He researches his project extremely well, and then builds an excellent case for winning. Kinda hard to argue about gardening with a guy holding a 75 lb watermelon he grew... So I attended his classes, took copious notes, and walked out with an "A"... for attendance. What I didn't know, was that gardening is as close to witchcraft as you get in the US of A. And, like Harry Potter, it is a world with regular lookin' individuals that operate in a totally different sphere, doing totally weird stuff.
We just moved into this sphere a month ago. And since we moved into a house with a huge strip of front yard that is 1.5 acres long, with a garden set up, it seemed natural that we would fall into gardening. After all - we have the space! The previous owner left us a legacy of some plants already growing, and spigots properly placed along the borders of an area ready for a garden the size of most people's yards.
My neighbor, Mr. Paul Gourdin who owns the surrounding 7 acres, boards horses, and has lived long enough to have grandchildren, completed two missions (Argentina AND the local Cannery), and has his own ginormous garden plot, all under his belt. After meeting, he asked if I was going to do a garden. I replied with a timid, "Uh... yeah."
"Last frost is past, so, its time. What are you gonna put in?"
As my mind scrambled to come up with plants - that are garden plants - that would feasibly be planted at this time of year, in this state, I went into a mini-panic as my City Girl side started to show. There was this long silence while that little hamster was spinning in my brain. Artichokes? NO - that's California, coastal. Celery? No! No one eats celery around here. Plants! What am I planting!!?? Oh my gosh - he's staring at me!
"Corn?" He offered.
"Yeah! Yeah - corn! Annnnd, sooooome SQUASH!" Which was a dumb thing to say -since I have a total of ONE recipe for squash.
"Tomatoes?" He countered.
"Oh yeash. Of course tomatoes. Yah. And maybe some peppers."
"Hot or bell?" How else can I say this, except that his retort was so fast I had to think what a BELL pepper was versus a HOT pepper. My hamster was wearing out...
"Uhmmmm. Both?" Who doesn't need a habanero plant in their yard?! Tons of uses. TONS...
"Zucchini?" came the next rapid fire vegetable,
"Ah - sure!" I said before my brain kicked in.
OH MY GOSH NO! What was I thinking?! That is another plant that I only associate with "bread," and only then when someone ELSE hands it to me! The zucchini bread, not just the zucchini... I have no idea what to do with that. Except substitute it with the one squash recipe that I have....
He nodded a "knowing" nod and offered to put the "discs" on the tractor, plow in some horse manure, and have it ready by Monday. He said he would text me a list of plant categories to get at the IFA. Because I knew, of course, that you have to plant different varieties of plants. If you open a single brand of seeds and spread them around they will all mature at the same time. And then all need to be harvested at the same time. DUH... I knew that. Sort of. It was written down in some of my notes. Somewhere.
The IFA is the American farmer's equivalent to "The Leaky Cauldron." Everyone is going about their business in an utterly strange environment, while the muggles mostly stand and stare. At stuff. Sphagnum Peat Moss, Sevin Bug Poison, Bp, rows and rows of plants, flowers, gourds, seeds, pots and dirt. The conversations are just as bizarre. As I entered, I passed by two men in a heated discussion,
"I think it's HIGH TIME they Mayor opened hunting season so we can massacre all those bastards - going in and munching my apples and peaches! They ate my tomatoes and took nips out of my pumpkins - RUINED them last year. Just ruined them!"
"Yah - but it'll have to be with the hunting cross-bow from high ground, so they don't bleed out. No one wants a deer bleeding out in their front lawn."
My jaw hit the ground. Hunting with cross-bows? I thought all gardeners were overall-wearing, red bandanna and straw-hat totin hippies! Huggin' trees and lovin' Mother Earth and all, - not mass murderers. As they glanced my way, I suddenly became fascinated with a poster with an acorn squash on it. I avoided eye contact and looked instead at my list for plants. First up - tomatoes. So I decided to find the tomatoes. I saw two women having a discussion about the merits of rhizomes and whether the liquid root simulator was worth it, or just rolling the seeds in the dry powder was better. Undecided, they discussed the merits of inoculating seeds and which went on first, the nitrogen fixing bacteria, or the rhizome powder. I think they were speaking English, or Granglish. Gardener-English. Since they seemed to know what they were doing, I approached and asked if they knew where the tomatoes were.
"Right over there..." Which was said in a tone similar to that used as if I had asked where the sun was.
I picked up the plants and realized why people were walking around with carts. Plants in pots of dirt are heavy! I started working my way through my list, until I came to the pumpkins. The nearest "plant" savvy person near to me was suddenly asking for a seed vibrator. I didn't even want to know, so I just kept walking until I saw someone in short-shorts and a tank top who looked like they were evaluating plants instead of just trying to guess what they were.
"Do you know where they put the pumpkins? These vegetables aren't in alphabetical order..." I said, trying to sound as though all the OTHER garden centers were laid out reasonably.
"Uh huh, yaaah. They're not. Pumpkins are over on that table..."
I went over there, and I got the feeling that people thought I was a lonely pampered woman buying up a garden just trying to keep a brawny lawn-and-garden boy busy for the summer. There was one solitary pumpkin plant on a big spot of empty table. As I looked around it, I searched for the others, as though the plants might be covered in some invisibility cloak, or hiding under the table. Nope. So I assume that its like waiting for french fries, and its best to wait for the next batch to arrive and ensure getting a nice, strong-lookin' plant instead of the runt of the litter. I went back to the short-shorts lady,
"This is all I found, and my list says I need four. Do they have more in the back?"
Giving me a quick look up and down, and keeping an eye on me as she hollered around to one of the boys if there were any more flats in the back. He hollered back,
"Nah - that's the last of 'em!" Meaning the last of what was planted at the right time, that would sprout when it needed to, to be ready for Halloween.
So I took the one sad punkin' and the rest of my order and checked out trying to avoid the stares of the dedicated gardeners and deer murderers. I made a mental note: garden centers are HOT! Do not show up in white capris, kitten heels, and a sweater top.
One o'clock Monday finally arrived, and I was out in the tilled garden with my seeds and potted plants. Planting is actually not a complicated thing. Draw a line down the middle of the row with a stick. Lay the seeds the appropriate distance apart. Cover them up and water. What my neighbor knew, and I clearly did not, is that this process takes enough time to necessitate also wearing a hat. I burned my lily white skin into a Farmer's tan with the first 45 minutes of planting. Paul had his straw cowboy hat that looked nice and shady as we leaned over the furrows. It got worse for me as the afternoon wore on. And its not a "tan." What I got is red skin that is also speckled throughout with even darker red bumpy angry skin that will not get you noticed on the beach. More like, it will have people toss you money for your deformity.
Within a short time of the garden going in, I also experienced my first suicide. Even after careful planting, watering, and fertilizing, one of my cucumbers went in the ground, got watered, and decided that it hated it so much outside of the nursery that it dried up in it's $1.47 Miracle-Gro well-watered peat-moss pot. And it refused to live any more. Looking at that plant with the "care for tab" still brightly attached, all I feel is a mix of pity and anger,
"Look you stupid plant! All the other plants decided that they could hack it! I watered you just as much as them! What is your DEAL? COME ON! You are basically in the same spot that you were on Saturday! With more air! And fewer mass-murderers! And more room to grow! What do I have to do to make you happy, huh!?"
It didn't care. It wilted, then shriveled into nothingness, all within 36 hours. If you had a microscope, you could not find it out there. Which, after discovering nothing but the tab, had me muttering about the intelligence of plants and realizing that my old self never used to do that... Imperius curse?
So now, at this point in the gardening process, I have some plants on suicide watch. I make regular sweeps around the garden to see if they've done anything stupid. I've got a habanero plant that is refusing to put his leaves up and just looks depressed all the time. "Buck up there lil' pepper - you got water today! Just as much as the other peppers and they aren't giving me this grief! You really need to pull it together now! I AM WATCHING YOU!" Which feels weird to be giving a pep talk to a depressed plant.
As does my recent conversation with Gourdin, about two weeks into all this. I went over to Gourdin's to ask about thinning, and whether I'd pruned correctly for both raspberry plants (of course I had - I'd been reading my gardening notes!). His eyes got a little wider, which is about as much expression as I've ever seen.
"Both? Which two are you talkin' about?"
I waved in the direction of the raspberry patch that was lookin nice and tidy after hours and hours of pulling out a veritable Serengeti of old neglected canes and long grass that was growing happily there and choking the life out of the other raspberries, and then waved over to the other side of the garden where there was now a nicely trimmed raspberry plant where a messy raspberry hydra had once been. I had it nice and trimmed with canes carefully re-woven throughout its trellis - just like the book said.
Without moving his head an iota, he looked at the raspberry plant trellis, looked at me, and said,
"That's a grape."
"It is?" I stammered.
"Uh huh. That's a grape plant. It'll go all over. Keep it watered."
First dead plants, now wrong plants.
"Oh! I didn't know. I sure hope you're supposed to trim 'em! Cuz I went all 'French Revolution' on them yesterday and decapitated all sorts of stuff!" which I thought was terribly witty.
So... I ventured again. "Also, some deer took a bite out of my tomato plant. Any ideas?"
"Get a hair bag." he said flatly.
"A... a hair bag?" I leaned in as if I was struggling with my hearing aid.
My little brain hamster was running furiously now. What in THE royal hell was a hair bag?
"They hate the smell of human hair. So you get your hair trimmed, have 'em sweep it up in a bag, and then stuff wads of hair into ladies nylons. Hang it right by the plant. That should help deter them for about a summer. If you don't want to add any more hair, just spray it next year with deer repellant. Or you can buy a bush like this one. (He pointed to a munched up bush.) It kills deer. I had to put a cage around it this year after the deer ate the darned thing down to the nub!"
"Oh yah - totally, here ya go!"
I half expect them to start recommending eye of newt and wolfs-bane for future problems! But I did it. Hung five bags of hair in knee-highs all around the tomatoes and the pumpkin patch - looking over my shoulder. As I was tying them up I got a little worried that anyone I knew would stop by and ask what I was doing.
"I'm just out here... hangin' some of my hair. In these nylons. To, ya know, keep the deer away... until the cross-bow hunt..."
It seems like so much hoo doo nonsense, but since everyone is in on it, I guess its worth a try. I wonder if I can use the hair from my drain. But then I imagine the deer saying,
"Oh my GOSH! It's Coconut scented hair! Margarita's everyone!!" and then having all my plants be gone. I don't know. I have no idea how much my hair really stinks.
But this I do know; gardens are not free. It is not effortless or for the faint of heart. And between weather, animals and bugs trying to take it out, I now empathize when I hear the conversation about someone leaving lots of deer poop on the Mayor's front porch. And whether we will live to reap anything out of it is yet to be seen. For all I know, I have just planted a delicious deer/bug buffet. I figure that I will worry about what to do with 250 lbs of tomatoes later.
Meanwhile, my poor pioneer ancestors are turning in their graves. "What is she DOING!? THOSE ARE GRAPES!" But I do have such respect for the farmers out there who do this as their job. They may have to send stuff out to grocery stores green and whatnot, but the fact that we have access to such awesome food in all its variety is amazing to me. And I'm gonna try and at least give it a shot. Not like the deer massacre shot, just "trying it" kind of shot. Hoo Doo and all. "Garden! Wingardium Leviosa!"