Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Why do we garden?

March 2, 2010

I get this all the time. Why do I garden? Why do I labor out in the hot sun, working to grow my food when I could just as easily—okay, WAY more easily—go down to Kroger and buy all the veggies I want? That’s a valid question. Here is the answer I give. Well, sometimes I give an answer. Other times I just look at the questioner like he has two heads, which really messes with his head, ‘cause I think he can actually READ my mind and then he starts to see himself the way I see him, which is with two heads, and that REALLY messes with his mind—but I digress.

The answer I give is this: “Have you tasted the veggies that come out of Kroger?” Probably not, because they taste like, well, NOTHING. Sure, they look good and they are HUGE, but there is no taste. And taste developed to let us know when the food we are eating is actually GOOD for us. If it tastes like ^#@^&, then it is probably only good for the compost pile. So, the primary reason I grow food is because I want my veggies to taste like food is supposed to taste. The carrots are sweet, (look, don’t let my wife see this part, since I have her convinced I don’t eat carrots, which is true, since I don’t eat the carrots out of the store), the cilantro is, well, pungent. Okra is slimy—I mean even right off the plant, which is how I like it. And the tomatoes, well, let’s just say they taste like the tomatoes in Kroger only WISH they tasted. The point is that home grown veggies taste like they are supposed to taste.

The other reason I grow food is because it is COOL! For the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many centuries, growing food is COOL. Now I don’t know what word they used back in the 1800’s, because back then growing food was simply what everyone did. Growing food was the equivalent of “not HUNGRY!” But even then it wasn’t COOL, like it is now. I mean, go to a dinner party and bring along a bucket of fresh, home grown tomatoes, and you are the LIFE of the party! It is the equivalent of showing up with a case of beer when you were, oh, 18! Now, as an adult, fresh veggies are the best way to get … well, you know—noticed at a party.  And you don’t even have to wear a wife-beater undershirt or spend time at a smelly ol’ gym.

No, you can show up with a farmer’s tan and a bucket—let me interject here that when you bring fresh veggies, bring a LOT! Don’t be skimpy with it. You are all about ABUNDANCE! Show it! You not only produce home grown veggies, but you produce them in copious amounts, yeah verily, VOLUMES. So, you stride in all confident, with your muscled bare arms all tanned, your hair highlighted from the sun and in your BUCKET a veritable cornucopia of garden delight. You bring tangy tomatoes, hot peppers, pungent cilantro, crisp onions and, voila! Pico de gallo! That’s like showing up with crack. Well, maybe not exactly like that, but amongst a bunch of foodies, it’s pretty close.

So this is why I garden. It is something I enjoy. It’s not fattening. It’s not addictive (okay, that one may not be true). It is something I can talk about with others who are interested in food and good health. And it makes me cool. More than that, gardening is how I relate to the world around me. I have been doing it for many years—gardening, that is—and I am still fascinated with how it works. When the soil is right and when everything works together, I can grow nutrient dense food that tastes great and did not depend on a bunch of synthetic fertilizer or chemicals. It is earth friendly, which is how EVERY gardener wants things to be, since, why would a gardener want to hurt Mother Earth? I mean, she is the one who makes it possible for us to grow what we grow and get the recognition we get. ‘Cause, let’s face it, even though we would garden even if no one noticed, the accolades are pretty sweet, just like our produce.

And that’s just my perspective, from a “man out standing in his field.” That’s me, the one with the huge, uh, cornucopia. 


The Tale of Two Cities and other ramblings

January 29, 2010

The Tale of Two Cities

I just returned from IPE10, which for the uninitiated, stands for International Poultry Expo 2010, which as always, was held in Atlanta, Georgia.  First a little bit about Atlanta.  It is a great city, as cities go.  All I really have to compare it to is Dallas and it is a LOT like Dallas, with a couple of notable exceptions.

First, the area is a whole lot prettier than Big D.  I mean, there are actual HILLS around and through the city and TREES!  Second, there is an actual RIVER running through the city.  The operable word is RUNNING, not like the sluggish meandering of the Trinity River, slowly glugging just west of downtown Dallas, replete with the occasional body or floating tire.  The third difference is the air quality.  I have never been to Atlanta in the summer, but Dallas in the winter has horrible air.  There is a condition known as an inversion that traps polluted air over the city for all of us to help filter out all the impurities using our lungs as filters.  We are (or in my case WERE) all about helping our city.  I am happy to say that I moved to where I no longer have to SEE the air before I breathe it.  I was taught in school that air was supposed to be a “colorless and odorless gas.”  Fat chance finding that in Dallas.

Unfortunately, the two cities are more alike than I would like.  TRAFFIC stands out as a VERY common denominator between the two piles of concrete and glass.  Since I was a non-native driver in Atlanta this time I did not have the luxury of “taking the back roads” to where I needed to go, which I was VERY good at when I lived in Dallas.  Since all I had guiding me was “Alice”, the Australian voice of my GPS, I pretty much had to go where she said go.  There is a work around trick for this situation though.  You can change your settings from “fastest” to “shortest.”  This works well as often the shortest is off the main drag and more along the lines of back streets.

BTW, don’t try this in the country of north Alabama. On the way to IPE10 (don’t you feel so cool knowing what that means now?) I had to deliver product to a poultry farm north of Tuscaloosa.  I did not realize I had Alice programmed for “shortest” distance.  Everything was going great until she “suggested” I take a dirt road.  I say suggested as I refuse to take orders from any woman (my wife excluded – love you babe) even IF she has a voice like Alice.  But I digress.  Before telling you how THAT worked out, let me remind you, gentle reader, that it has been a “more than a little damper than usual” winter in the south.

So, I slowly turned off the asphalt road onto the red mud and gravel road.  The first hundred yards or so were okay, until I went down a slight decline and noticed a situation just over the next rise.  I say situation since what I actually saw were ruts in the road that would have challenged by four wheel drive TRACTOR!  What was Alice thinking?  Okay, I took a deep breath and decided to try another way, regardless of what “Alice” had to say.  So, since the “road” was too narrow to turn around, I had to back out the way I came in.  This sounded good in theory, until I came to the “little decline” that I came down on the way in.  Now the “decline” was a stinkin’ INCLINE, which when it is covered with red mud and, now I noticed, not THAT much gravel, became a significant challenge.  So, since speed is supposed to be your friend, I got a good running start at the hill and slipped oh so close over toward the ditch.   Quick stop, drop the truck into drive and back the way I came.  Okay, I figured I just needed to be a “little” further to the other side of the road.  Repeat the above procedure, only on the other side of the road.  Not THAT far over!  Slam on the brakes and repeat the retreat.

Okay, I look at my cell phone, no signal.  After all I am on the north side of NOWHERE!  So, I walked back to the “scene of the crime” to see what I was looking at.  As it turns out there was a solid path down the road IF I could stay on it.  I quickly decided that speed was now not my friend but my enemy.  So, slowly I backed up, this time carefully staying on the “straight and OH so narrow” path.  Okay, so I got back to the road and made it to the farm for the delivery.  The farmers only comment, after detailing the road I had tried to take, was to look over at my truck and comment, “I really wouldn’t try that road, this time of year, until I was driving a tracked vehicle.”  You have to love the wisdom of the woods.  😉

Well I seem to have strayed from my appointed path, but then that’s the fun of a blog like this.  It reminds me of a comment Justine Wilson, renowned Cajun comic, made several times.  He may have only said it once, but I played the record LOTS of times. He said, “Tonight I want to tell you stories that I haven’t heard in a long time and I want to hear them again, and I want to tell you stories I’ve never heard and want to hear something new.”  I guess that is my way of saying that every time I start one of these entries I really don’t know where I’m going or where it will end up.  I don’t have an Alice for writing. But I hope you enjoy these little missives and next time I will get back to talking about gardening and growing, and fertilizer and other s*it like that.  😉

Where I’m Coming From – Sort Of

January 24, 2010

Welcome Gardening Fans,

The Net is such a dynamic medium of information exchange and it is HUGE!  There are over 280,000 blogs right now.  Some are informative, written by thoughtful, well-informed writers.  Some are a total waste of time.  You as the reader get to decide which category THIS blog will fall into.  I hope the former, but if the later, then good riddance.  And I don’t intend to be mean or flippant by that remark.  If what I am interested in is not your cup of tea, then there are over 280,000 other blogs for you to peruse.  Good luck in finding what you are looking for.

So, who would be interested in what I have to say?

First a little background on me and my experiences.  I was reared on a farm just north of Meridian, Mississippi.  By farm I don’t mean a big commercial operation with million dollar combines and tractors that practically drive themselves.  No, the farm I’m referring to was around 400 acres of mixed use land.  The land was owned by my grandfather, a farmer by trade and vocation, who farmed because that’s what he did.  When he was younger he had truck farmed, selling produce to discerning consumers from Meridian and the surrounding areas.  He was a locavore before it was cool.  I lived across the road from his home with my parents (fancy that) in a home my father built.  Since I was so close, I practically lived with my grandfather who if you haven’t figured out yet, was instrumental in shaping the man I have become. He was a firm believer that hard work would not kill you.  At the time I was not sure he was correct, but as time proved, he was correct.  We all worked and I mean all of us.  My first memory of “gardening” was picking beans when I was maybe 4 1/2 years old.  I don’t recall being “made” to work, it is just what we did.  And that work ethic has served we well oh these many years.

The type of farming my grandfather practiced would best be called “mixed use” farming.  We used chicken manure and ashes for tomatoes and cow manure for watermelons.  First a point of clarification, since many of you might not understand how chicken manure and ashes get together.  Most of the people in the area heated with wood, either in a fireplace or a wood heater.  The wood ashes were a great source of potassium (K on your standard fertilizer bag) and since they are from ashes, hence the name “pot ash”.  But what do you do with the ashes that accumulate all winter long?  They were spread in the chicken house.  It was only later that I learned they (ashes) also kept down the odor from the manure.

From this brief description of using obvious “organic” fertility methods you might think my grandfather was a proponent of total organic farming techniques.  If you were to think that you would be WRONG!  He figured that anything growing would benefit from a good, healthy dose of Triple-13 or ammonia nitrate.  It was only much later that I came to realize that it was the overuse of these fertilizers that caused many of the insect and disease problems we experienced on the farm.

Case in point.  One year we planted about 30 acres of field corn for cattle feed.  My grandfather kept about 25 head of cattle and he would grow and feed his own corn.  This particular year the corn had ear worms.  So, the reason the corn had worms OBVIOUSLY, what that it was suffering from a deficiency of SEVIN, a powdered form of insecticide. So, we dutifully (myself and my older twin cousins) walked along and “dusted” EACH AND EVERY STALK of corn with Sevin.  Guess what?  It didn’t work.  The corn still had worms.  As it turns out, and I only discovered this MUCH later through diligent study, that the corn was suffering from a deficiency all right, but it wasn’t a Sevin deficiency.  In retrospect it probably needed boron, plus a good, balanced fertilizer.

How you may ask did I figure this out?  This past year in my own garden I experienced the same thing.  The details can wait till a later post, but suffice to say I planted corn on some VERY poor ground.  Poor is a local expression to describe soil that has virtually NO nutrients in it.  Two weeks after the corn was up I noticed the telltale signs of corn worms.  Having learned that the corn wasn’t deficient in Sevin, I immediately applied some Triple-13.  Within a week, the worms were gone, the corn was growing well, and as it turned out, I made a nice crop.

Many pure organic gardeners will recoil in horror at this practice.  But, this is a very important point, so pay attention.  Not ALL synthetic fertilizers are evil.  Sure, Triple-13 is NOT the best fertilizer to use, despite my grandfather’s instruction, but it did make a crop.  My general rule of thumb when applying ANY fertilizer to my garden is to never use anything that “will kill an earthworm.”  So, even highly concentrated synthetic fertilizers can have a place in a sustainable garden.  Also, in my defense, the land I was using for a garden had been a pine thicket just the previous year and was adjacent to a home I was leasing.  So, I knew I would not be around for the upcoming gardening season and that in all likelihood; no one that came after me would even have a garden there.  My primary purpose for the garden was to grow veggies of ANY sort just to eat.  In a later post I will lay out my personal fertility program.

So, getting back to my opening narrative, let me just say that I grew up on a farm where I learned a LOT of stuff that I later had to unlearn.  What I did take away from the experience that I have NEVER lost, is the fascination that seeds put into the ground miraculously grow up to provide food.  It is at the same time simple and incredible complex. I think it is kind of like playing golf, something I am REALLY not good at.  But from what I understand about the “sport” you are essentially playing against yourself.  There is a “perfect game” somewhere out there that you as a golfer are trying to achieve.

Gardening is the same thing.  There is this hypothetical IDEAL of a garden with “perfect” soil that has abundant fertility and all the trace minerals any plant could hope for.  There are no pests or diseases, the plants flourish with vibrant colors and smells.  The vegetables taste like the “used to taste, back in the day” and your garden is the envy of all who see it.  This is the goal of every gardener on the planet.  But it is a goal that is both elusive yet right there at hand.  And the good thing about this goal you get to eat your successes and BURY your mistakes, because even a mistake will show up later as a potential source for success.

I have SEVERAL topics in mind for future posts, but in the meantime, if you have any specific questions, I will try to answer them on this blog.  I look forward to hearing from each and every one of you in the near future.


“when the chips are down, that’s when the garden grows the best”