Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mother Earth News - The Nightmare

The new issue of Mother Earth News arrived yesterday in my mailbox. I love that magazine. My entire life I have wanted to own a small farm and get off the grid. That has been the biggest and most enduring dream - that and being a successful writer. Well, I do own a small acreage now, but the "farming" and "off the grid" parts are long past taking root. As Bob Dylan says, "Some things in life it just gets too late to learn."

I have had gardens a few times in my life, beginning at age twelve. The only garden that came to fruition was a small garden planted in the back yard of a rental home in east Topeka where a chicken coop once stood, according to the owner. Chicken poop - the stuff of miracles!

The small garden yielded a respectable crop of green beans, my favorite vegetable of all time. I had never canned anything, but my neighbor lady (whom I forgave daily for her gossip, interference, and Christian judgment against my divorced lifestyle) guided me through the process over her garden fence. Soon there were fourteen quarts of home grown green beans magnificently displayed on the kitchen counter top - in brand new Ball jars - with shiny lids. No human being had ever been more proud of green beans.

After a few days, a sour smell began to permeate the house. I almost cried when I tracked it down to the jars of beans. They did not properly seal. My green beans were spoiling in the jars. I emptied the beans and gave the jars to my nosy neighbor and Jesus.

This bean debacle came after tremendous effort: I purchased fencing and fence posts, enclosing about a ten by twelve plot in the back yard. I hand dug the soil with a spade. I planted that garden with such high hopes. I even put in hybrid corn that was designed to be planted in a single row and only grew about three feet high. It was for small urban gardens. I harvested corn alright - one tiny little ear per plant. My little girl and I had two tiny "roasting ears" for lunch one day, laughing over the dwarfed ears. I figured a net harvest of about 54 kernels of corn. Those green beans were my shining accomplishment for so much work and expense.

The green bean failure came hard on the heels of the ill-fated year of 1980, when my husband left me unexpectedly on six acres of land in Osage County. I had decided I would stay on even though The Jackass had left. Early that spring, I ordered seedlings of evergreens and lilac bushes and some other plants from the Kansas State University extension office. I continued to work full time in Topeka and work full time at improving "the farm".

I planted a row of little pine trees in depressions I had carefully dug to protect them from the wind. I mulched them with straw. Because I was broke, I could not afford another garden hose, so I carried buckets of water to them. I nourished those plants as if they were babies all that horrible hot summer. I might have to remind you that the summer of 1980 was one of the longest unbroken string of 100 degree plus days on local record, but I continued to water my little trees with great hope and vision. It came to an ugly end when The Jackass, in a misguided and worthless attempt to assuage his guilty conscience, came to mow the huge yard while I was at work in Topeka. He mowed down ALL the little trees, and the lilac bushes, and everything else I had been nursing along that hateful summer. It was a symbolic final straw and I moved back to Topeka in time for my daughter to begin third grade in Topeka that fall.

Those two horrible gardening calamities ended my gardening dreams and I bought a Harley Davidson instead. I could share a few more pathetic attempts at gardening, but why reopen the scabbed over wounds?!

Now, instead of risking the heartache of failure, I read of other people's success in Mother Earth News. This year there was an article about a 13 year old girl gloriously successful with her organic gardening, raising chickens, baking bread and writing about it!

These are the things that drive middle aged women to alcohol.


Li'l Ned said...

Oh nooooooooooooo, these stories are so SAD!!!!! If it makes you feel any better, I too have had prized and carefully nurtured baby shrubs (roses and others) mowed down by overzealous males (keep them out of the garden with any kind of power tool is my motto) -- though I kept one of the offending clan around as an ongoing spouse, despite his crime. I have also grown (more than once -- I never seem to learn) the 2 tiny ears of corn with about 10 kernels on each cob.

I am truly shocked to think that riding a motorcycle of any kind would make up for not gardening, but I accept that that's just me.

But as a piano teacher with students ranging in age from 8 to 82, I will say to you what I tell prospective adult students: "it's NEVER too late" (to learn to play a musical instrument/plant a garden/other endeavor of your choice here).

Knowing nothing about growing a garden in Kansas (except that lots of people do it) I will hold a vision of Jackie, sowing seeds for a small new garden, sometime in the near future. Darlin' -- it's so much dang fun! And we know the nature dudes are on your side this time!

Jackie said...

Now, Kathy, if you haven't rode your own Harley down the interstate on a gloriously beautiful day... well, let's just say, it's a fair trade off for bending over weeding the garden! ; )

I did not intend the post to be sad - except for the mowing part. That was pretty sad.

I just don't think I am meant to be a gardener of plants, and that's okay. I can still work with the nature dudes and have an enormous impact on the tall grass.

Here is one bright spot, though. I planted some herbs in a circular stacked planter left here by former tenants. Though I tried to keep them alive, they all died. Except, this summer sweet basil grew a couple of volunteer plants! Success!!!

Li'l Ned said...

See? the nature dudes are encouraging you to try again!

As for the motorcycle thang, give me a Ned-powered bicycle any day. But I get your drift. Spinning along on wheels through the world on a sunny day is a glorious thing.