As I contemplate the gardening year ahead, what comes to mind is the vintage Wide-World-of-Sports opening action that showed us the disparate fates of two ski-jumpers. Their success and failure will live forever in some our chronologically-gifted minds. Remember?
One happy skier is airborne, leaning forward, building speed down the ramp, then buoyant and balanced, graceful and solid in his landing; the other, ill-fated, off-center and out of control, he careened over the side of the jump, wind-milling arse over teakettle in the agony of defeat.
It could go either way every gardening year, I acknowledge as I head out with my seeds, my hoe, and my hopes momentarily intact. Sadly, at the end of gardening year 2006, I was the second of those two jumpers-humiliated, humbled and broken. Sports fans gasped in horror. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.
I blamed myself, though I knew the garden’s sad and sudden demise was surely due to matters beyond anything I could have done. Maybe it was the four inches of rain we had the week before Sudden Garden Death. Or, perhaps we were finally paying the chemical price for putting the garden in the only possible place it could go in our less-than-ideal rock-infested deep valley location: over the septic field. (I thought grass-and veggies-were supposed to grow greener there!) I had the soil tested for excess chlorine, considering this possibility.
The total garden wipeout was all the more heart-breaking because at the end of the gardening year of 2005, we had five walnuts cut from around the garden. We get little enough light in this deep holler, and the trees had grown tall and wide enough to cast a significant shadow. Also, you may know, their roots exude a toxin poisonous to competing plants-including those of the edible vegetable variety. (We bartered one large walnut trunk towards an oak desk, and burned the tops for firewood, even though I think walnut makes more ash than heat.)
The other tragic fact about our 2006 garden’s utter failure was that we had made its success a kind of sink-or-swim test of our self-sufficiency: let’s work as if we are totally dependent on summer’s produce alone for the coming winter’s food. I set the bar high, and didn’t even get airborne. Test score: we would have starved.
Okay. Here’s the full confession part of this dreary tale: we have seen the enemy and it are us. Well, it are me. Yep, single-handedly I wiped out our garden from sheer ignorance in my gardening zeal. Soil tests in March ’07 showed the soil was NOT ACID ENOUGH! Somebody (gulp) must have put too much wood ash (walnut, actually) and leaves on the soil. Mea culpa. The big OOPS. I have followed the advice given to bring our little plot back to a healthy pH, and we’ll hope for the best.
The best. Now just what does that mean, in local gardening terms? Is the best we can hope for to create the lushest, tastiest and most tempting Deer and Insect Salad Park on Goose Creek?
As my daughter would say: you want some cheese with that whine?
I admit it: I’m discouraged. We have rectified my toxic attempts at organic soil amendment. We have removed the shade trees to maximize our sunlight, and repaired the five-strand electrified fence.
And yet, with all the hours of tilling, stooping, bending, pulling, hoeing, watering and coddling in the months to come, we may still suffer the agony of defeat. Make that “the agony of the feet”-deer feet-tramping the Swiss Chard, mincing the smooth spaces where I would plant fall greens, tramping down the waist-high corn. Deer: rats on stilts. What’s a gardener to do?
And I dream of the Fortress Garden. I see rat wire sunk two feet below the surface to keep out burrowing insectivores-moles and shrews-that would tunnel their way into the battlement. Twelve foot posts are buried three feet into the earth, cemented in place, to hold up a ratwire-reinforced nine-foot electrified fence. There is razor wire across the top. The entire structure is covered by a drape of fine-mesh Kevlar netting to keep out the crows that would maliciously pull up the new bean sprouts, the cruel Japanese and Potato Beetles that turn vegetable leaves to lace, and the menacing eye-seeking ear-buzzing gnats of July that make a gardener slap his head silly.
But daydreams end, and life goes on, powdery mildew and blossom rot notwithstanding. And as I stand here on the leafless plain of our future garden in early May, I look around and see the greens and golds, reds and yellows of all the blessings that can come from the tiny seeds in my bucket, still embryo-like in their packets full of promise and hope.
You know, I bet that the guy that ended up in a crumpled heap off the edge of the ski jump eventually got back up and tried again. And so, too, will we. I’ll get back to you in September with the judges’ scores.
Printed in “The Road Less Traveled” | Floyd Press | May 17, 2007