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June 19, 2002

Gardening With Jack, Well, Such As It Is.

When I was a kid we had several tree houses. Of course to my brothers and me, a tree house generally consisted of a platform of varying widths nestled among the branches of whatever tree my dad didn't mind getting nails stuck in. We had a small one by the pond, and later a larger one by the house. Their purpose seemed to be that of an occasional status symbol, "You can't come up, you're not in our club." Other than that we really didn't use them. But I was surprised to find that when my wife was a kid, their tree houses almost always consisted of one board, nailed to two, hopefully, level branches. I'd seen the pictures of these tree houses with walls and a roof that supposedly existed, but those were obviously built by dad's with time on their hands. Maybe there were some kids out there that actually were able to build a "wall and roof" tree house on their own, but for us the platform was the extent of our carpentry skills. Obviously different people have different ideas about what a tree house is supposed to be. The same goes for gardens.

A few years ago I wanted to start a garden so my kids could see something grow that wasn't on something long forgotten in the frig. So I took a shovel and managed to break up about a four foot by four foot patch of hard, dry Oklahoma dirt, watered it, and planted some tomatoes. Unfortunately, it turns out gardens need consistent attentions so what I wound up with was a nice bare spot on the ground, that still hasn't fully grown over.

The lesson I learn was that if I really wanted to do a garden I would need to devote a lot more time and energy to it. And just like our tree houses, I'd better get a bigger idea of what it should consist of.

As a rule I have a very brown thumb (as opposed to a green thumb) almost anything I plant dies quickly. I say almost because I have always been able to get mint to grow, but then mint would grow on almost anything. I bet you could grow it on bare asphalt. It makes a nice ground cover, especially those areas you don't want to bother weeding. I have a thriving patch under our wooden porch. So far it's strangled out most of the weeds there and since it's mint, I don't need to cut it back. If someone looked at it and said, "Hey, that looks pretty overgrown, maybe you should trim that." I can just say, "Are you kidding that's mint!" to which they would be expected to reply, "Oh, mint" and give this look of seriousness and respect. Another nice thing about mint is that when it tries to grow out in the yard and gets mowed, it makes everything smell really nice. 

But a garden would need other things. So I grabbed a handful of various garden type seeds, like tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, green beans, lettuce, spinach and catnip (for the cats). I had the kids go through and pick which plants they personally wanted to plant and be in charge of, and they seemed mostly satisfied. Well, my 8 year-old is smart enough to realize that all this gardening stuff might actually mean work, and worst of all, getting his hands dirty, so he's not overly enthused, but the others are.

I went to Wal*Mart (You're supposed to put an asterisk in the middle instead of a dash, in memory of Sam Walton. I always thought he was an OK guy so I figure he deserves a little remembering) and got 800 lbs of Cow Manure. I joked in line as the customer behind me saw my purchase, "Yep, when Clinton was in office I could get this stuff for free every time he made a speech, now I gotta buy it." She laughed. Clinton jokes are usually a safe bet, even with total strangers. I bought it, helped the guy load it in the back of our mini-van (praying that none of the bags would leak) and headed home. It sat on the end of our drive, sort of a monument to Liberal politics for about 4 or 5 days until I got the garden itself dug.

I measured off an 8 by 16 foot area and began to dig. I managed to get an 8 by 1 foot section finished, when I decided I'd done enough for one day. I figured if I kicked it in gear and did about a 4 foot length each day that week, I have it finished before my foot surgery. The next day I tackled it with renewed vigor. Funny thing about renewed vigor, it doesn't last long. Maybe there are some types of renewed vigor that will stick around, but the batch I got that day took one look at that hard, tough Oklahoma sod, and melted into something else. I got another 8x1 foot section dug, and called it a day. That was Monday. 

Tuesday, to my great relief, it rained. But that left me with just two days to get a 14 by 8 foot section dug. Funny thing about work, it always seems easier when you're planning to do it than when you actually are doing it. I was fully confident that I could get that section . .  Ok maybe if I only did 4 rows I could get by with half the size I'd planned. So, on Wednesday, I grabbed my shovel and headed out. By now some of you are wondering why I didn't just use a roto-tiller, simple, didn't have one. And I didn't really want to borrow one, after all I wasn't doing that big of a garden, and even that was quickly shrinking. 

But I had a pleasant surprise. It hadn't rained for quite a while when I'd started digging my garden, so the ground was very tough, now that it had rained the ground was nice and soft and I got quite a bit done. Not as much as I'd originally hoped for but by Thursday afternoon I had enough for 5 rows. I enlisted the help of my 9 year-old and we began to fill the garden with the cow manure. It wasn't enough. We were able to cover the whole area but it rained that weekend, and we had a nice muddy cow manure pond. The wife went to Wal*Mart and picked up 400 more pounds of manure ("Mommy bought COW POOP!!" our 4 year-old repeated for about a half an hour after she got home), and I talked our 9 year-old through putting it on the garden (I was now on crutches). Well, water still stands in it but we figure if we raise up each row, then the water will only stand in between and won't mess things up.

Right now, since I'm still not able to walk without a cane, my 9 year-old is trying to rake the garden smooth and ho 4 even rows. My wife really, really wants to help out and my hope is that this weekend we can all go out and finally plant our garden. Yes, I know it's kinda late, but it's not like we're trying to offset our grocery bill by any serious margin. For the most part I want each kid to have the responsibility of a few plants. If they die, then that's life (so to speak) and we'll learn and do better next year. On the other hand, if it turns out good, they'll be able to enjoy eating something they grew themselves.

Comments

Posted by Jack Lewis at June 19, 2002 05:15 PM