Each spring while panting and perspiring with hoe in hand, my husband and I survey the freshly tilled soil and let our minds soar to a wonderful, dreamy world of imaginary harvest time. We picture lush garden vegetables—“veggies” as the children call them—pouring forth a cornucopia of nutritious goodies so tasty that every child will clamor for seconds at the dinner table.
We plan that by the Fourth of July we will be dining on peas, new potatoes, and corn. Our sumptuous surplus we’ll share with friends and neighbors whose faces will simply glow with appreciation. And of course all the veggies will ripen in orderly fashion to permit proper canning.
Will we have weeds? Never! Our garden will look like a display in a seed catalog, kept as immaculate as a Japanese garden with our seven youngsters working together in joy and harmony to cultivate it.
End of dream. You’d think by now that we’d forget such foolish notions.
One year the chickens scratched through our freshly planted garden sucking up seeds like vacuum cleaners. The carrots grew as thick as a hedge when they sprouted, but after one of the children thinned them only four carrots remained in the whole twenty-foot row.
My worst experience was with the peas, which survived a dusting of snow from a late spring storm only to perish by parachute. I hadn’t realized that a nearby tree was squadron headquarters for a task force of fighter aircraft (moppets with cardboard wings). Parachutists (youngsters outfitted with old sheets and rope) periodically fluttered to the ground in enemy territory—our pea patch.
Another year we had high hopes for an overgrown, sickly grape. After pruning and fertilizing it, we watched with anticipation as a lush growth of green leaves developed, and at last one small bunch of grapes. The children were admonished not to pick the tasty tidbits until they were plump and purple—but that year a passing turkey cleaned off the whole bunch faster than you could say “grape juice.”
Animals have presented problems ever since we first started planting a garden. The first year, we managed to raise a small patch of corn with just enough ears surviving for each family member to sample one. The night before our harvest, a cow jumped the fence with what must have been a heroic leap. We found her munching the last of the feast at daylight.
Deciding that a retreat was in order, we found another site that seemed perfect for a garden and an orchard: peaceful, pastoral—and not a cow for miles. We planted a nice variety of trees. They looked like skinny poles standing bare in the soil, but we had hopes of someday seeing full fruit baskets arrayed beneath lush, mature trees.
But it wasn’t long before we drove out to our new plot to find not just one cow, but a whole herd of them, blundering down the rows and snapping off our hoe-handle-thick trees like so many corn stalks. When the owner, a dairyman, arrived, he scratched his head and said, “How do you suppose the whole herd could have come so far and through so many fences?”
Maybe it’s a conspiracy. Through the years our veggies have been chewed, pecked, trampled, dug up, and sat upon by a wide assortment of horses, sheep, goats, crows, cats, cows, chickens, and even a plundering army of four sows with their thirty-two baby pigs. Not to mention the kids. Even the dog developed a taste for herbs and carried off any he could nose out.
But last spring we knew we’d conquer. We’d just plant extra for the marauding munchers.
We tilled. We planted. And then I decided to plant some zucchini summer squash as a hedge along the garden (to hide the rows of less-than-perfectly weeded beets and carrots). I finished just in time to fix dinner, and the children stayed to plant the winter squash. Or so I thought.
By summer the garden was overrun with zucchini. Not a winter squash was in sight.
“Oops, must have planted the wrong kind,” said one child.
“Mom, do you realize we have two hundred zucchini plants?” said another.
All summer we harvested zucchini with a construction wheelbarrow. We froze it, canned it, dried it, shared it, and turned it into a gelatinous jam. Still it was stacked around like cordwood. Everywhere I went I took boxes of it to give away, and before long my arrival on a neighbor’s doorstep was about as welcome as a case of chicken pox at a Primary party.
The years have taught me that my green thumb is not the kind filled with chlorophyll that produces only bounteous harvests. Mine seems more like the weedy type with a touch of blight. But no matter; zucchini persists, and the children are learning the joy of hard work and the satisfaction of succeeding against insurmountable odds.
Gardening teaches many lessons. Our family’s self-sufficiency has increased, and we’re learning responsibility, accountability, and how to keep a sense of humor after hail has shotgunned the garden. Teaching analogies abound, and the satisfaction we feel when the garden nears fruition at last can be understood only by those who have struggled to produce something in harmony with nature. Truly our garden serves “to please the eye and gladden the heart.” (D&C 59:18.)
This year as I survey the freshly tilled soil, I find myself visualizing once more a large, lush garden pouring forth a cornucopia of nutritious goodies. We are planting judiciously and carefully, and we plan to dine on peas, new potatoes, and corn by the Fourth of July—but we’re still adding to our list people we might be able to unload a few sacks of zucchini on.
Now if I can just decide if Crispy, Krunchy, or perhaps Improved Munchy is the carrot to plant. And—uh-oh, who left the hen-house door unlatched … ?