May 18, 2005


Where I live, we've got a fairly short growing season. To have a successful garden, you have to figure out how to put plants in as early as possible without getting caught by a hard frost. Most people just wait and put their plants in Memorial Day weekend, which is a pretty good rule of thumb, but I always go camping that weekend. And anyhow, I've got a foolproof method. I wait until my father puts his plants in and then I put mine in the next day. He's been gardening here for over 70 years, so he knows by now what he is doing.

Today, my parents stopped by on their way to Pretty Colour Lake. (They hike or bike ride or snowshoe or ski every single day, all year around and Pretty Colour Lake is near my house.) We were sitting out in the back yard with Daughter, talking and enjoying the sun, when my father mentioned that he might put his tomato plants in this weekend. So as soon as they left, I grabbed my shovel and headed out to turn over my garden.

I never do much gardening in the fall because I am always busy with school. And I never weed the garden in August because it is too hot. So turning over the garden in the spring ends up being quite a chore - digging up all kinds of stuff that grew last August and September. My vegetable gardens are right near the back door: all winter I toss compost out the door and now that it has thawed, I just turn all that into the soil. The tomato plants will love it.

Today I worked on the vegetable gardens, pulling out basket after basket of weeds. As I yanked out stubborn plants, I could feel the sun on my legs and hear the wind chimes that hang on the house. Next week I'll work on the flower gardens. And I will make numerous trips to the DPW to fill the back of my car with free mulch from all the ground-up Christmas trees and tree limbs that were picked up over the winter.

I like any kind of chore that I can feel in my muscles. My ancestors, not too many generations back, were farmers, accustomed to working long hours outside. It seems to be what my body likes as well. Working outside in the sun and wind always makes me feel healthy: too much time indoors can give me a headache. Today as I turned over spade after spade of hard-packed dirt, I could feel soreness returning to my shoulders. It turns out that gardening uses the same muscles that belly dancing does. Who knew?

My Red-haired Sister, who lives in a rich suburban area outside a big city, tells me that many of her neighbors hire gardeners, then drive themselves into the city to work out in a gym. How strange American culture is at times! She herself has several huge gardens, fantastically overflowing with all kinds of colorful flowers.

It seems funny after an afternoon of gardening to come back inside and sit down at the computer. Even though I washed them, my hands still look dirty - and rough - with mud underneath every fingernail. My arms are already beginning to look tan. At times like this, I think I am in the wrong career. I am not really an academic. I am more at home in the dirt.


purple_kangaroo said...

We always had a garden when I was growing up. It's hard work, but so worth it.

Now I just have flowerbeds, so I planted one full of herbs and put a couple of tomato plants in the rose bed. Unfortunately, the slugs ate one tomato plant down to the ground already. We have these huge banana slugs here and they are u-gly!

Rana said...

Huh. I never thought of banana slugs as garden pests before. They were always just something I encountered in the woods.

jo(e), sometimes I think that what academics need more than they realize are activities that ground them to real, concrete things -- raising children, growing things in the garden, making pots, baking bread, knitting sweaters, etc. -- so that we/they don't get trapped in our/their heads. Our hands and eyes and bodies are good for more things than typing and reading and sitting! :)

Vegan Momma said...

Wow you had a rewarding day and a wrokout! :-)

You know I have the same problem after a day gardening. I scrub but my fingernails still look dirty.

They offer belly dancing at the gym I go to. I have been thinking of taking the class.

jo(e) said...

Banana Slugs? I've never heard of them. I do have to sprinkle cayenne on my hostas though because the deer love them.

Rana: You are completely right. I think all humans need that connection but somehow academics are the most likely to ignore it.

Vegan Momma: Definitely, you should try belly dancing. I bet you would like it.

purple_kangaroo said...

Banana slugs are very interesting creatures. They can grow up to 12 inches long. The ones around here are sort of yellowish-tan or light brown, some with black spots. You can see some pics here and here. They can also be brighter yellow, like this.

jo(e) said...

Twelve inches long? OMG.

Yankee T said...

I love to read you.

purple_kangaroo said...

Jo(e), yes one of those babies can really wreak havoc in a garden in a single night.

rana, I'll bet the reason we have them in our yard is because where we are living was once old-growth forest, and the developer saved as many of the HUGE trees and bits of woodland as possible.