better late than never

This spring has just flown by.  Somehow in the craziness of our lives, the garden was put to the side. And then there were several weeks in a row when we had a few free days only to have it rain on our garden spot. I called my friend Diane to ask her if it is was dry, only to have her laugh and tell me it was pouring.  Diane has the luxury of living in close proximity to the garden, and her husband Scott has been cultivating the spot next to our spot.

Our garden spot is on the end of a huge garden Mr. Bill has cultivated for years. He is now in his mid eighties, and Mrs. Dot, his precious wife, has had some fairly serious health problems recently. I told Mr.Bill rather sheepishly that we had not abandoned our garden, and he replied, “well, I haven’t got my beans in yet, either.”  That is a pretty big statement from a man who plants acres of beans and corn!  So far I can see that he has lettuce, cabbage, some tomatoes and a few other things in. We aren’t the only ones who are behind this year!

We spent about six hours this past week working in our garden. Even though Mr. Bill has used his farm tractor to disc the soil, we still have to go over it with the rototiller. We moved our produce around this year to try to take advantage of crop rotation. We planted three rows of beans where we had the tomato jungle last year. We also put in two rows of carrots, a row of lettuce, a row of cabbage seeds, a row of beets, a row of potatoes, four short rows of okra, four long rows of silver queen corn, five hills of watermelon (at the edge of the garden to distract the deer) and forty-eight tomato plants. I went heavy on the roma and paste tomatoes this year in hopes of having enough to make lots of sauce.

We still have green beans left–I way over-estimated how many of those we would actually eat through the winter. It turns out that my children can get burned out on green beans! This year I have some of the same kinds of beans we planted last year, but I also have some black wax beans and some other types to try. We will plant them in two-week increments through the month of May, probably  in short rows since we won’t need as many this year. I also have a lot of different squash to plant. Most of it will be for fresh eating, although we have enjoyed being able to make squash casserole with what I canned last year. Dee is looking forward to some squash pickles this year, and I hope to be able to accommodate her. I also have a few cucumbers and some other goodies–eggplant, artichokes, rhubarb. I have no idea if any of them will grow for me. I managed to kill almost all the plants I managed to germinate indoors, which, for the regular reader of this blog, should not be to surprising. The only reason I can grow anything in Mr. Bill’s garden in because the soil is so rich down there.  I always joke that plants are allowed to come visit me if they can survive benign neglect.It turns out that growing tomatoes and peppers from seeds indoors actually requires a grow light, and I don’t have room for a grow light. They were lucky to get water! (And yes, there has even been the occasional plant intervention–my mother once took pity on some African violets my children got for me and took them out of my care, where they were clearly dying.  The last I saw them, they were huge and happy in her home. She claims it is because she talks to them. I think it is because she has fabulous light from her deck. Whatever it is, I don’t have it.)

I had to buy all my tomato plants, although I think I struck gold when I ran across a young man who has raised a bunch of heirloom tomatoes to sell for $2.00 apiece. It is worth it to me to have tomatoes! He is even now holding some Amish Paste tomatoes for me. I cannot wait to see how they do. The nice thing about the Amish Paste tomatoes is that they are indeterminate (meaning the come in throughout the season) whereas the roma tomatoes are determinate (meaning they ripen all around the same time and then the plant is finished for the season.)  So, while I will have over 50 tomato plants when all is said and done, once the roma tomatoes are done, we will be down to about 20 plants.  July will be a very busy month for us!

A friend at church asked if I was looking forward to my garden this year. I found it an odd question. I suppose I look forward to it only in the sense that I really enjoy being able to pull vegetables out of my cabinet whenever I need them. I do not claim to love the work of the garden–the back-breaking labor of raking, hoeing, weeding, picking and canning that comes with the territory. Make no mistake–gardening on our scale is WORK. Hard work. It is exhausting. I do it because it makes economical sense with a family the size of mine and with a husband still out of work. We will eat like kings all summer and winter.

I have promised the girls that whatever we harvest that we will not use, they can sell. they have to find a way to market it and they are responsible for all the work involved, but the profit will be all their own, as well. We shall see how that works out. It will be interesting to see if any of them exhibit entrepreneur-like qualities. I can give the opportunity–it is their job to take advantage of it and make it work.

I suppose in the end that that is also a reason to like the garden–the development of character in my children. All children should have to help plant and weed a garden. It does build character. Some of my earliest memories are of being in the garden, my mother working, my little brother and sister playing on a blanket. I suppose it was my job to watch them–I don’t rightly remember. But I do remember eating tomatoes straight from the vine, hiding in the cucumber patch with a salt shaker and munching to my heart’s content, picking big, fat, juicy green beans and eating them fresh.  All children should have that experience, too.

So our garden is late this year. Somehow, though, I think it will be just fine, provided the good Lord sends us the rain in its season and the creek doesn’t rise.  Somehow it all works out–and though we will get to the end of August exhausted and ready for a break, our larder will be full and so will our bellies. I hope to keep you posted as the garden grows. I can’t wait to see what lessons the Lord has for me this year!

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