I spent this morning working in my greenhouse separating tomato seedlings. I can never seem to throw any of them away when I thin them out. I carefully re-pot each one and hope for the best; I usually manage to save most of them. Then, when it comes time to transfer them into the garden beds, I am overrun and have a terrible time choosing the ones I want to keep. I always give the rest away to friends.
My tomato starts.
For a few years now, my husband and I have been doing raised beds. We fenced an area directly off of my picnic area and have built the beds a year at a time. Greg puts the composter in the frame and, when spring comes, simply opens the hatch and dumps the compost into the new frame. Then we finish it out with mushroom compost from the local grocery store. It’s a far cry from the way we gardened when I was a child. I often wonder what my Dad would think.
My garden today.
Daddy grew up in the Depression Era. They grew or hunted all of their food. He learned to work in the garden as a small child, and consequently he was one of the most successful gardeners I’ve ever known. He planted by the signs of the moon and tilled the soil with an old-fashioned plow.
All of my life, Daddy kept a donkey for plowing. Usually the inevitable name was Kate or Jenny, except for one male donkey who was christened Jack. I used to love sitting for hours watching him work his way back and forth across the garden. I learned the names of all the equipment, and when I was old enough, he would let me help to harness the donkey out. I still have all of that harness equipment carefully stored away in our barn.
Daddy was a man slow of speech and methodical movement. He and his donkey always worked well together. I can still hear his voice: “Gee, Kate, gee now” (Gee means right), or “Haw girl” (Haw is for left). He never used any stakes or string to line up his rows, but they were always straight as an arrow.
Daddy & Kate breaking new ground for a garden.
I used to help with the planting — mostly onion sets. I was small, and it was easier for me to get close to the ground. Once I was sick with the flu, and I dreamed over and over of planting onions in the hot sun, the rows stretching on for miles with no end.
After Daddy passed, we tried to maintain his garden patch by plowing with a tractor. But we never had much success with vegetables. Then we began to see articles in Grit and Mother Earth News about raised beds and tried our hand at that. A friend of ours gave us some big plastic tubs used by the feed store to provide mineral licks for livestock. I usually plant my tomatoes and eggplant in those. Cabbages, Brussels sprouts, peas, carrots, okra, and onions all go into the raised beds.
I like the tubs for tomatoes because I can mix my soil the way I like, with plenty of crushed oyster shells for calcium (the same ones from the feed store that I use for the chickens) and Miracle Grow tomato food. Tomatoes are my favorite thing in the garden.
So much has changed since my Daddy was with us. So many new ideas and so much technology. I wish every day that I could share them with him. I’d love to show him my garden. As different as it is from his, I think he would approve. And he might even go to raised beds himself. But I know deep down, he would always still have that donkey.