earth day 2011

It's a small thing—planting a garden. The cosmos is vast and our pale smear of stars is but one of many galaxies. Far out on one arm of the Milky Way lies our solar system, and here we are, rotating and revolving, third rock from the sun. 

Smaller still is this seedling and the biped that holds it in his hand. But the act of coaxing a seed to sprout, mature, and fruit is a sublime thing, no matter how miniscule it appears in the larger picture.

What you see above is a Red Cap Mushroom chili pepper. I ordered the seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, a remarkable enterprise out of Decorah, Iowa, in case you're interested to follow up. This pepper is reputed to be just a little shy of a habañero on the heat register, but still hot enough set your throat on fire. So one way to look at it is that the sun will nurture this chili pepper plant all summer long, and in return, the plant will capture a little of the sun's essence and give it back for our enjoyment.

I spent Earth Day immersed in the task of transplanting my seedlings into larger pots, a Zen ritual that relaxes my mind and my hands at the same time. I had plenty to work with, having started a range of vegetables four weeks ago. Here's a partial list:

  • Tomatoes: Black Krim, Stupice, Italian Heirloom, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, San Marzano, Bloody Butcher, Purple Calabash, Amish Paste, Celebrity, and Cherry.

  • Chili Peppers: Cervena Chuska, Georgia Flame, Red Cap Mushroom, Joe's Cayenne, Wenk's Yellow Hot, Sweet Banana, Santo Domingo, and Ancho.

  • Listada de Gambia eggplant

  • Flowers: lobelia, alyssum, coreopsis, love-in-a-mist, Indian paintbrush, marigolds, poppies, nicotania, Michaelmas daisy, verbena, and fleabane.

These things are all either on the light table or sheltered in the new greenhouse I put up last month—and which I am gradually learning how to use. I expect it will take several seasons to get the hang of it completely. I've already learned (the hard way) how to ventilate it so the scorching Colorado mid-day sun doesn't destroy sensitive plants. Last night, in anticipation of temps hovering around freezing, I hooked up an old space heater; when I came out this morning, the greenhouse temp was near 60 degrees, so it worked quite well.

In the garden, there's plenty of activity already. The rhubarb is nearly ready to harvest. We're munching fresh chives and tarragon, and the wild strawberry plants are blossoming and setting fruit. Garlic is a foot high and growing fast. The salad garden is taking off—four kinds of lettuce as well as spinach and golden sweet peas. I expect a bountiful harvest of those things within weeks.

Yes, it's a small thing to plant a garden, though it feels like no small amount of care and effort to do it right. Although modern people have been celebrating Earth Day for about 40 years, the practice is not new, only re-newed. I figure every day is Earth Day. I find it worthwhile to live this way, in close attention to the seasons, the soil, the plants, and the elements. Although our garden doesn't sustain our family utterly, it does provide us with fresh food from spring to fall, and with some effort, I can put up everything from dried herbs to frozen beans, squash, and tomatoes to eat all winter long.

I don't mind the work at all. I truly enjoy it—a wonderful counterpoint to the desk work and intellectual exercise of my job. And when a day of transplanting is through, I can rest from my labors, enjoy a splash of fine single malt Scotch, and read and write some poetry. I call that a good Earth Day.