Monday, April 9, 2012

Gardening With Big Dave

Most people I know have a secret dream.  They don't realize that it is a dream in the classic sense...but that it is...uniquely disguised as something that they have tried to do and cannot master.  We all are trained to believe that dreams are all caught up in being something beyond our owning a business, building a home, running a marathon, winning the Olympics, or being on a reality TV show. 

(By the way, if the latter is on your "dream" can probably make it a reality since 95% of all television programming is in this genre...including sports.)

But dreams can be little in scope and still qualify, in my humble opinion.  I think that we sometimes forget that "beyond our capacities" can include things like making a decent batch of homemade biscuits (no, the frozen Pillsbury ones are delicious but they don't count), sewing curtains for your living room, planning and executing a wedding without filing bankruptcy, or putting in a garden.


Big Dave grew up in a family of four stair-step children...with the oldest four years and three months older than the youngest.  The kind of child grouping that involved a serious need to keep them occupied and out of trouble as well as finding a way to supplement the grocery budget by growing their own food.  Perfect solution to both? A garden.

Although I have not verified this with any of the other kids or his hear Dave tell it...he was dragged out of bed at some ungodly hour to hoe and pull weeds uphill in the snow for eighteen miles one way for every second of summer for fifteen years.  Or something like that.

He has an aversion to anything involving a garden...other than eating what might come from one.  So imagine his dismay when his bride of two years - in 1987 - thought it would be "super cool" to put in a little garden in outside our little apartment (quadraplex) in the ghetto!  He did it anyway, and I put in one of every imaginable kind of vegetable in with little regard to things like row spacing, water, or how much sun the garden would get.  Soil testing?  Say who?

Yes.  My first colossal failure as a gardener.  But even way back then...a dream was hatched.

Fast forward a few years where we had finally saved enough from living in the Dalmation Arms (a name given to the quadraplex by a member of my family because the building was white and had spots of black mold or mildew all over it) to build our own home.  By this time I was busy raising kids and trying to figure out other intracacies such as wallpapering, bible studies, and how to survive a strong willed two year old while pregnant with my second one.

But one day I thought it would be a grand idea to plant sunflowers along the back fence line.  I could already see their faces lining the ultimo tacky chain link fence in the backyard providing just a perfect pop of color.  Oh, the sunflowers popped up all right...and were quite prolific.  Except they faced the opposite direction of the fence and my backyard neighbor got the view I coveted.  I didn't consider it a complete disaster, but it certainly left a lot to be desired.  We ended up putting in a little garden in that house, and I have a photo of Jill with stubby little ponytails (she was about 18 months old) walking to the back yard and pulling one of our seriously undersized tomatoes off and eating it.  What she didn't eat...something else did.

In 2001, we moved to our current location in the thriving metropolis of Pike Road, Alabama (yes, I live in a town named after a road...but whatever) onto a fine five acre lot with a lovely pond in the back yard.  Plenty of space and lots of potential.  Except that it is situated on that gosh awful dirt called "prairie soil" - which is just a kind way of saying - "dirt which sucks."  In a particularly dry summer, it cracks so much that you just kind of hope that the dogs have enough sense to stay close to the house...which is situated on a red clay pad and isn't going anywhere (or so we hope).

For the past ten years, we have been trying to grow a decent tomato plant.  It just hasn't worked out.  Primarily because after they are planted, it seems the plant needs stuff like adequate sunlight, water, and insect and weed control.  Let's see...that would be fail, fail, fail, and fail.

Until this year.

Now I like to think that I have adequate sense, but the truth is...I have relied on Big Dave to provide the garden expertise.  Since he grew up tending to gardens and since he has planted the actual gardens every year.  Makes sense...right? 

Not if you know how much Big Dave hates gardening.  Take "with a passion" and multiply that times ten and you'll be close.  Which gardens have failed because I was too stupid to know what I needed to do, and he was too smart to go out there and do it for me...knowing that just one successful garden would change his life forever.

To say that this was "a revelation" is an understatement.  Passive-aggressive behavior at its finest. 

One of the things that I have been trying to do is learn how to garden.  So, a week or so ago I went to an organic gardening class taught locally at the Hampstead Institute (( for you local Montgomerians)...and it was fun.  Here's a brief recap of what I learned:

1. Compost is life.  (I felt like I was ahead of the curve on this one having received a compost bin for my birthday in March.  People were got WHAT?) 
2. Every year...and I learned this from people who do this for a living...something in the garden fails. (Better than everything fails every year...but nice to know that some failure is actually just part of the game.)
3. There are people in the city of Montgomery who are WAY too excited about gardening.  These weren't the people whose job it is to be excited about gardening, either. (There was a lady in front of me who almost couldn't contain her enthusiasm.  Think Will Ferrell in "Elf" - but not in that "isn't it cute?" way either.)
4. People who compost in open piles can expect rats (which is why my bins are plastic and closed).
5. Compost actually generates heat. (And there I thought it was only an "aroma" and gnats.)
6. Worms in your soil are actually beneficial (I thought they were just gross.)
7. It is not an "if" with regard to pests in your is a "when" and "what" you are going to do about it.  (Meaning that my default of "nothing" totally does not work.)
8. It takes years for fruit bushes and trees to establish and you'd better get on it if you want to actually experience these in your yard. (Two blueberry bushes and one fig tree have since been planted with more to come.)
9. Roses love banana peels.  Shred and put in the soil around them.  (Excellent source of potassium.)
10. Fall gardens are easiest for new gardeners.
11. Tomatoes are considered an "advanced" crop to grow.  (Who knew?  Obviously not me.)

(Okay, a couple of those I didn't get from my the bananas and the fruit trees...I got those from my reading.  It was just easier to throw them all together.)

I also learned that I am really very interested in being a good gardener.

There are some things in life that you just expect that you'll be able to do because of the family you were born into or the environment in which you were raised.  Athletic ability appears to be inherited...and the interest in athletics is generally encouraged and nurtured in these families.  Some people learned to cook from their mothers and grandmothers who learned from theirs and on and on.  Other skills include woodworking, teaching, or even water skiing.  Or, you may have learned strong Christian disciplines as a family heritage, read voraciously, or have musical ability that runs strongly in your family branch.  I mean, the Osmonds, Jacksons, and any number of family groups bear this out. 

I should be able to do this gardening thing.  My grandmother could grow anything she wanted...and my mother can root gardenia plants from a twig.  Seriously.

I'm not ready to invest a whole lot of money (other than in my typical purchase of starter plants, some soil, mulch, and a bag of peat moss) in this venture.  But I will tell you that I have already put in my order for a stirrup hoe for Mother's Day. 

Yes, I learned all about stirrup hoes at that seminar, too.  They are best for weeding.  And since I pretty much suck at that...I thought I'd try to make it as simple as possible.

Big Dave is actually being cooperative.  He has apparently been convinced that I am serious about it...and that it is something that we could do together as a hobby.  Of course, he has always enjoyed he does yardwork while I work at the latest attempt at a garden.  With regards to hobbies, we have been seriously limited in the past.  Everything else we do excludes the other because of ability, interest, or it is a solitary activity (such as reading or scrapbooking). 

So this is good, yes?  We spent two days together doing everything that needed doing...and we had a blast.

Hopefully, I will not lose interest as the weeds pop up and the temperature goes from the nice
80 degree mark to Hades lite as it is inclined to do every summer here in Alabama.  The jury is still out on that one...but I'm going to try to stick with it.  I believe that growing your own food is a magical and amazing endeavor, and with the price of produce these days...I'm willing to give it a whirl.  I already know how to make pickles and jellies...a throwback ability to some ancestor that I am exceedingly grateful to...or if I just happened to stumble upon a person at work who gave me two pickle recipes in 1988 that are seriously the best. 

Possibly both.

Currently, our tomatoes are in buckets, in a small bed by the house, and the bed from last year - the one that has far too much shade - is growing mint, basil, cucumbers and spaghetti squash.  The latter because I intended to purchase crookneck squash...but failed to read the labels properly.

Oh well.  It will probably turn out the best.  And then I'll have to figure out what to do with it.

Good problem to have.

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