Thursday, August 5, 2010


In an earlier post I talked about the adventures of planting our garden. Of course, once the garden is planted, comes the hard part, the tending.  Now I know why I am not a farmer by trade.  How do they do it?
I know why I should want to be a farmer: being outside in the air and sunshine is wonderful, watching things grow from nothing before your eyes is awesome, staying strong and healthy in a natural way instead of with machines and exercise videos is good for your head--and your body.

Farming or gardening is really, really hard work, and full of risk.  So many things can go wrong-- devastating if you are a farmer, only irritating if you are a gardener. 

The Weather
If there is no rain, the garden will dry up.  We don't water our lawn at all any more, because we are trying to be more ecologically mindful.   If a drought comes, it just turns brown.  However, during a dry spell,  Tom--who 

does most of the garden tending-- waters it every day, either early in the morning or after we get home from work.  It is important not to water in the heat of the day--I forget why. 

I was the official waterer when Tom was recuperating from his hip replacement last year. We don't use one of those automatic waterers, again,  because it wastes water and we are trying to help the planet a bit.  So we water by hand,  holding the  hose and using the squeeze nozzle to regulate the spray of water. It takes at least 45 minutes to do our whole garden.  It is boring work, so I would try to amuse myself to make the time go faster. I would squeeze the nozzle different ways to see how big I could make the drops.  I would hold the hose up as high to see how far it would spray so I could cover as much area as possible.  I would count as I moved the hose back and forth in an arch, counting to 50 at each section of the garden. I liked to watch the birds and the squirrels, but if I did that, I would forget what I was doing and water in one place too long. By the end of the 45 minutes I was pretty sure my arm was falling off and I couldn't squeeze the nozzle anymore, even using two hands. But I usually didn't complain when I reported in to Tom, with his hip packed in ice and his next pain pill overdue.

Sometimes it rains too much and the wind blows the plants over.  We have to go straighten them back up and pack dirt around them or tie them back up.  Sometimes they have been broken too badly, are declared dead and are sent to the compost pile.  One thing Tom does that I didn't understand.  I imagine few amateur gardeners know to do it.  If the tiny plant gets splashed with mud or falls in the mud and we straighten it back up, Tom always carefully washes its little leaves off.  I follow suit, but I had to ask. Actually it is to expose the whole leaf to the sun for photosynthesis.  If the mud blocks the process, the leaf will die and if enough die, then the plant does too.

Tom's Expertize 
I marvel at Tom's knowledge of gardening. How does he know these things?  I grew up in Birmingham, a city of cement and steel mills; he grew up in a rural part of Mobile, Alabama, helping tend his family's WWII Victory garden as part of Roosevelt's call for patriotism.  After the family's move to the eastern shore, he and his brother won blue ribbons as members of the 4H Club and earned money by selling the corn they grew in the rich soil of the plot of land their father gave them to farm. He is the true son of an agricultural scientist.

So the difference in our background  may be why the part of the tending that involves pulling weeds is hard for me. I know weeds.  There were a lot of them that grew in the cracks in the sidewalks in Birmingham.  Trouble is, I can't tell in the early garden which are weeds and which are plants,  till they get big enough to see that some are in a row and some more random. In a row, plants--leave them alone; random, weeds--yank them up!  Until then, my weed pulling requires very close supervision by Tom.

Tom does much to encourage the plants along in our thin, clay soil.  Several years ago we bought some compost from a farmer in South Congaree.  Since then we have added only our own home made compost made of vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, leaves,etc., turned often and processed with the red wiggler worm.  Early in the tending season he transplants the delicate little seedlings a lot, moving them around in the garden, till he finds the very best spot for each to settle in,  take hold and flourish the best. Of course we rotate the crops each year.  Again, I forget why.

Different Crops
We have tried different crops over the years with varying luck. There has been eggplant; butternut, acorn, and yellow crookneck squash; strawberries; cabbage and lettuce.  This year, and every year, it is tomatoes, okra and peppers-jalapeno and banana.  We have added back one of my favorites, field peas, a real southern crop to go along with the okra.

Butternut Squash
Different plants bring different challenges.  Last year the prolific butternut squash spread like the plague and crept throughout the garden, its vines slithering up the tomato and okra stalks, its fruit appearing everywhere. There was a whole lot of choking going on.  We didn't replant.


Tom has to love the okra into growing. It is delicate at first and needs much tender care.  This year our cats decided to add a twist to the okra struggle by adopting one corner of the okra plot as their kitty litter.
   Each time they visited, they scratched up the tiny plants along with the dirt before they wandered off. We lost a fair number of plants, despite our various attempts to alter the cats' behaviour.  Puck and Muck are not good listeners.

The tomatoes every year have a different challenge.  One year it was stem rot -- the only year we used poison on the garden.  One year something tried to eat them on the vine--down low.  We figured rabbits, though we never saw them. 

 This year the birds have decided to take a bite out of each--and we have watched them do it. This is the first year that has ever happened! I think they have never liked the hybrid ones, but the heirloom ones we planted this year are to their liking.
 It may also be the squirrels.  We have loads, though for the life of me I can't imagine that they would be hungry with all the bird seed they eat. One of our Republican, NRA supporting, friends tells us with an evil grin that he handles the predator problem with a shotgun. I picture his garden strewn with the dear little bodies of wildlife.

Crookneck Squash
The biggest problem we ever had was with our crookneck squash. It began disappearing, the entire squash.  Turns out the raccoons were clipping them off at the stems and carrying them away.  We tried everything to discourage them, some suggested from Google, our primary research tool. Their big suggestion was to sprinkle cayenne pepper on them.

Fail. The raccoon does not care. Apparently he carries the squash to the closest water, washes the pepper off, and down the hatch it goes. Any he leaves for the next visit the rain takes care of and the pepper is washed away.  In desperation we called Tom's entomologist brother Sam for professional advice, knowing that he is better than Google any day.  Professor Sam, cleared his throat and said, "Hell, Tom.  Just plant enough for you and the raccoons."

Will all the hard work pay off?  What kind of yield will we have?  Every year I can't wait. Will this year be the best ever? 

*Tom wishes me to note that all photographs of vegetables are from our own garden.


  1. I really can't think of a better way to spend time than being outside watering, weeding, planting. You have got to love veggies to commit so much to this process. What is finer than plucking off a warm tomato, rubbing it on your shirt then biting into it like an apple? Not much.

    Last year for my birthday my boys and Heidi made me a 10x10' garden in the back of our house. They put down tie walls and filled it with top soil. I was stoked. We have a ton of flowers and cool yard plants, but I always wanted to eat my own tomatoes and make a salsa from my own toms, peppers and cilantro. Problem is, we live in the woods and got flowers galore and not much more. Now it is devoted mainly to flowers, but there are still some cherry tomatoes and peppers.

    I love the watering as well. It is a quiet time, a meditative time. Nothing but me nurturing them.

    I love your piece.

  2. As usual, you are so Zen about whatever you are doing, Tim. Since my watering assignment was early, early in the morning (a time I do not function well, being a night person) I am afraid I was not often "of the moment", but mostly "is-it-over-yet."

    Our garden takes up almost half of our small back yard and begins just at the left side of the deck. Makes it handy to sit on the deck and watch things grow and ripen.

  3. Brings back my own gardening memories and a wish to have a place for one. I did "wide row gardening" which has many, many benefits: more yield in less space, fewer insect problems, saves time, saves mulching, less watering, dah-de-dah. You can even use it in raised beds. There's plenty about it on Google - at least until we lose net neutrality.

    Standing and zoning out while watering never worked for me. I'd get so bored that the plants wouldn't get the water they needed and they'd die.

    Someone once told me to cut off the lower stalks of tomato plants and stick them in the ground up to the top of the paper. Supposedly this would help control insects. It seemed to work.

    I'm so envious of all of you. And your pictures are lovely, Judy. Adorable racoon.

  4. Judy,
    I've moved home to Windham's Crossroads in Darlington County. We planted the same soil that my parents planted 45 years ago and got a great harvest this year. It's a lot of fun and you're right, watching things grow and enjoying the fruits of your labor are fantastic. The weeds are terrible, but I'm not going to let them beat me. The fall garden is in and I can't wait for the collards and cabbage. We enjoy your blog.

    Leo and Jane Windham


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