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A Lighter View . . . How does your garden grow?

July 1, 1993

A Lighter View . . . How does your garden grow?

By By Karen M. Morris

By Karen M. Morris

Freelance Writer

Talk about being totally unprepared for married life…I was clueless. I completely lacked any agricultural or farming skills.

My father-in-law, Lester, grew up on a farm where milk came from cows, eggs came from chickens, and the land was plowed with horses. Survival depended on a lot of hard work, a little bit of luck and most important of all…knowing what you’re doing. Over the last 50 years, Lester has shod ponies, built barns, served in WW2, and saved my mother-in-law from drowning in Jamaica, but now he faced an almost impossible challenge…teaching me how to grow my own food. Or as I liked to say, “turning me into the Cinderella of sod.”

I thought pizza was a crop and that food grew at the A&P, except for the frozen stuff, which obviously came from the North Pole. And “hay” was a name you called someone you didn’t know. A John Deere was a break-up letter, and agrarian meant you were born in January. Strip farming was something nudists did, and alfalfa was a member of Our Gang. A baler was somebody you called to get you out of jail, and grass was something you smoked. Let’s face it; a bowling ball had better odds of growing hair than I did of growing food.

For the next 10 years, Lester and I gardened together on a plot of land slightly bigger than the state of Rhode Island. He showed me how to stake up beans, cover the cauliflower so it didn’t turn yellow, and grow potatoes on top of the ground. Melons had to be turned periodically to prevent flat spots. Strawberries spoiled during hot spells if they weren’t picked daily, and on the days it didn’t rain, we had to haul water to the plants. Slowly, I slipped into the life of a weather channel junkie.

Once, I made the mistake of trying to get a tan by wearing a bathing suit while I worked. After an hour, everything itched. Dirt and straw congregated in places I didn’t know I had. I looked like a filthy scarecrow with a rash. From then on, I covered my body from head to toe and settled for a farmer’s tan on my hands and neck.

The work hours were irrational. Lester did everything during the day and particularly early in the morning. I tried to explain that I was born with a nighttime clock, which made me genetically unsuitable for this profession. But Lester never gave up. He’d call my house at 8,9,10 and 11 a.m. to remind me the garden needed weeding. When I’d show up after supper, he’d be grinning as I trotted out to the field he’d already weeded.

We’d occasionally have differences of opinion. Like the time I wanted to leave the weeds. I felt it would make the vegetables stronger if they fought off the weeds themselves. And my suggestion to plant everything in the shade where it would be cooler to work was flatly turned down. I beat three tomato plants to death trying to rescue them from a spider and pulled out half the strawberry bed because I mistook it for Creeping Charlie. Anything that looked remotely alive, I stepped on, sat on, or fell on. Lester just smiled.

Finally, it was time to harvest our crops. I picked four grocery sacks full of green beans, put them in the garage and instantly forgot them. Several days later, I discovered they were as limp as noodles. Good Lord, I’d killed them.

What was I going to tell Lester? He was sure to ask how many packages I made up for the freezer. It would take forever to wash these lifeless beans, and time was something I didn’t have. So, I washed them in my washing machine. Cold wash, cold rinse, gentle cycle, and a teaspoon of detergent. They came out clean and green just like on the frozen food boxes, and the spin cycle left them crisp and dry. That night, I cut up 64 bags of beans with a pair of cuticle scissors.

The next week, I used the Maytag method to wash my carrots. They came out so clean I didn’t need to peel them. But not everything was suitable for the washer. Tomatoes were a bad idea and the potatoes clogged my filter. Corn on the cob was too bulky for the machine, but it worked great in a bathtub with whirlpool jets.

After years of gardening together, Lester retired. Except for occasionally picking some wild raspberries, he focuses on flowers now. I’m not sure I’m ready to make that leap yet. The Ground Ivy I’d been watering and fertilizing turned out to be the real Creeping Charlie. So I guess I’ll stick with the plastic roses again this year.

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