Expressway: A gardener itches to get back in her dirt pile

Stacey DeFelice-DeSimone?s front-yard patch in Oakdale produces lettuce,

Stacey DeFelice-DeSimone’s front-yard patch in Oakdale produces lettuce, basil, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. (Credit: Stacey DeFelice-DeSimone)

'I have an announcement to make," I said to my still drowsy husband and daughter on a frigid Sunday morning in February. "It's time to start saving eggshells and coffee grinds."

This did not rouse them from their nests of blankets, but the thought had me bouncing on the balls of my feet, eager to collect the detritus of Sunday breakfast.

Eggshells and coffee grinds are but two of the secret weapons I use to nourish my front-yard vegetable garden. My fingers start itching to dig in the soil around Groundhog Day.

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I fondly recall a winter day two years ago when the temperature soared into the low 70s, and I feverishly tilled until a painful welt on my arm drove me indoors before the early sundown. It wound up being a bee sting that needed a doctor's attention -- in February!

Eggshells and coffee grinds are a compromise. In my pursuit to live off the land, I want a vegetable garden encompassing our entire front yard, which measures 40 feet by 40 feet. I also want a goat to offset landscaping costs, and a chicken coop and compost pile.

Although we live in the Oakdale Artist Colony, a rather granola neighborhood where front-yard vegetable gardens and compost piles and chicken coops are not unusual, my rather conventional husband vetoes all of these ideas. Instead, last year he cordoned off a plot -- just 8 feet by 8 feet -- where my garden was allowed to grow. I should mention that my husband's boundaries are self-serving. Once the mosquitoes hatch in our marshy neighborhood and take aim at my tasty flesh, the tasks of weeding, fertilizing, and watering fall to him. Last year I acknowledged his role and wished him a happy Father's Day with the gift of a compact expandable hose.

As soon as the ground thaws, it is this impossibly small patch that I tend meticulously. I till with a medieval-looking steel torture device, then with my hands, raking through the soil for every last minuscule root and pebble.

Last spring presented a challenge. The previous October, superstorm Sandy brought a flood of a few inches. With the soil barren and damaged by salt, we built a raised bed bordered by wooden planks and filled it with 720 pounds of topsoil.

I planted lettuce, basil, peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. My tomatoes thrived until well after pumpkins had appeared on doorsteps in October, so I scrambled to make and freeze vats of gazpacho -- much to my husband's delight.


So as winter fades, my heart soars with the promise of every 50-degree day -- and plummets each time temperatures return to polar depths, keeping me indoors and away from my dirt pile.

When I tramped outdoors at sunrise to collect the newspaper on a recent Sunday, a spot of purple in my dun-colored yard caught my eye. A tiny crocus had pushed up through the hard ground, its fragile stalk drooped and shivering.

It didn't care that stubborn snowpack covered sections of my yard; it just knew it was time.

As I crept back into the house, careful not to wake my family, I smiled to myself as I started the coffee and cracked the eggs.

Reader Stacey DeFelice-DeSimone lives in Oakdale.

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