The last day of March witnessed the last meeting of our Evergreen Forum seminar on the General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The initial phrase of the poem’s famous opening (“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote…”) introduces a sentence of which the principal clause, appearing only eleven lines later, is “then longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.” That is, when the April showers arrive, people get itchy to go on pilgrimage. By strange happenstance, this statement is as applicable this year in twenty-first-century New Jersey as it was in fourteenth-century Kent. For we are indeed just about to leave, in ten days' time, to lead a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, under the sponsorship of the Princeton University Alumni Council. I shall attempt to “live blog” this event at it progresses, though with what success I am reluctant to predict.
My appetite thus whetted, and under the inspiration of Chaucer, I determined to create a somewhat larger bed in full sun just south of the stone wall I put up around my property. This is at the edge of a large common meadow formerly known as the “Baseball Field”—an appellation dating from the 'Sixties, when there were still many young people in the neighborhood. This had to be wrested from a bramble patch overrun with various formidable jungle vines, especially coarse wild roses and the voracious species of Virginia Creeper that grows a foot or more per week and feeds from stubborn fat tuberous roots with the tensile strength of Kevlar. This horror must be entirely dug out and destroyed if you hope for anything else to grow in its former domain.
Even if you lack commercial earth-moving equipment it is possible, barely, to achieve one’s goal. Some years ago in upstate New York I found in a dump a heavily framed iron grid, roughly three feet by four. Its original function is uncertain to me, but I was able to adapt it as a heavy-duty sieve in attacking the hideous root structure of this vine. The price of achieving a plot of Jersey topsoil suitable for producing the Jersey tomato is to dig down at least a foot and sieve every shovelful of the results, removing all brick bats, animal bones, small stones, Mason jar shards, and, especially, the tuber clusters and root fragments. This activity is not for the faint of heart, the weak of back, or the subtle of brain.
So far, I am on schedule. The next task, which I must accomplish pre-pilgrimage, is to get adequate fencing around both the old and the new beds—unless my ambition can be satisfied by offering a dietary supplement to the deer. Then if I can get plants in the ground soon after returning from Europe, there will be some hope of having a tomato or two in September!