We jumped the gun. The unseasonably warm days in March beckoned us back to our vegetable garden. Giddy with a farmer’s anticipation of the new season, we planted a few cool-weather veggies. Lacking a farmer’s discipline, we were taught a lesson by Mother Nature.

Most of the lettuce, barely half an inch high, succumbed to a late frost. Half of the radishes did too. The perennial herbs –thyme and oregano – were cruelly crowned with grayish frostbite.  Only the peas, with deeper roots, seemed unfazed.

My husband and I are urban gardeners, renters of a small plot of city land in Alexandria — one of 18,000 community gardens across the country. We come from farm stock, and grew up eating garden produce year round – fresh, frozen and canned. When our children were young, we leased a garden plot so they would understand that their food came from the soil – not in plastic-wrapped Styrofoam.  Now that the kids are grown, we garden for the pure joy of it. (And to bask in the rave reviews of our non-gardening beneficiary friends)

On second thought, call it the agony and ecstasy. The frost knee-capped our Mesclun salad blend, the Red Sails lettuce, the green and red looseleaf. Read in retrospect, the seed packets taunt us by touting their heat resistance. The radish – Purple Plum, Red Head and German Giant – will mostly survive. And thank goodness for the Mammoth Melting sugar peas, which grow toward the sun undaunted by the frost. Next weekend, we will stake nets to give the peas their own little stairway to heaven.

The farmers markets are open; we will resist the urge to buy and plant tomatoes too early. Though…come to think of it…the vanguard of last year’s tomato crop went into the ground in mid-April.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist who is equally passionate about gardening and politics. She lives in Alexandria, Va.

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