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The Farmer’s Daughter Gets Back to Her Roots

Spiritual Smart Aleck

Your Smart Aleck is taking a wee break, and offers this rerun from 2009. Be back next issue.
Many people are planting vegetables this year, some of whom have never gardened before. I gardened with great passion and little skill before I had children. We have a near-sunless, sodden little yard, but I planted in faith. There were squash: zucchini, yellow crookneck, and patty pans, my favorites. The squash did well, and covered the yard with foliage. I also tried to grow lettuce, cabbage, carrots, beets, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and corn.

One year I planted two rows of corn. At harvest each stalk had one perfect luscious ear. That small crop was worth all the effort – there is nothing in the world that compares to sweet corn on the cob fresh from the garden.

I heard that horse radish was easy to grow, and mail ordered a root. Turns out that horse radish isn’t easy to grow – it’s impossible to stop. My husband hunted it down and killed it with a shovel after a year or two, muttering about clogged drain fields and warning me sternly that I’d better not plant any more of that damn stuff.

The lettuce and other greens were clear cut by slugs, so I put in marigolds to repel the slugs and the slugs ate the marigolds, too. Then I tried putting cups of beer out, and the slugs obligingly crawled in and drowned, but then I had to dispose of the slug-slimed beer, clean the cups, and refill them with fresh beer. I began to feel like the dead slugs were having a lot more fun than I was, and I resented having to pay for all that beer. One organic gardening book advised going out in the morning or evening and picking the slugs up and putting them into a container and then...what? Dispose of them, somehow. I’d throw them into the ravine but their numbers never diminished in the garden.

One morning I went berserk and starting impaling slugs on a paring knife. “Die, die, you slimy sonsabitches!” I caroled as I wreaked my havoc. Within minutes I was sick to my stomach and sick at heart. I just don’t have what it takes to wage a successful war, I guess. It was soon after that I gave up on vegetables. I realized that I enjoyed communing with flowers in my yard a lot more than the losing battle that was growing vegetables, and decided to buy my produce at the store and grow flowers.

After that I assuaged my gardening longing by buying plant starts. I developed a method which I have learned is quite common among gardeners: you bring home a plant, you put it into the yard or pot, you water it and if you really like it you give it a shot of fish emulsion now and then.

You say, “OK, pal, you’re on your own,” and then you wait to see if it makes it. If not – well, it had its chance, and you’ve had your learning experience.

After our sons were born I gave up gardening. I would read magazines in which strong young women were pictured, working in their beautifully tilled gardens, smiling broadly, carrying sturdy compliant infants bundled into packs on their backs. I envied those women, and hated them. I wished I had that kind of energy and organization and will, and that kind of cheery easy child, but I didn’t, so I’d sit on the rug on the living room floor with the boys and stack blocks with them and try to keep them from killing each other, and left the yard to grow its bumper crop of dandelions.

This spring I decided to grow vegetables again, but on a scale I could handle. I bought four wide, shallow pots and placed them up on a shelf on the back deck where only the flying slugs could get to them. I filled them with soil, and planted lettuce, spinach, green onions, and radishes.

The lettuce, spinach, and green onions are coming along. Today for lunch I went out and thinned a few sprouts to throw into my turkey wrap. Not bad. I felt the warm glow of the farmer enjoying the fruits, or in this case the vegetables, of her labors.

I’ve got my eye on the first radish that is plumping up in the radish pot. It will be ready soon, and I’m watching closely because I don’t want to miss the peak of its perfection. Which is odd, because I’ve never really liked radishes.