Starting Plants Inside to Combat Cabin Fever

The sounds of sprouting plants is music to the ears.

Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick.

Starting seeds early inside, especially in New Hampshire where the growing season is only 121 days long, certainly has the obvious benefit of extending a harvest. This is, of course, reason enough for me to start my seeds as early as I do. But it is not the only reason. In fact, the way I feel right now, it may not even be the most important reason.

By March first, a seasonal lunacy that accompanies months of insufficient sunlight and inadequate store-bought produce has me totally in its grip. Were it not for the miraculous rejuvenating properties of peat moss and organic fertilizer, I might have befallen the same fate as Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining." In fact, I wear a med-alert bracelet that reads, "If found unconscious, please apply a poultice of compost and manure to the chest and water with a soaker hose for 45 minutes."

Suffice it to say, I am not a "winter person."

When Mother Nature trades in her June Cleaver persona for the Joan Crawford one, and the first snowflakes fall, usually around Thanksgiving, I'm OK. Memories of summer are not yet too far away that they can't be summoned by a steaming bowl of my wife's stewed tomatoes. In mid-January, when the barricade of ice and snow requires me to use crampons just to get my mail, I'm still holding my own. Languorously leafing through the latest seed catalogue, I manage to keep my annual winter malaise in check. But come the last week in February, I have lost it. I don't know if it's the result of ultraviolet underexposure, or Gore-Tex overexposure, but my wife tells me that I begin to sing in my sleep, "Summertime, and the livin' is easy."

“If found unconscious, please apply a poultice of compost and manure to the chest and water with a soaker hose for 45 minutes.”

Every night, apparently, I sing a different rendition. One night, as Janice Joplin. Another night, as Louis Armstrong. My left eye had begun to twitch. I talk to an imaginary friend named Pablo Bjornson. And my children no longer invite their friends over to the house. Yes, it is time to start my seeds.

So, on March first, as I have done for years now, I will make my way down to the basement and begin my recuperation by planting tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, squash and peppers. In a few more weeks I'll start my greens, beans and annual herbs. Every day, even as the forecast calls for another six to eight inches of the white stuff, and local town treasurers bite their nails as they crunch the numbers of this year's sand and salt budget, I will continue to convalesce in my cellar-cum-greenhouse. I will nurture each seedling until it is hardy enough to venture out to the garden, under a tent of chicken wire, covered with plastic. And each seedling will nurture me in return, until I, too, am hardy enough to venture outside again.

Until then, I'll sit there among a small but growing sea of green things, and recall muggy, firefly-laden evenings in mid-July; the sultry sound of cicadas in the distance, and the smell of dark soil and ripening tomatoes wafting in from the Back Forty. And perhaps I'll sing, "Summertime, and the livin' is easy." Maybe this time in the style of Billie Holiday.

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