Garden Guilt


Gazing Ball “planted” on a mound of mulch where Gary Gopher damaged the Russian Cypress last year.

Friday I worked hard. I was inspired by all the yard work some special guests did for us a week ago. Thanks, Mike and Sherrie! They spent a long weekend tackling the outside jobs I never seem to get done. Keeping up a three-acre yard takes more than three hours of lawn mowing every week – it takes many more hours of weeding, trimming, weeding, pruning, weeding, fertilizing, weeding, cutting asparagus, weeding, cutting flowers, and weeding.

The most physically demanding work I did on Friday was spreading mulch around the shrubs and plants in front of the house, especially in the spot where Gary Gopher has done the most damage to the no-longer spreading Russian Cypress shrub. I decided to “plant” a gazing ball there on top of a fresh bed of mulch – something without roots that could be damaged by Gary and his friends.

I also weeded the raised bed – my vegetable garden. This year I’ve planted green beans, yellow beans, and zinnias in the bed and cherry tomatoes right below it. (We can’t eat the zinnias, but they sure make nice cutting flowers in the late summer.) Some lettuce and parsley seeded themselves from last year’s garden, and plenty of chives and dill came back, too. Bringing the bed into a weed-free condition took me less than an hour.

St. Francis stands at the end of the raised vegetable bed between two different varieties of cherry tomato plants.

Some change from the olden days, when my vegetable gardening followed the patterns set by my parents. The garden measured 30-feet by 120-feet, the same size as our whole lot when we lived in a Chicago two-flat. In our big garden days, it took a tractor and plow to get the soil ready to be planted. Then it took me a whole day, sometimes two, to plant everything.

It was fun to plant two or three kinds of radishes, three or four kinds of lettuce, two kinds of swish chard, early and late green beans, yellow beans, purple beans, peas, and sugar snap peas (for the sweetest, juiciest crunch you can imagine in a salad). Then I planted the zucchini and other summer squash, followed by cherry tomatoes, yellow plum tomatoes, early tomatoes and beefy tomatoes. Potatoes were next – redskins, Yukon gold, and just plain old spuds. The last section of the garden was for vine plants – cucumbers, watermelon, muskmelon, pumpkins, winter squash, and gourds. If there was any space left, I planted a variety of flowers for cutting, mostly cosmos and zinnias. Some years I planted a border of marigolds all around the garden as a relatively ineffective deterrent to rabbits, chipmunks, and gophers.

Our big vegetable garden – c. 1997.

The easy part was the planting. That was hard work, but it was also a time for dreaming about all the mouth-watering vegetables we would be eating – soon! That’s when I really paid attention to whether or not “the farmers” needed rain. I waited patiently for the gentle rains to come to help the seeds sprout.

Finally, the first sprouts appeared, along with the first weeds. I tried everything to beat the weeds into submission – mulching with straw between the rows, investing in a Mantis small rototiller, investing in a bigger Honda rototiller, placing landscape fabric between the rows… I finally gave up and agreed to peaceful co-existence with the weeds. After each good, soaking rain, I’d spend several hours pulling out the biggest weeds to keep them from choking out the vegetables. That approach of periodic weeding within each row, in combination with the landscape fabric between the rows, seemed to work best.

Back in those days, my whole summer was filled with hard work and guilt – guilt that I wasn’t spending even more time weeding, pulling radishes, cutting lettuce, picking beans or peas or tomatoes or cucumbers or zucchini. Or freezing more vegetables. Or giving away more vegetables so they wouldn’t rot in the garden.

Making chili to use up all the tomatoes. Every year Mim made enough chili to last all winter.

But my days were also filled with eating lots of really good fresh vegetables that I’d grown myself, with a little help from God. I guess Mim helped a little, too. She like to dig the potatoes. She also froze a lot of the vegetables for us. And, every year she made many batches of chili to freeze to use up the wheelbarrows full of tomatoes I harvested.

About ten years ago, Mim convinced me to sow the garden with grass seed instead of planting rows of vegetable seeds. She said we could get all the vegetables we could possibly eat from the farmers markets all around us for a lot less work and guilt. I agreed – but it’s not true. I can buy lots of fresh vegetables, but they’re not as fresh as the green beans I pick myself just before I cook them. And no cherry tomato I buy at a farmers market will ever be as sweet and juicy as one I pick off the vine and pop directly into my mouth, still warm from the sun.

Today’s vegetable garden, fully weeded.

So, my compromise is the raised bed planted mostly with vegetables and herbs with just a few flowers. It’s easier on my back and my guilt. A few weeks ago I raked the soil, added a little fertilizer, and planted the whole thing in less than an hour. The beans and zinnias are growing nicely.

On Friday, after weeding the bed, I went into the house to pour myself a glass of iced tea. As I looked admiringly out the kitchen window at my two short rows of 10-inch tall bean plants, I watched a rabbit hop across the lawn and patio, leap onto the step I use to climb into the raised bed, and jump right into my garden. He ignored the self-seeded lettuce and went straight for the leaves of the bean plants. He knew what was good! I grabbed my camera and ran after him. I got a blurry picture of his escape.

In the olden days, I didn’t mind sharing my huge garden with a few rabbits and chipmunks, but now that my garden is so much smaller, I’m much more selfish. I guess I’ve exchanged guilt for selfishness. Fortunately, God’s still working on me.

Randy Rabbit nibbling the leaves off a green bean plant.

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