Monday, January 7, 2013

Janus Says Look Back to Look Forward

Like many folks, my nature is drawn to new beginnings.  That explains my love of sunrises, newborns of any species, and January 1.  It also explains why Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings--with his two faces--one looking back and one forward, appeals to me.  Since I first studied mythology, this odd looking fellow has intrigued me.  As 2012 winds to an end, that promise of a new start is more powerful than usual. Our move to a new home with a big garden spot suggests unlimited summer delights.

I’m not the only person in America who starts planning next summer’s garden the day after Christmas.  Before the lady who delivers my mail recovers from stuffing boxes with Christmas cards and last minute packages, seed companies inundate the postal service with scores of catalogues promising giant pumpkins and award winning tomatoes. Over the next few weeks, USPS employees with aching elbows and thumb joints will distribute millions of documents promising amazing summer harvests.

As much as I enjoy receiving Christmas letters, I love getting garden catalogues even more.  I haven’t checked with my mom, but I bet I now spend more time pouring through Burpee’s colorful ads than I did looking at the Monkey Ward catalogue as a little girl. Imagining what might grow from those bright seed packets is so much more exciting than looking at the picture of a finished product on a glossy page.

 You are probably wondering how ol’ two-mugged Janus plugs into my green thumb musings. Remember, he looks back and forward.  He reminds people like me to face reality when we really like to dwell in the land of hope and what might be.   That is the nature of a gardener after all.

Thinking of this two-faced god reminds me to recall last summer and my hopes for my tomato and pepper plants as I first tucked them into plowed earth. Even before tilling, I’d stashed dozens of mason jars, planning on serious salsa making.   To help the bees and wind fertilize  blossoms, I visited my garden each morning with paint brush in hand.  My efforts worked fine until extreme July temperatures halted production until nighttime temperatures cooled in mid-August. 

That’s the looking back face. Now for the forward looking Janus.  I’m scouring pages to find drought resistant seeds.  Heat Wave II tomatoes promise flavorful orbs even in sizzling temperatures.  Even more promising, black-eyed peas, spineless okra, cantaloupe, pole beans, jalapeño and poblano peppers, Sugar Baby watermelons, eggplant, and New Zealand spinach also thrive during hot, dry conditions.

Even though we have better soil at our new home, we must take additional measures to guarantee a good harvest. One early season action includes adding compost to our garden. This will nourish plants and help retain moisture.  Even if we escape record-breaking temps, adding broken-down plant material will maximize the plot’s potential. More strategies to survive drought conditions include adding a deep mulch layer and using soaker hoses once a week to water deeply. 

With Christmas a recent memory and January’s namesake Janus reminding me to learn something from last summer’s gardening experience,  I’m scoping out every seed catalogue I get my hands on and dreaming about working up a sweat picking baskets of produce.

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