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The Village Idiot

"Mary, Mary, quite contraryÖ
Ö how does your garden grow?""

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(9/2011) Mostly full of red root pigweed, wildling Ďpurple topí turnips, spiny amaranth, devilís tomatoes (Carolina Horsenettle, nasty, toxic little devils they be too), foxtail grass, leftover alfalfa, the occasional weed tree (sumac and black walnut), some variety of thistle, common purslane and the gods know what all I havenít yet found the names of! That sums up the more or less 37,000 square feet of garden we werenít able to rototill before the summerís heat chased us back into the air-conditioning.

Of the 6,000 feet we did churn into dust and rock hard clods we have a little more than half of it planted in melons, peppers, tomatoes and beans. (And sweet corn, for the deer, grasshoppers and stinkbugs. They love it.) When the heat backs off, and the rains come again, weíll plant a fall crop of chard, kales, cabbages, collards and broccoli. Maybe.

We didnít expect to get much from the acre this year so weíve been surprised that itís given us anything other than sore backs, aching knees and tired arms. Our constant weeding and hoeing, the thousands of pounds of water Iíve staggered across the uneven ground with (with little hope of keeping the plants alive, let alone producing) have paid off in green beans, squash, melons, peppers and a few tomatoes. More than enough for our needs, enough to gift, even enough to sell here and there.

As the July heat broke and August arrived with a tiny bit of rain, the lima bean plants finally began to set pods. What a depressing July, full of spectacular bloom and no beans! Even more depressing is the thought of all the lima beans Iíll have to help pick, shell and eat. Iím only a fan of the Christmas pole limas that we didnít grow this season. Wanda is the mundane lima bean eater in our house. If we hadnít bought an Earthway Seeder from Zurgableís hardware store this spring, Iíd have skipped the limas all together. That machine left me thinking I could plant the entire county without hurting my back! (Thanks Mark for ordering it for me. A better deal I did not find anywhere else!)

Bob Mort, the factoryís landlord, recently walked into our shop with a bag of sweet corn for Wandaís dad. He shouted over the roar of the machine I was operating and held up an ear of unhusked corn. "This is what corn looks like Jack. If you ever learn to grow it youíll recognize it now." (I need to get the Mad One to teach me some serious Bulgarian curse words. The ones I used just didnít satisfy.)

I know what corn looks like! So do the deer and stinkbugs that have eaten what Wanda planted on the acre. Corn isnít the only lessons weíve learned this year. Others are:

Whatever we like least grows the best.

Picking bush beans when your belly hangs over your belt is difficult, and donít even try it if the belly happens to be full!

Watermelons are probably ripe if they split open after a rain.

Acidovorax avenae subsp. citrulli (bacterial fruit blotch) lives on the acre, I think. I lost a watermelon to something that looks suspiciously like a couple of the photos of "blotch" Iíve found on-line.

The more anxious I am to try a melon, the more likely it is to split or rot.

Groundhogs can sometimes be found in the bush beans, along with green grass snakes.

Itís not a good idea to tell Wanda about snakes until sheís done picking beans.

Iíve also discovered my 57 year old, bifocal assisted eyes can spot a bush bean while Iím standing upright, but the bean vanishes when I stoop to pick it. Which causes me to bob up and down and twist my head sideways trying to spot the sly pod. Iím definitely planting pole beans next year! Maybe weíll run a fence and plant runner beans too. Whatever requires me not acting like a chicken hunting a bug will be what we grow from then on.

Marty has only been out to see our efforts once since plowing and disking the acre. He wasnít surprised to see the weeds covering much of the ground, but he was impressed that we had as much weed free as we do. Heís watched us struggle in past gardens to keep up with the weeds and asked how weíd managed so well this season. Long, wide rows I can run the tiller down once and follow up each visit to the garden with almost effortless use of a stirrup hoe. I have two hoes in case I break one.

He asked if we thought we could plant the entire acre next warm. I allowed we could, though at least half of it should go into some cover crop we can mow and use for mulch as we had nothing to serve this year and boy, did we ever need mulch! We also discussed sowing a deer feed/wildlife crop as far from our veggies as we could manage. I may actually want to grow an heirloom corn someday and it would be nice to have the deer ignore it.

The plan is to have the ground disked before winter, rototilled and a cover crop sown across all but the section we have planted in crucifers. Not that any plan of mine has ever withstood a confrontation with reality. I figure weíll be lucky to increase next yearís garden by twice this yearís size. Maybe weíll manage to acquire the soaker hoses I want so we donít have to carry water to as much of the garden as we did this year. Maybe Iíll have a garden plan on paper that actually works on the ground. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Iím not an optimist by nature, but as a gardener, I understand the gardenerís motto, "Next yearís garden will be better!"

As weíre supposed to be market gardening, I occasionally deliver the eveningís pickings of squash, beans, peppers, garlic and the occasional watermelon to a friendís house and they hand me money. Amazing! Iíd not pay that much for what I give them. But they insist they are getting the better of the deal. I guess that means everyone is happy with the trade if we each think we got the best of it.

I still think Iím way ahead in every sale. I got tick bit and had to go on anti-biotics. Iíve been sick in the heat and cooked under the sun. Iíve run so many sweat soaked clothes through the washer this summer I should buy stock in whoever makes the laundry detergent we use. Weíve spent money we didnít have on seeds and garden tools, and hurt ourselves from neck to heels trying to get a garden planted and tended to harvest. (Harvest! Oh, gods my back aches watching Wanda pick a 50 foot row of bush beans!)

All of that and money too? Fa! You got to get up pretty darn early to get the best of us! (At least before 4:30 AM when the dogs go off.)

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.