3 sisters and 73 poems

Peaseblossom, one of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream, speaks only four lines in the play. Only one of those contains more than a single word, and it is this: "Hail, mortal."

Hail, indeed. This morning I returned from a hike to find the golden sweet peas I'd planted in late March had finally burst out into blossom all along the fence row. This closeup shot shows in remarkable detail the delicate violet lacing of the outer petals and the darker, inviting symmetry and beauty of the inner-blossom.

It took precisely 76 days from planting to blossoming, and that is now duly noted in my garden journal. Soon I'll be grazing my way down this row, enjoying one of mid-June's true delights: handfuls of sweet, crunchy, golden pea pods. Few ever make it to the kitchen.

In the meantime, I'm grazing my way through the strawberry patch and harvesting the last of the spinach, triggered to bolt by last week's hot spell. But the heirloom lettuces are going strong, all three varieties: Forellenschluss, Rossa di Trento, and Yugoslavian red leaf, pictured below, respectively.

My family provided taste tests and they ranked the lettuces, with the Forellenschluss coming out a close favorite for both appearance and taste--buttery, mild, and with a pleasing, crispy texture.

In short, the garden is hitting its stride, with a rolling harvest of herbs, leafy greens, and berries. The twenty heirloom tomato plants are putting on height and bulk, and due to their greenhouse starts, most have fruits already forming. We may have some ripe tomatoes on the Stupice and Bloody Butcher varieties within several weeks. Just down the row, nine varieties of chili pepper are plotting their fiery revenge, blossoms heavy on sturdy stalks.

But the most intriguing element of the garden for me at this point is my experiment with the milpa system of growing corn, beans, and squash in one bed. This system, sometimes called by Native people The Three Sisters, brings a lot of benefits. The corn (Stowell's heirloom variety) will grow tall and strong, as corn does, providing a natural trellis for the Italian pole beans to climb. The beans will themselves return nitrogen to the soil—important for heavy feeding plants such as corn. Meanwhile, Amish pie squash will spread out across the feet of the corn plants, acting as a natural mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.

It's early, so the plants are just establishing. As as you look at the squash, corn, and beans in this image, think potential.

Best of all is this consideration: corn lacks certain key amino acids the body needs to make protein and naicin, but beans have those, and so eaten together, these vegetables provide more complete nutrition than they would if consumed separately. The squash are a rich source of vitamins A (one serving has 450% of your daily requirement) and C, and pie makes a nice dessert after a good meal, no? So it's old agricultural wisdom—and you might notice if you get a 2009 U.S. dollar coin that The Three Sisters are celebrated in a graphic on the back.

So I figured it was time to celebrate this idea in practical terms, in my garden. I'll post again in late summer when the harvest comes in, and I'm hopeful this experiment will turn out well.

I've spent enough time in the garden lately that tomorrow, I'll take a break. Rather than sifting through petals and moving soil and grazing on the produce, I'll perform parallel actions on a stack of manuscript pages. I counted the poems in the binder on my shelf—my latest manuscript. There are 73 poems, which is too many by a third. So I have some thinning to do. I'll get up early, make a second cup of coffee, avoid reading the news, and instead settle down to the tasks involved in a manuscript revision round.

It's a bit like gardening. The lettuce and strawberries may taste fine but poems make music, and that's a whole different sense to explore.