Tag Archive | gardening

God and I Planted a Garden. And it was Good.

D400-0068-091.JonWarrenGod spoke: “Earth, green up!
Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning – Day Three.
[Genesis 1:11-13  The Message]

One of the delights of summer that I’ve enjoyed every year of my life (except maybe the first year) is eating fresh vegetables from the garden. Sweet corn was my favorite. Then plump red tomatoes were my next favorite. And leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, peas, beans, and cucumbers. And all kinds of melons. There were a few things I didn’t like – especially onions and beets – but most things were delicious.

I can remember helping Mom and Dad plant the garden in the spring. The first gardening job I was taught to do was to place bean seeds in the inch-deep trench Dad had dug with a hoe. Then Mom covered the seeds with her hoe. It was fun for the whole family to work together on the project. But the most fun of all was watching the seeds sprout and grow into little plants, and then grow bigger and bigger until we started to pick the “fruits” of our labors and eat our first radishes and lettuce.

Danny and Marian - husking corn

My brother Danny and I spent many summer days husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Every year Mom found something new in the seed catalog to experiment with. Some of the experiments were wonderful successes. Others were not. One success was the first year she tried planting zinnias so that we could have lots of cut flowers throughout mid to late summer. Every year after that we always had lots of zinnias.

One failure was a mixed flower border mat. It was a special paper, one foot wide and ten feet long, covered with seeds. It came rolled up in a mailing tube from the seed company. The instructions were to unroll the mat on the ground where you wanted a border of mixed flowers to grow, cover it with a thin layer of soil, and water it regularly. I don’t think even one flower sprouted. This easy flower border was just too good to be true. It was Mom’s worst failure of all her gardening experiments.

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I love all the bright colors of zinnias, especially the unexpected light green ones.

During the twenty years I lived in Chicago, I still was able to enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden. Mom and Dad kept planting huge vegetable gardens (and more and more cutting flowers) even when there were just the two of them living on the farm. Throughout the season, Mim and I made frequent trips to Wisconsin to load up on vegetables and flowers.

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Mom sending fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago.

In October of 1986, Mom passed away. In the spring of 1987, Dad still planted two huge vegetable gardens. All the rest of us still had to eat…. (He skipped the cutting flowers.)

Marian - Dad in Garden - close

Picking vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The year Dad died (1991), he had finished planting his two huge gardens before he got sick. When he was in the hospital, he kept asking Mim and me to check on the garden. The new potatoes should be just about ready to dig. He died on June 19, and he was right. The new potatoes were waiting to be dug up. Mim and I spent most weekends for the rest of the summer of 1991 driving from Chicago to Wisconsin to tend the garden (and clean out the house).

The next year Mim and I moved to the farmhouse, and we planted our own garden. We bragged that our garden was the same size as the whole lot of our two-flat in Chicago – 30 feet by 120 feet (half the size of my dad’s gardens). We obviously grew more vegetables than we needed, but that meant we had plenty to share. We also had plenty of cutting flowers.

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Part of our crop of pumpkins

When we moved from the farmhouse to the condo in 2007, we gave up gardening. I’ll admit, I miss it. So this year I decided to try an experiment – just like Mom might have tried. I have a tiny garden on our deck. I got the idea from something I saw on Facebook. I purchased two bags of Miracle Grow Potting Mix. I punched lots of little holes on one side of the bags, and placed that side down on a grate on top of a small table. Then I cut the top off the bags, and planted two rows of lettuce with one row of radishes between the lettuce rows. I also have three potted tomato plants.

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So far, my garden is thriving. We ate our first tomato last week, and I picked three more yesterday. We feasted on our first fresh-picked baby lettuce and mixed greens salad for dinner last night. Mim has been thinning out the radishes a little by eating some as sprouts. I think I can declare this experiment a success.

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Ripening tomato almost ready to pick.

For flowers, I bought a “hanging basket” of petunias from a garden center and placed it in an old wooden wheelbarrow. It doesn’t provide any cutting flowers, but I placed the wheelbarrow on the patio right outside my office – so I have a perfect view of them when I’m sitting at my desk.

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In the second creation story of the Bible, the one that focuses on the nature of God and man and woman rather than on the seven-day creation process, God is revealed to be a gardener.

At the time God made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground – God hadn’t yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs) – God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man became alive – a living soul!

Then God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. He put the Man he had just made in it. God made all kinds of trees grow from the ground, trees beautiful to look at and good to eat….

God took the man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order….

[Excerpts from Genesis 2:5-15 – The Message]

In the process of writing this blog post I googled “garden quotes” to see if I could borrow the words of someone else to express the profound amazement and delight of gardening. Lots of excellent quotes popped up on my screen. Here are the three that got the most “Amens” from me.

I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation. [Phyllis Theroux]

If you’ve never experienced the joy of accomplishing more than you can imagine, plant a garden. [Robert Brault]

I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of day. [F. Frankfort Moore]

I know all these statements are absolutely true. Even when the garden is a tiny one on a deck.

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Remembering My Dad

Carl Korth

Carl Korth

My dad's confirmation picture

My dad’s confirmation picture

I haven’t bought my dad a Father’s Day present in more than twenty years. He died 22 years ago. But with all the advertising on TV over the past few weeks, I’ve been prompted to think more about my dad, about the kind of dad he was, and about the kind of presents he liked to receive, and to give. I think his favorite present was one he gave both to himself and to his family. He really liked to take his whole family – three kids, their spouses, and all the grandkids – out to a restaurant for dinner, preferably a buffet. He was proud of his family, and he liked to show them off, especially on Father’s Day.

He came from a large family himself. He was one of ten kids. His family had the Korth farm on Rock Lake in Lake Mills, Wisconsin – the farm that has now been turned into a county park, “Korth Park.” As one of the older boys in the family, he had to drop out of school in seventh grade to go and work as a “hired hand” on another farm to help support the family. The blessing in disguise for having to be a country school drop-out is that is how he met his future wife. The farm where he worked was in Cambridge, only a couple miles from the farm where my mom grew up.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

When my parents were first married, my dad got an assembly-line job at General Motors in Janesville. But as soon as their first daughter came along my mom and dad bought my mom’s family farm in Cambridge from my grandparents who retired and moved into town. My dad was destined to be a farmer.

As a farmer, my dad worked hard. The only time he was in the house instead of working outside was during mealtimes and when he was sleeping. Fortunately, mealtimes were times of conversation as well as eating.  I remember talking a lot about the weather, but that’s really important to a farmer.  We also joked and laughed a lot.

When my dad “retired” – that is he sold the cows and just raised corn, he took over primary responsibility for vegetable gardening from my mom.  He kept two huge gardens and raised enough produce to keep our whole extended family fed year around, plus have enough to give away to friends who came to visit. He loved spending time in the garden. Weeds didn’t have a chance. He knew how to use a hoe well, and he cleaned and sharpened it after every use. I still have the hoe in the garage, although I haven’t used it since we moved to the condo.

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The only thing he liked better than spending time in the garden was going to the restaurant in town to have morning coffee with all the other retired farmers. He hated to spend the money on coffee, but the life of a farmer is solitary, and this was how he could get his social needs met. One year I gave him a jar of coins for Christmas – so he could have right change for the 35-cent bottomless cup of coffee. The restaurant had raised the price by a nickel.

On April 2, 1991 my dad turned 87. We all got together to celebrate his birthday. A few days later he was out on the tractor, working up the soil for his huge gardens. In June, just as his gardens were beginning to flourish, he got sick and was diagnosed with leukemia. He died within a few weeks. I guess we could say that our dad’s last present to us was another huge vegetable garden that we enjoyed all summer long.

Working up the soil for his last garden

Working up the soil for his last garden

The Message of Two Cornstalks

Abbey posing with our two cornstalks

This morning as Mim and I were walking Abbey I asked Mim if she had any ideas for me to write about in today’s blog. She responded, “How about the two cornstalks growing next to the road at Whispering Winds? Remember Jesus talked about seeds that fell on good ground.”

It’s actually been kind of fun watching those two stalks of corn grow this year on the edge of the lawn, right along the roadside. Last winter the snowplow scraped the edge of the lawn as it barreled along Highland Road. A few chunks of sod were torn out of the lawn. We added some soil and sowed some grass seed over the damaged area in the spring, but as dry as the spring and summer was, the seed never germinated. Last year there was a cornfield across the road. (This year it’s soybeans.) Somehow a couple kernels of corn found their way onto our patch of open soil that had been unwelcoming of the grass seed. The corn sprouted easily, and two proud stalks of corn have been growing all season. Mim decided to mow around them to honor their persistence. Despite the drought in our area of Wisconsin, these two plants of field corn have done fairly well. The wildlife (raccoon, probably) have enjoyed a good harvest.

So what did Jesus say about seeds? In Matthew 13:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying, “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on the rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Jesus’ disciples asked him what he meant by this story. Apparently, it wasn’t just about growing corn to feed the raccoon family. In verse 23, Jesus explained, “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit…”

So, what is God trying to tell us by having two cornstalks grow on the good soil on the edge of our lawn at Whispering Winds? Perhaps, it’s as simple as “Take time to smile at the little miracles we see all around us.” Or maybe, to some people driving by, the message is “Bloom where you are planted.”  Or to others, it’s “See. God really watches out for the needs of her creatures, even the raccoon.”

Playing Games with Chip and Randy

My friend Chip, the Chipmunk

 

Chip, the chipmunk, and I have been playing a game lately. It’s a combination of “Hide & Seek” and “Cops & Robbers.”  I’m undoubtedly dating myself, but my brother and I used to play both games with our cousins when we were kids. We chased each other and hid all over the farm – in the house, the barn, the sheds, and outside.

Caught nibbling on a green cherry tomato behind St. Francis’ back.

The way Chip and I play the game is that he’s the robber and I’m the cop. He tries to steal a cherry tomato and I try to bring him to justice by snapping a photo as proof of his crime. As soon as he sees me approaching he finds a hiding place, either by darting into a hole in the corner of the raised bed if he’s close to that corner, or he scurries out of the bed and into the downspout.

I play a similar game with Randy Rabbit who likes to steal the leaves off the green bean plants.  Apparently, he thinks they’re quite tasty. Unfortunately, Randy is a better thief than I am cop. I don’t think I’ll get any green beans from the raised bed this year.  At least I’m getting some cherry tomatoes. My six cherry tomato plants are yielding enough tomatoes to share with Chip. My three rows of bean skeletons just have a few blossoms.

Chip peeking out of the downspout.

Playing these games with the chipmunks and rabbits that live at Whispering Winds has prompted me to think about who really is the “owner” of these vegetables. Who is most entitled to the beans and tomatoes? Should Chip and Randy really have first dibs on the produce? Or, should I?

Believe it or not, I think the Bible addresses this issue quite directly. In Matthew 6:26, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  That sounds like God intends for the wildlife to be entitled to whatever they eat. But then he says, “Are you not of more value than they?” So maybe I should have first dibs on the vegetables, and Chip and Randy should be content with the leftovers. God has given me a bigger brain. I should be able to outsmart Chip and Randy.  I guess I’ll keep trying, but I’ll remember to share. I’m sure God loves Chip and Randy, too, and wouldn’t want them to go hungry.

Fortunately, neither of them eats zinnias. Jesus also talked about flowers in the same conversation recorded in Matthew 6. He said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” [Matthew 6:28]

I think the main point of this whole passage is summarized in verse 34, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” But I think Jesus is also telling us that God cares about the plants and animals of the world, too.

My summary of this whole passage:  Don’t worry. Trust God. And share.

“Consider the Zinnias…”

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.