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Gardening, Part II

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September 1, 2011 by wcobserver


It seemed only proper that we should grow as many things as possible. Cold winter days trapped us in the house yielding the perfect opportunity to give deep study to the seed catalogs. To-scale diagrams on graph paper allowed one to plan exactly how many row feet of each vegetable would be needed in order to fill the storage closet shelves with jars of tomatoes, green beans, pickled beets, stew mix, and other beautiful food. We dreamed of sweet potatoes and butternut squash stacked in wooden crates, bulging bags of frozen sweet corn and English peas, mounds of turnips and other root crops marching in lines past the potato pits. Cabbage would become kraut after a long fermentation time under weights in its crocks of salty brine. Onion and garlic braids would hang from our walls, along with ristras of cayenne peppers.

Somewhere between the February garden diagrams and the satisfying fall harvest, things usually managed to go horribly wrong. There were the varmints, for example. Somehow the crows knew that those tiny light green shoots barely an inch tall held a kernel of corn at the hidden end. One day we had lovely chartreuse rows of promising corn, the next we had almost none, the wilted baby leaves lying hapless on the well-tilled dirt with its parent seed pecked off. We put up scarecrows, narrow flags of fabric, and other devices to scare off the clever pests, but the only thing we ever found that worked was to hide out in the woods and pick off one of them and then let its black-feathered body lay for days at the scene of the crime.

Big fat green worms disguised themselves so well in the tomato plants that only the denuded branches and mounds of thick worm poop revealed their stealthy hiding places. One evening I proudly served freshly steamed broccoli to my young family and discovered a trove of well-cooked tiny worms in the midst of the dense head. Armies of blister beetles invaded mid-summer to denude the potatoes and tomatoes. We learned to look for the tiny orange dots of squash bug eggs so we could crush them before the hatching of the grey hordes began. Aphids loved the tomatoes, seemingly undeterred by our careful companion planting of marigolds and basil.

The whole purpose of the effort was to produce organic food for ourselves and our babies, but after awhile we were sorely tempted to rush to town for the strongest pesticide money could buy. We spent hours crushing bugs with our hands, making bug tea to spray on the afflicted crops, nurturing companion plants as repellants, and otherwise employing all the back-to-the-land tips we could find in the Foxfire books or the Mother Earth News. At best, our harvests were only shares.  (To be continued)

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