Gardens I have Known and Loved

I have been gardening in one fashion or another for almost 32 years—mostly since I moved to North Carolina in 1978 with the intent of leaving Michigan’s rust belt and becoming a “mountain man”. Gardens are a lot of work but they are one of the most rewarding endeavors that I can think of—all I have to do is think of fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes or eating corn that has just been picked and all that work is quickly forgotten.

Gardens are also a lot like our lives—we have some successful years and some that are not as profitable. Sometimes we plant to early and that late freeze gets the seed and we have to plant again. Some years you might have more spinach than you can eat and others—even though you have seemingly planted in the same way—you might only get a salad or two from a whole patch.

Anyway, it is spring time in the southern Appalachian’s and the urge to get outside and start playing in the dirt is almost overwhelming—a few days of sunshine and hope are followed by several days of rain and cold weather—but we keep getting ready for the big planting push in small starts and stops.

As I plan this year’s garden I am acutely aware of the fact that for the past two years, all the beans I have painstakingly planted have been eaten by a roving band of deer—deer that until recently have been content to eat what nature has provided for them rather than raid my yearly garden.

So, it wasn’t really all that much of a shock to me to see five deer in the lot next to my garden when I came home from work the other day. Since I had my camera in the car, I stopped for a moment and before they ran away, took this picture to show my wife Sandi.

And it is not just the beans that are on my mind.

Three years ago after planting my sweet corn the weather got warm and there was very little rain. I would go out to the garden every couple of days in order to see if the corn was germinating. It seemed to be taking a long time but I figured that since it was dry, it might take a little longer to begin to see those little green shoots coming out of the soil. Well, one early morning, I noticed a bunch of crows in the back and you guessed it—they were eating my corn for breakfast. I told my buddy Carter about this situation and he told me that I needed to stake each row and pull a string across the row about 3 or 4 inches off the ground—that crows would not go under something in order to eat. So, the next year I tried that technique and we now have corn again.

This year I ordered about 100 feet of “deer netting”  that I plan to put around the beans, the corn and maybe the peas as well. It is a lot of work but in these economic times, not having canned beans or fresh corn isn’t an option—so whatever I have to do I will.

While driving to work this morning I had these thoughts I have just written along with a memory of the first garden Sandi and I did upon finding an old home place to begin our lives in these now familiar mountains.

The house we lived in and in process of re-claiming, had not been occupied for many years. There was an overgrown garden space directly behind the house which we had plowed by one of the older locals we had met. If you have ever seen a freshly plowed field it looks something like rows of big overturned sod patches in between deep furrows of nothing but dirt. From a distance it appears as big welts of soil with the grass turned under and somewhat hidden from sight.

What we didn’t know at the time was that this process was supposed to be followed by discing—a process by which the newly ploughed earth is broken up and made somewhat plantable. Whether or not our farmer friend forgot this process or was playing a joke on us “newbies” I will never know. What I do know is that Sandi and I began to hand separate the dirt from the grass and when we had some earth smoothed out, planted some seeds and waited for our “harvest”.

What we failed to understand was that these little seeds needed nutrients to grow just like our bodies do. It is hilarious to look back on those 3 inch corn plants that failed to get any bigger no matter how much we watered them and checked up on them. It wasn’t until the following year that we learned about discing, tilling and fertilizer and began to have harvests that we could eat and put away for the winter. Gardening, like life, is a learning process—that’s the ride I am on and am looking forward to what this year brings.

How about you?

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2 Responses to Gardens I have Known and Loved

  1. Carey says:

    I’ve been anticipating this post from you, knowing that it would be the surest sign of spring. I feel better already, just having a friend who is attuned to the earth’s rhythms. With our wooded homestead, our connections to the land are different, darkened by poplars. Let us know if you need any slave labor. Also (Oh deer!) pretty cool tip from Carter with the string thing. And that note about the discing– it’s a helpful anecdote for some of your readers, I’m sure.Happy planting days are here again! It’s good to get the annual retort. CR, author of Glass half-Full

  2. Terry Henry says:

    I seem to remember a friend named Carey who helped me plant potatoes(?) one year. I probably still owe you a couple of dinners. I will let you know when the time for putting the fence comes. I sense a couple of cool ones coming on, don’t you?

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