When I planted my first garden years ago I remember spending no more than an hour cultivating a tiny patch in the backyard and putting in seeds for zucchini, lettuce and cucumbers, along with a couple nursery-grown tomato plants that I propped up with wooden stakes.
My financial investment probably was less than $10, and I’m sure I devoted under an hour a week to weeding and watering.
By mid-summer I began to enjoy the fruits of my modest labors and started planning a more ambitious agricultural enterprise. The following spring I expanded my plot and added peppers, eggplant and beans.
In successive years I’ve grown, or at least attempted to grow corn, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, basil, asparagus, pumpkins, cantaloupes, muskmelons, honeydew melons, cauliflower, broccoli, Swiss chard, rhubarb, rutabagas, turnips, blueberries, raspberries and carrots, as well as pole beans, bush beans, purple beans, wax beans and soybeans. I’ve grown chili peppers, jalapeno peppers, habanera peppers, yellow peppers, green peppers and orange peppers.
I’ve also grown plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, grape tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes, along with green squash, yellow squash, acorn squash and winter squash.
My motto has always been, “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
Then, one fateful day, I walked out to the garden and discovered all the blossoms on my tomato and squash plants had been nipped off.
What the …?!!
Then I saw unmistakable signs: cloven hoof prints, like Satan’s, and pea-like droppings.
Loyal readers are familiar with my fortification melodramas so I won’t repeat them other than to say I believe to have finally constructed the ultimate deer-proof enclosure: A 10-foot-tall wire fence, held up by 4x6 posts. In addition, I’ve erected an outer barrier consisting of tulip poplar branches lashed together that prevent any determined deer from getting a running start at my wall.
Of course, deer aren’t the only garden pests.
I’ve been successful at warding off slugs by placing strands of twisted nylon netting around the perimeter of the garden, and used sheets of the same netting to keep birds from devouring my blueberries.
Speaking of birds, I briefly considered raising chickens, not so much for the eggs, but for insect control. Last week I attended a lecture and learned, to my chagrin, that though chickens are voracious bug eaters they also scratch up and tear apart just about everything in sight, including tender plants, so I would have to keep them out of the garden, not in it, as I hoped.
Scratch the chickens.
In a few weeks the table grape vines I ordered from a nursery should be arriving in the mail, and I already have bird netting over my makeshift vineyard even though there won’t be fruit to harvest for another year. That netting, incidentally, caused me untold aggravation over the winter, when tons of snow collected on top of it, instead of filtering through, and ripped down a number of wooden supports.
I had to spent hours last month replacing and propping them back up with boulders.
I’ve also been faithfully adding to my compost pile, and will be making a few trips to the beach soon to collect seaweed for mulch.
Last fall for the first time I planted 150 garlic cloves and I’m happy to report all 150 have sprouted. In a few weeks I’ll trim the scapes so that all the energy goes into bulb growth rather than flower production.
Last week I planted onions, shallots, snow peas (with edible pods), spinach and Swiss chard.
If I were really ambitious I’d be growing my own tomato and pepper plants from seed indoors now, but I’ve discovered you only need a handful of them so it’s much simpler to get the plants in a few weeks at a garden store.
I’ve also learned you don’t really need to grow zucchini, because everybody in the world grows it, and by mid-summer, when you’re up to your eyeballs in baseball-bat-sized vegetables, you can’t give them away. The old joke is that the only time people lock their car doors in small towns is during zucchini harvest.
I haven’t tallied up all the hours I’ve spent tilling the soil by hand, building fences, hauling compost and otherwise tending the garden.
But, like cutting firewood, making maple syrup, constructing stonewalls and so many other “leisure” activities, growing your own fruits and vegetables is a labor of love, and there can be no more savory reward than a tomato fresh from the vine.
At least that’s what I tell myself as I continue to toil, impatiently awaiting the first harvest, still months away.