Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring and a Young Man’s Fancy

We’re almost as far past spring as I am past knowing a young man’s fancy, but part of the spring ritual is gardening and that has been on my mind lately. I have a brother-in-law who lives in rural Wisconsin and the earth is finally thawed enough so he will be turning it for his summer garden.

He takes gardening seriously. For starters he cultivates a plot that is at least thirty-feet by fifty-feet. He mostly plants things they will eat, like corn, beans, lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes, peas and of course, zucchini. He has learned over the years to plant some things that will lessen the devastation by insects, if not the assortment of deer, rabbits, birds and other denizens of the nearby fields. For his birthday one year we gave him a book that only slightly tongue-in-cheek advised going nude in your garden under a full moon and marking its boundaries in the same way a dog would claim its territory.

Renny does plant some flowers for Eileen, his wife.

My own experience planting had a fifty-year hiatus between when I used to help my father with his, respectable by size, Iowa garden. When I left home for college, the Navy, California living, and eventual semi-retirement, I left gardening also. Like most Californians I have things growing in pots on my deck, but nothing very utilitarian other than herbs.

However, a few years ago, with time on my hands and a new-found attraction for cooking and fresh vegetables, I found myself shamed by a friend into investigating “Square-foot Gardening” a theory, book and newly revised edition by Mel Bartholomew . The concept is that you can make your own soil, plant what you will use, time the maturation to avoid the “zucchini deluge” my Wisconsin relatives face every year, put watering on a timer, weed an hour every other week, and do it all in a space 4’x4’ or twice that if you have the room.

Things started well, until I realized that one of the truisms of living in a section called Lake Forest Woods was that I got very little sun. Mel had some suggestions and I devised a system of mirrors that quickly allowed me my own carrots and tomatoes.

A better solution soon presented itself. My neighbor was intrigued by what he saw and offered to allow me sharecropper rights to an irrigated sunny plot on the side of his house in exchange for some produce. Things improved and I could tolerate cleaning up and replanting when his cats, which had not been part of our negotiations, expressed their dissatisfaction with our arrangement.

My strawberries were almost ripe, when the raccoons found them. Actually, the raccoons, who my neighbor was feeding from his deck, probably found the strawberries early on, but they were smarter about knowing when to pick them than I was and one never made it to my table.

With a setback from treatment for Prostate cancer (there’s something about a colonoscopy bag that clears the mind from thoughts of weeding), some dry weather and a faulty water system, no produce to share and the local fauna, the concept of square foot gardening frizzled. The apparatus and the soil ingredients are now contributing to the land fill problem.

And now my gardening is done once a week at the local Farmer’s Market. The produce is abundant, fresh, organic, has a green carbon footprint and, even at prices higher than the produce at the local produce market, cheaper by far than my gardening adventure, which produced the classic “$200 tomato”.

I’m fortunate that in California the Farmer’s Market is pretty much a year-round thing with seasonality providing great diversity in selection. I don’t have to fight the critters, except for a rat that has found my birdfeeder, the occasional raccoon digging for grubs in my oregano, or the stupid possum wandering around in the night. I don’t have to worry about too much or too little rain and I have the warm, fuzzy feeling that I am doing the right thing in my vegetable and seafood purchases.

Have any of you been more successful in your gardening efforts?


  1. I live close to you and have also only grown basil, thyme, and other herbs. My yard is too small and I have a dog. I do think it's therapeutic to farm though.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I'll look for your green thumb next time I see you.