On the growing of things.
August 12, 2010
In the course of my brief experiment with agriculture, I have come to enjoy gardening a great deal.
Indulge my bourgeois frothing for a second, please: I very much enjoy the feeling of working in the earth, of trimming and pruning and making things grow. It is a work, it seems to me, unrivaled in its honesty; I love the idea that I can help coax something green (or red, or orange, whatever) out of the ground. I can often be found in my garden in front of the house, filthy, on my hands and knees, coated in mud, weeding or trimming or making the dirt squish between my toes (there is something to be said for gardening barefoot.).
Okay. Rank sentimentalism over. However, I do not recant for a minute my belief that gardening is cheap, easy enough, and immensely enjoyable.
I began the garden in June of this year, eyeing our sandy, tufted, long-ignored lawn, with an intent to rip it all up and build a plot in its place.
“You’ll need to rent a rototiller,” my mother had said. I was just getting established in the house, didn’t know anyone then – I asked around at the local hardware stores – the ones with nurseries – and they didn’t rent ‘em. I’d have to drive 40 minutes into another town to rent a rototiller, spend some 80 bucks, and lug the great big thing about somehow in the spacious but relatively shallow trunk-space of my compact automobile. This wouldn’t do.
There is a very particular kind of laziness that sets in when a man does not keep regular hours. Don’t get me wrong: I work, but I keep no set schedule. I have no office save for my own home, or wherever a writing surface happens to be. This laziness compels me not to leave Michigan City just to rent a rototiller.
“Do I even need a rototiller?” I asked myself. “Hell, what good are they, anyway?”
The gardener’s manual I bought suggested that a gardener rototill her first plot, because to till by hand on unbroken ground was a “backbreaking labor.” Heh.
“Hell,” I thought. “I could surely stand a little of that, couldn’t I?” I ran over to Big Lots, bought some work gloves and a pitchfork, and made ready to strike the earth! (Sorry.)
That weird amalgam of laziness and heretofore-unblossomed cheapskatery drove me to till by hand. I would not recommend such a chore for one person, for a garden exceeding, oh, 25 square feet. My garden is about 30-some square feet, and, well, while my back remains unbroken, I don’t think I’d do it again so readily next time. Lukcily, I don’t need to: the ground only needs to be broken up to a depth of about a foot the first time you till it, so I read, and after that, it’s more superficial tilling to aerate the topsoil.
I mixed in three bags of organic soil, pitchforked it all into an indistinguishable mass, and started prepping for planting. I also started composting around this time, rescuing lawn clippings, dead leaves, and vegetable leavings.
My garden began with four tomato plants and a dusting of herbs; a little market opened up near my house, and a woman there sold plants that she had started from seed, ready to plant. I bought two varieties of tomato – Sweet Baby Girls (a cherry tomato), and Black Krim (a Crimean Black tomato). I also bought three kinds of peppers – sweet bells, an unidentified chile, and habaneros. I planted the tomatoes, caged and staked ‘em.
Well, it didn’t look like much at first.
Some of my neighbors took to calling me Farmer Dave, though I hadn’t much to show for it (I think they were making fun of my exuberance. I deserved it.); all I had was a scanty patch of brown dotted with green.
I decided the time was right to stake a claim on my garden as mine. And what does a garden need? A scarecrow! Yes. So I dug this old wooden goose out of the basement and installed it in the garden. Its wings flap in the wind. I am certain that it terrifies the crows, because I have yet to see a single one.
Then the first flowers started appearing on the tomatoes! And then tiny buds! and then TINY TOMATOES! HA! Sweet victory! “Go, go!” I cried (What. You’re supposed to talk to your plants. Shut up.)
Then I bought the cucumber plant. You’d think this would be a zucchini story. I bought a zucchini plant. I planted it. It grew. Big whoop.
But I get the feeling that my fairly late start (mid-to-late June) has retarded somewhat the growth of my zucchini monster. It’s still manageable, but I don’t have fruit yet; it might have to do with the heat of the late summer. I don’t know. I’m not an expert.
No, the beast to rear its head was the cuke, man. I fell into my daily watering routine once the garden was laid out and planted, and sometime in July, the cucumber began to slither. I had anticipated my zucchini doing something immense and terrible, so I planted it alone in the corner, away from the rest of the plot. I reserved the cucumber no such space; do recall this is my first time growing anything.
Some little tendrils sprang out from the vertices of the plant, wrapped themselves into tight helixes, and spiraled up into cute green peaks. But others lit out for open space and found it occupied, taken up by tarragon and thyme. So the tendrils snaked ‘round the stems of these herbs and commenced throttling them.
In the cucumber I have a plant that does its own weeding. of course, it also tried to wrap its little tentacles around its own stem. Plants are dumb.
So I moved my tarragon over a ways, and disentangled the far reaches of the cukevines from my thyme (which, ladies, no man may steal). Problem solved. Except that the cucumber is, like spiky. It has thorns! Why did nobody tell me this? I thought cucumbers were, like the least offensive vegetable you could grow, but the thing that sprouted forth from the spent flowerbud was this wicked green truncheon-looking thing, the sort of prop that a leather-clad prod in a bad sci-fi movie from the 80s might use to menace Kurt Russell (or perhaps Patrick Swayze, in Steel Dawn. God, what a … no, there are no words.).
But does not a plant have needs, like unto a man? Doth not drink, not eat? As far as I can tell, a plant needs nitrogen at its roots for sustenance as much as it needs water, sunlight, and oxygen. I’m no agricultural engineer, but I think, if I remember my nitrogen cycle correctly, sympathetic fungi at the roots of a plant convert the nitrogen into other nutrients, which the roots sop up. I think.
Anyway, my little plot was doing splendidly, but I wanted to ensure a good yield on my crops, so a few days ago, I decided to amend my soil. I wasn’t going in for the big-bag fertilizer; it made me uncomfortable – I’m just not sure where that stuff comes from. So, like I said, I composted, and after about six weeks, my eggshells, potato peelings, and carrot shavings had turned into rich damp earth (thanks to a plastic garbage can and a coupla handy worms. I haven’t completed my rotating compost tumbler yet. Patience, friends, patience.) I layered this goop, this wet, handsome earth (and to my surprise, it smelled wonderful. I quite liked it) atop the roots of my plants and watered it assiduously, muttering, “Drink, my children, drink!”
I am preparing to harvest my first cucumber now – it began as a terrible, spiky bolus, a wicked, prickly cactus-babe. Now, mature, it has begun to mellow. Its prickles have de-prickled. Now there are only tiny bumps.
The chiles are surprisingly fiery. And adorable. Can you help me identify them? The card that came with them just called them “Chili Pepper Red – HOT”. And that’s not a thing.
The tomatoes – the few early adopters of red faces and vine-retiring dispositions – have been the sweetest I have ever tasted. It’s enough to make a fellow wish for a bumper crop.
Beach Glass Count (I sorta slacked off with this): 202 pieces.