Return to Farming

Before I married Fred, I was an avid gardener. Unfortunately, I was not very good at it. Though I fantasized about pantry shelves lined with bright jars of home-canned produce, and snipping fresh herbs from my deck to toss into various dishes, my gardening efforts over two years yielded about 30 tomatoes, 2 mealy yellow squash, about ten pounds of rosemary, 3 tablespoons of parsley, 4 green beans, and possibly the tiniest piece of okra ever grown.

The problem was that while I liked to dig and put things in the ground, I didn’t like to plan. Thus I’d inevitably find myself in mid-May with a strong desire for home-grown vegetables in the summer, but I’d have no beds prepared and no real sense of where the plants might do well. So beds would hastily be dug in a spot that seemed sunny; a few bags of dirt from the garden store would be added; plants would  thrown in, watered, and randomly fertilized; mulch might be distributed. But I had no understanding of the soil and the nutrients that might be needed, or what plants should go together, or how to prevent disease.

This year, however, I’m turning a corner. My work at the St. John’s community garden has led to a resurgence of my gardening interest, and it has peaked at a time of year when the only thing you can do is plan. Thus I have familiarized myself with measuring tape, stakes, and gardening books to create a map for a converting our weedy yet sunless back yard into a cornucopia of home-grown, organic produce.

Last weekend, I took the first step, measuring out Bed 1, a 10′ x 3′ space right behind the house. The effort renewed long-dormant math skills that revealed that I’d have 30 square feet in which to plant my crops.

The area is typical of our back yard: a swath of unidentified weeds scattered with leaves. Daffodils appear in the spring, but the photo below reflects the state of the area for the remaining 11 months of the year.

I dug here industriously for about three hours, scraping down about 8″ until the crummy clay surface, and my back, could yield no more.

I removed the sod and weeds, added a little store-bought compost, covered everything with a layer of newspaper, then leaves.

I’m afraid that the only difference between the “before” and “after” photos is that the largest weed is gone and the leaves are in a more organized pile. But I am hopeful that the earth will go to work, and that next year, I might get enough tomatoes for at least one batch of salsa.

5 thoughts on “Return to Farming

  1. Good for you!! I have started working on my yard as well. It's the perfect time of year..not too hot, not too cold. I don't get enough sun for lovely veggies, but I have soooo much to clean up from the beds that were already here when I moved in. The squirrels & birds are better gardeners than I because I have all kinds of things growing, including trees which have shot up to about 12 feet in a few years. I've been saving newspaper & phone books for place on top of the cleared ground so hopefully it'll be ready to plant in the spring. I don't mind planting things, it's just the prep work that I'm not a fan of.


  2. Local Women Grows Gigantic Tomatoes

    Durham resident Jami Moss Wise was glowing with pride when she started to see her much cherished tomato plants begin to bear fruit. “I had really worked hard these past months preparing my vegetable garden—mulching, fertilizing, and so on—so I was extremely hopeful that my crops might be bountiful, with the tomatoes this year looking extremely promising,” said Ms Wise.

    However, as summer wore on, Ms Wise’s tomatoes began to surpass “promising” and “bountiful,” and became—well—huge. In fact, the tomatoes became so big that neighbors became alarmed and reported Wise to a local organization founded to ban outsize fruit and vegetables.

    “We all remember going to the grocery store and buying those humongous hydroponic tomatoes that tasted of absolutely nothing . . . well, some folks around here decided we didn’t want that sort of thing going in Durham,” said Frank Williams, founder and president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants and Palates. “Therefore, when we got the call about Moss, we decided to pay her a visit.”

    Surprisingly, Williams was at first unable to detect any immediate cause for the tomatoes’ rapid growth and was about to concede that the crop was simply a “freak of nature.” However, when he quizzed Moss about her soil preparation, she confessed that she had failed to have her soil tested. A sample was duly sent to a local lab, but with surprising results. The soil tested clean for the usual toxic culprits, but was exceptionally high in fish oils—a known stimulant to tomato growth.

    The mystery was how the oils had found their way into Moss’ backyard.

    “We belong to a community sponsored fishery,” said Moss, “and I will admit that sometimes our cats are the beneficiaries of piscine tidbits, so that might have something to do with it—they sometimes like to eat their treats outdoors.”

    However, Moss’ neighbors doubted if this could be the true explanation for the giant tomatoes. “I thought she kept her cats inside,” said one neighbor, “but I did see her husband one night out back. I think he was scraping a plate and muttering something about ‘bacon-flavored fish,’ which I thought was pretty weird at the time.”

    Mr. Fred Wise declined to be interviewed for this article.

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