Published in the Rains County Leader on March 24, 2022:
Those who have been reading this column from the beginning may remember that some of my early offerings were about my attempts at gardening. My protests of not knowing what I was doing because I was a city girl led to the name of the column. I haven’t done any gardening in the last several years, but gardening has come back to the Brendle homestead this spring. Before I tell you about that, though, let me share the fifth article I wrote for the Leader.
May 27, 2012 – My Garden
I planted a garden a couple of weeks ago. It’s not the garden I envisioned earlier in the year. Now that we’ve removed several trees, we have some perfect garden spots that get full sun, and David’s mom has a tiller she has offered to give us. In February I imagined a large area, tilled and mulched and fertilized, ready for several rows of squash and okra and beans, all those things that are so good for you but are so expensive in the grocery store. Then we began to make tentative plans to visit Florida for a month or so this summer, so I watched with envy as neighbors laid out their garden plots and tended the tiny green plants that stretched toward the warm Texas sun. But plans don’t always work out, and we realized that the trip to Florida isn’t going to happen, so when we went to Hooten’s to get some oil for the chain saw, I asked David a question.
“Is it too late to plant tomatoes?”
Remember, I’m a city girl. True, I’m only one generation removed from the fields of West Texas, but it was a pretty complete removal. Mom and Dad were both raised on farms, but Mom never liked it. Her sisters called her their house cat, because she would swap chores with anyone to avoid working outside. She wanted to get away from the farm as quickly as possible and never had a desire to return. She enjoyed fresh corn, peas, and cantaloupe when they were in season, but she wanted to buy them at the produce stand and prepare and eat them in the air-conditioned comfort of home. The only exposure I had to gardening was at Aunt Fay’s. She and Uncle Dean always had a sizeable plot full of all sorts of good things to eat, but Mom made sure we weren’t around during planting and harvesting time.
Despite Mom’s best efforts, my country girl genes creep through from time to time. When I was single again, I tried to raise a couple of tomato plants on the patio of my tiny, zero-lot-line home. One Saturday morning I checked on my babies and was dismayed at their condition. Half the leaves were gone, and many of the remaining ones were full of holes. Dad was still in good health and came over on the weekends to help me with my yard work.
“Dad, come look at my tomatoes. What’s wrong with them!”
“You’ve got tomato worms,” he said as he pulled one of the fat, green critters from one of the stems and squashed it with his shoe.
“Ewww, gross!” I’m not that much of a country girl.
With the help of a little chemical spray and a vigilant eye, my scraggly plants survived. I have to admit that I didn’t adopt Dad’s method of dealing with the worms. If I found one, I snipped off the whole stem and threw it away. In spite of the worms and my squeamishness, I produced a few scrawny, misshapen tomatoes with tough skins.
“Cool,” said Christian when he saw my crop. “Can I have them to make salsa!”
It’s nice to have your efforts appreciated.
A few years later after David and I married, we planted some tomatoes and peppers in a flower bed in the back yard. The peppers grew nicely, producing pods so hot that even David couldn’t eat a whole one. The tomatoes didn’t do so well. They were doing okay, but I left them on the vine a little too long. The morning I went out to harvest them, some critter had taken a bite out of the bottom of each one.
So it was with this limited experience and questionable success that I asked David about the tomatoes in Hooten’s.
“I don’t think it’s too late,” he said.
I dragged him out to the garden section to see what they had. The selection was very limited, but I found a couple of promising looking tomato plants, a four-pack of cayenne peppers, and another four-pack of Anaheim peppers. Not the wide variety I originally planned, but enough to play with and not enough to feel like I threw away a lot of money if my results are less than stellar.
The next morning I put on my working-in-the-yard hat and gloves and went out to bed down my plants. I chose a sunny, weed-free area and started digging. We haven’t made it to Louisiana to get the tiller yet; it would have been overkill for such a small plot anyway. The sandy soil is nice and loose, so I dug ten small holes and worked in a little bit of soil from a compost pile left by a previous resident. I mixed up a bucket of plant food and gave them all a good soaking. Finally, I marked the corners of the plot with four large rocks so my Cub Cadet pilot won’t run over my babies by mistake, or maybe on purpose. David laughed and said my little plot looks a little scraggly.
He’s right. It’s a little scraggly, and I don’t know what will happen. Some people are predicting another hot, dry summer, so it may all burn up before it has a chance to produce. Or the critters may get into it. If they do, maybe they’ll leave me enough for a batch of salsa and a pot of green chili stew. Regardless, I’m looking forward to watching the process. I think watching a tiny plant take dirt, water, and sunshine and turn it into something good to eat is nothing short of a miracle. It’s like being present at the Creation: “Let there be…and there was…and it was good.”
Now in 2022 David Perkins, our friend rents our motor home, asked earlier in the year if it was okay for him to plant a small garden. Of course we said yes. He immediately starting seeds in empty cans he collected from the Senior Center and now has an impressive collection of tomato plants and several types of greens growing on the dashboard of the motor home. He has already shared some horseradish leaves with friends, and he has a number of small green tomatoes developing.
He hand tilled a small area beside our shed where he has planted a few onions, a couple of Swiss chards, and a cabbage. And this week he borrowed a tiller from Dirk, another gardening neighbor, and tilled up a larger plot behind the shed. He transplanted a few tomato plants on Sunday and is looking forward to the predicted rain on Monday.
His enthusiasm has awakened my gardening bug, and I’m beginning to envision trips to Hooten’s and Potts for bedding plants, and I’m trying to remember how to pickle okra. My interest may be short-lived if the gophers and deer come for dinner, but in the meantime, we may get a few fresh veggies out of the deal as well as a column or two. Happy spring planting!