by Mimi Hedl
Spring has simply exploded. The scenes change more quickly than my eyes can absorb. I feel like a mother with quintuplets trying to keep up with the essentials of feeding and changing, though in my case, it’s weeding and more weeding. The compost bins hungrily gobble up all the greenery we haul in wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow. After a winter’s diet of dried stalks and meager contributions from the compost bucket, all this green stuff makes the changing of straw into gold a reality. The compost pile feels eager for the task at hand.
A day finally arrived when the forecast didn’t include any below 50° temps for a solid ten nights. OK tomatoes, let’s rock and roll! And that’s just what we did, from 8 am to 5 pm, with civilized breaks and naps for this less than youthful gardener. By the end of a lovely Friday, 22 tomato plants found their new home in the earth, planted up to their necks, with bamboo tops to disguise their presence.
You’ll remember the head gardener and I fight critters of every sort, including each other. The cutest, tiniest bunnies run around now. I mean, they are as adorable as any baby ever could be. When I see their sweet noses twitch, I melt. Of course the head gardener scowls at me. She knows what these little monsters, (her words, not mine), can do to the plants we set out. In order to avoid a serious quarrel, I came up with strategies, similar to my teepeenies that worked well for the cabbages and early lettuces. I showed her my plans and she grunted but didn’t quite approve.
I always feel nervous when I think I’ve come up with a solution for someone who lives in the same world I do, but with different values. I recognize these creatures have 24 hours of every day to do as they please. I accept that raccoons harvest each ear of corn as it reaches its sweetest. We don’t plant corn any more. This year we’re using potato boxes to grow both Irish and sweet potatoes because we can’t control the voles underground. How can you control something you can’t see? There’s no vaccine for vole control. No doubt more data, and maybe tears, will become available when potato harvest arrives…
However, we can protect above ground plants. It may seem tedious. We went from the teepeenies to these bamboo barriers for the cabbages. Deer can’t get in and rabbits haven’t squeezed under. Granted, it may not look like a photo shoot for a fancy gardening magazine, but then neither does leaving lots of weeds to disguise the presence of choice plants. ‘Confuse them with abundance’ has become our new mantra. Who cares what the garden looks like if it produces delicious food – for you!
And that’s partially what the bamboo tips do, confuse. With all these fluttering dried bamboo leaves bending down over the tomato plant, surely nothing could be hidden there? The shovel you see with the bamboo is called a sharp shooter. Because the tomatoes had grown 16” tall, it would take a regular shovel to dig the initial hole, and then the sharp shooter to go the extra few inches so the tomato would have its entire stem in the earth where roots will grow in all directions, securing the tomato from winds and enabling the plant to find trace minerals down under.
This tomato planting day was possible because my friend Agnes had come the day before. She teaches physics at the university and gave her last final early that morning and needed garden time to relax and unwind. I encouraged her to dig plants to take home to her new gardens as we’d have rain over the week-end and into the next week and the plants could settle in nicely.
She went about her pleasant task and I weeded cheat grass out of the Medicinal Garden. It makes the compost pile smile. So many seed heads, abundant protein and easy to digest. It’s an annual grass and makes tremendous growth in the spring. Really, it’s impossible to get rid of. Kinda like chickweed. I see it all as fodder for the compost. I slide an old butcher knife under the roots of this grass to release its hold and into the wheelbarrow goes the clump, after clump, after clump.
We broke for lunch and while I cooked, Agnes mowed. Then after our lunch, she mowed. In fact, I had a tough time keeping up with her. She would empty the mower bag so often it seemed like she dumped more grass into the waiting wheelbarrow than she mowed. I’d push it out to the Park where I’d weeded and spread those luscious clippings over the bare earth. When I’d return, the second wheelbarrow would be filled up. And I’d race back out to the Park with that. This went on for well over an hour. I felt tired from hustling to get the next wheelbarrow back to her, but she barely broke sweat. Youth. Blessed youth.
When she left, she thanked me profusely for the car load of plants. I looked at her with surprise, “Shouldn’t I be thanking you?!” But she doesn’t see it that way. She sees the opportunity to move about the gardens as a gift even though I tell her repeatedly that she’s the gift. No doubt a win-win relationship.
Agnes drove back to Rolla, 35 miles away, set out plants until she had to meet with a student, then went home and set out the rest of the plants, put paving stones in the new garden, mowed all her grass and put the grass clippings on THAT garden!! She finished at 8:15 that evening.
While Agnes was doing her evening gardening, I was sitting quietly, watching the hummingbirds do their incessant feeding and dancing, getting up now and then to look at one beautiful scene after another. Grateful to watch spring unfold, to devote time to spring viewing. To know that because of Agnes, I could dedicate tomorrow to tomato planting and during breaks, walk around and admire what springs forth after a long winter’s nap.
There’s Gladys’ peony, really her mother’s, well over 100 years old. I can see Gladys downing a cold beer after we picked cherries so many years ago, she was 85 at that time. And Elmer, our incorrigible neighbor who telephoned for fish as a young man. Even though blind and crippled, he still told the best stories and gave me this iris, the Wabash. I hear his stories every spring. Like so many who have gone to their reward, they come back to me when spring reminds me of their moment. Glorious spring.