Gardening After Dark

After a dry spell that sent all the farmers to work early, the Midwestern monsoon season has rolled in, overflowing the ditches, cupping the fields, delaying our vegetable gardening again.  Tonight we have a narrow window of opportunity: It’s been dry and windy for two days now, which means the garden we tilled a couple of weeks ago is solid enough to walk on. The problem? It’s 8 p.m. now, and the rain is due back in three hours.  We have no choice but to plant in the dark.

We hunt up lanterns and batteries, grab the old metal lard bucket in which we store jars and packets of seed, and lift our hundred-year-old garden plow off its pegboard hooks.

The clover east of the garden looks white in the lantern light.  This is the patch our youngest daughter used to escape to when she got bored with her chores, and it still holds the record for the most four-leaf clovers per square foot.  That it is here at all is a reminder that we have not gotten around to amending the soil.  In this light, all of our mistakes look larger.  The quack grass we never got around to cutting out of the asparagus patch looms in the shadows.  The blueberry bushes scrape against one another in the breeze, chiding us for planting them too close.

Keith makes the rows and steps out of the light so that I can see to plant.  Spinach. Chard. Arugula.  Cut open, the dirt smells like tin.  The fine seeds disappear, black on black. Only the chard seeds keep their form, sharp and hard as baby molars.

Keith on top of the grain bin

I run the plow along the edge of each row, lightly covering the seeds. Coyotes cry out from their open-air asylums.  The osage orange fence posts look slick as marble in the moonlight.

And there goes Keith, climbing the grain bin to get a better look at Cygnus.


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