I will start right off by saying I love to plant and keep a vegetable garden. It is a stress reliever and there is nothing better than walking through it on those summer mornings and pulling a few weeds and watching those plants mature, but I haven’t always felt that way!
My mom and dad always had a large vegetable garden, but it was not kept as a hobby. This garden was needed to keep food on the table throughout the year. I would not consider us poor, but why pay for a can of green beans when you can grow your own – and those beans were much better! BUT with a large garden, there was a large amount of work and my sisters and I were regularly assigned a row in the garden to weed and hoe. I HATED that chore. Of course in the mornings when I should have done it when it was much cooler, I was probably fishing or exploring with my neighbor and best friend Lloyd, and would slowly trudge down to the garden in the hot afternoon to pull those weeds. Now if I had just gotten to it and did it, it would not have taken long, but of course I would look around, sigh and complain to anyone or anything that might listen, and watch every bird that flew by. It took FOREVER and I HATED it!
Flash forward to 1984 when my wife and I got married. My mother-in-law provided us with some property on the farm to build a home with a plot to grow a garden. I was a beginning teacher then and my wife worked until our first daughter came along almost two years later. Teacher salaries were bad in my county and that garden was necessary, and with both of us growing up with gardens and canning vegetables from the garden, it was a natural step for us – our house was even built with a spot in mind for the canning jar shelves (which are still used today.) Gardening became more important to me and more tolerable as well. Eventually we got more land around the house and even expanded the garden to the point we were growing and selling produce as a business. That lasted a few years, but when we came to the conclusion that we didn’t have enough help to keep the produce business and people did not want to pick their own or even pay you for picking them without complaining, we gave that up. I wasn’t going to make my daughters hate gardening as a kid the way I did.
Flash forward a few more years and the garden was significantly smaller, our daughters were moving out, and the need for as much produce reduced considerably. This is when I really started enjoying gardening the way I do now. Teaching and being a principal are highly stressful jobs (especially that principal job!) and the garden was a way I could walk out the door, walk a few steps, grab a hoe, and get away from it all. A great stress reliever. Now that I am retired —– it is just fun.
I will say that I have had a lot of experience and teachings about vegetable gardens. It was dad’s goal to always have the best garden, and when my mom passed away in 2007, this is where my dad put his efforts to get away from it all until he wasn’t able to do so because of his physical state. Those coal mines did take a toll on his body. It was during his last few years while he was able to live alone at his house I spent a lot of time with him in his garden trying to help him keep it the way he wanted it and we worked in it together, and later we worked together canning the spoils. I always said that the more my dad complained about how terrible his garden was or was going to be, the better it was – and more times than not this proved to be true. When his dementia got bad, he still thought he was in his garden with mom pulling weeds and harvesting. He was always digging potatoes or picking cantaloupes and melons. He always thought he was fixing fried yellow crook neck squash to make squash and tomato sandwiches too – his favorite!
Now that I am retired, my thoughts over the last month or so have been planting that garden, maybe expanding a little bit in the hopes of selling a few things along the road to help with the expenses, and getting the grandkids in there to help plant the pumpkins again. Now I am throttled back some because my wife has some of dad’s traits and always thinks that I am putting in too much to take care of, or it is going to be too dry, or too hot, or it is going to flood (and yes all of those things happen some years), but when those good years happen, I can remember the smile on dad’s face when we took his canned carrots out of the canner, and I believe I probably have that smile too when my wife, grandkids, and I have finished snapping that last bushel of Jade Beans, or shucking that last ear of corn. I can’t wait for those few weeks until I can start doing that again – and I know I am not the only one. I was reading a Maryland Grows blog today and it was cautioning against planting too early! It will SOON be here though and that planting, harvesting, and rest cycle that our GOOD LORD has so wonderfully given us will begin again! THANK YOU LORD!!!!
Until next time – Steve aka Countrypap
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