazebo.

Spring, it seems, is undeniably in residence. Even though the vernal equinox has not yet taken place. Even though I've not yet planted my peas, the ritual with which I traditionally mark the beginning of my spring gardening. Given this Niñoesque state of affairs, I decided to get in the rhythm of things and began the day by starting my eggplant, pepper, and tomato seedlings. Then in further obedience to the season, I moved all the broccoli and cauliflower to the outside cellarway--newly sprouted just five days after being planted last Sunday. Maybe it was just the influence of the full moon. Or the miraculous power of St. Patrick. But all the signs seem to agree that spring is here--at least for the time being.

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