Spring is the time a young man’s fancy turns to what other genders have been thinking about all winter. It’s also a time when the green thumbs of the world start thinking about gardening. If you have never planted, tended, and harvested a vegetable garden, you have missed one of life’s great experiences.
The best way to start is to order a seed catalog, Parks Seed Catalog, for example. Soon it will arrive, as will seed catalogs from about 87 other companies. If you need more, Yahoo.com boasts over 800 seed catalogs. You should study these catalogs very carefully. Look particularly at the pictures because your own personal garden will yield produce that looks exactly like the pictures in the seed catalogs. It’s large, colorful and abundant.
Next select a “garden spot.” This is where you will put the seeds and plants that you finally decide to include in your garden. It should be as large as possible because you will want to feed your entire family and have some to share with your friends, neighbors, deer, raccoons, rabbits, possums, birds, insects, and children passing through your yard who would not otherwise think of eating a vegetable.
Now comes plant selection. What are you going to grow in your garden? The most popular home garden vegetable is the tomato, which is really a fruit. (In this context this word is not politically incorrect.) Other commonly cultivated garden vegetables include peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant (yuck), peas, green beans, corn, cucumbers, and the ever popular, okra. Let me digress a moment with regards to okra. I grew up in southeastern Ohio and had never seen or even heard of okra until I moved south to Alabama. I married an Alabama woman who liked boiled okra and prepared it often. My father came to visit from Ohio not long after I got married and was served boiled okra. Although the slimy mess looked pretty non-edible, he was forced to try some because he always made his kids (me) try some of everything on the table. He took a few pods, pushed them around his plate with his fork, and said, “Don, this stuff’s slicker than snot on a doorknob.” Perhaps knowing just this little bit about my father might help you understand why I am like I am.
Now it’s time to “break up” your garden. This means you must somehow till the soil—break it up. You can accomplish this with a shovel or a spading fork. If you choose this method you will likely die before the process is complete. A better method is to use a rear tined roto-tiller, which can be obtained from the people who sell Troy Built equipment. The cost of a Troy Built tiller ranges from somewhere around $2000 to $4,000,000 depending on the size you get. A better way still is to convince your neighbor with a tractor to break up your garden. I can offer no dependable advice on how to get your neighbor to do this.
After the soil is finely tilled, it is time to plant the garden. This is a rather backbreaking process that involves squatting, bending, and stooping on the part of your wife. You are reminded to tell your wife that from the time humankind started cultivating gardens the women were the planters and gatherers while the men were the hunters. The seeds just expect to be planted by women. The seeds will germinate better if planted by women. If this argument doesn’t work, tell her that according to the Farmer’s Almanac (the gardener’s true bible) the seeds must be planted today and you are far to sick to do it. Once in a great while a sympathetic wife will relent and plant the seeds.
You now anxiously wait for the seeds to germinate. You are delighted when little green plants poke their heads up from the ground. At least you are delighted until your neighbor, that experienced gardener Bobby Layne says, “Hey! That’s a great crop of weeds you’ve got coming up.” Once you learn to tell the weeds from the vegetables, you must also learn to remove the weeds and leave the vegetables. If possible, get your wife to do this. After the planting debacle it probably won’t work, so you will probably have to do it yourself—with a hoe. Or just sit on the ground and pull up the weeds. Someone must do this most of the summer.
Not only must you keep the weeds out of the garden, you must protect your plants from pests. You must also feed your garden—a process known as fertilization. Some people are committed to a gardening method called organic gardening. This method eschews the use of any chemicals and uses only natural fertilizers (manure) and natural methods of pest control, i.e., get good bugs to eat the bad bugs. There really are quite a lot of bad bugs around—Cut worms, ear worms, stink bugs, horn worms, mites, aphids and the list goes on and on. There are basically two good bugs—ladybugs and praying mantis’. If rabbits are eating the newly germinated plants the organic gardener shoots them, which in Texas is a natural thing to do. In mid to late summer you will frequently find organic gardeners comparing notes at the produce department at Kroger while buying vegetables for their families.
Eventually it’s time to harvest the garden. This is what you have been working for. Be aware that it is natural for ears of corn to have worms. Although the worms may have eaten half of the ear, you should not eat the worms. Simply break off the worm eaten part of the ear and discard it with the worm. Tomatoes and squash often have worms as well. Don’t eat them either. The most interesting tomato worm is the tomato hornworm, which is very large and very green both outside and inside—a fact easily demonstrated by stepping on it. Rabbits will have eaten most of the green beans and the deer will eat the okra. Raccoons like corn and will strip an ear clean—they won’t leave a kernel.
Fortunately not much harms the zucchini. Suppose you got 2 6-packs of zucchini plants from Huntsville Feed and Farm and planted. All 12 plants probably survived and produced fruit. The fruit of 12 zucchini plants will feed any small country and many medium sized countries if the inhabitants of those countries like zucchini as well as I do. Your best bet for getting rid of your excess zucchini harvest is to pack it several plastic bags like you get at Kroger and stand on the corner by the court house and try to throw it through the open windows of passing cars.
For those of you who share my vintage of life and grew up being encouraged to plant a “victory garden” I’m sure one of your great regrets was not having shot Jim Crocket when you had the chance.