Once you get to a little clearing in the forest, you start cutting trees. Then you dig up the stumps and cull the boulders, rocks, and pebbles. Finally you're ready to make your garden.
I have a friend who has always been a gardener. In the early years of her marriage (husband in graduate school, two little children) they lived not in town with all the other graduate students, but on a farm. They always found some way to rent a house with enough cleared land for a farm. And my friend would grow the family's food.
Now, how did she come to know how to do this? I certainly didn't know (though, had I known her then, perhaps I would have learned).
We lived in two houses while we were in
After Baby Number 3 was born, we moved to a larger home, with a larger lot and five huge pecan trees that dominated the back yard. Since the squirrels were cannier pecan-pickers than we were, the only benefit we ever saw from those trees was using them to string clothes-hanging wires for drying the laundry. (And then there was the day when one of the trees was struck by lightening just as I was trying to unpin the sheets from the (metal) clothesline before a storm came. But that's another story.)
We did open up a little plot in the yard for tomato plants and maybe some peppers. We must have harvested something from those plants, but it couldn't have been much, because I have no memory of it. (We all see the fallacy in that reasoning, don't we? Given my memory of those days, we could have harvested bushels at a time and sold them to Del Monte and I still might have no memory of it. . . .)
My first real garden experience was with someone else's garden. Thelma, my mother-in-law at the time, was a country woman. She put in a good-sized garden every year, and she ate or put up all the food she grew. It was a huge and wonderful garden, and I, in my 23-year-old naivete, had no idea how much work her garden required.
My husband, Rolly, and I were between jobs (just home from
At any rate, Thelma and Morris took a one-week vacation every year to go to
So Rolly went to the store in Pulaski each morning, and I stayed in tiny Frankewing and played house, which probably involved a little cooking and a lot of reading. Each morning before work he would water the garden.
My job was to harvest the ripe tomatoes. The garden was about 20 by 50 feet. Tomatoes were planted in three rows, each 50 feet long. That's a lot of tomato plants. Because Rolly watered every morning, the soil between the rows was always muddy.
I would go outside every morning, stand at the head of a row, contemplate the mud, and imagine the effect it would have on my cute little sandals (or on my bare feet, if I were brave enough to squish my way through whatever bugs and worms were waiting to attack my little toe-sies).
I stood at the top of a row and peered at the tomato plants. Bending over, first to the left, then the right, I would look all the plants I could see from my position there at the top of the row. Peer. Peer. If I saw a bit of red within reach (on one of the first three plants of the row, say) I would certainly tiptoe through the mud to pluck that ripe tomato. But the rest of the row looked all green to me. I now know that any ripe fruit was, of course, hiding behind the flourishing green leaves, as tomatoes like to do. But how could I know that?
I saw no red tomatoes at all. I did wonder a bit that only the first three plants in each row were bearing ripe fruit. But I wasn't too eager to follow up on that thought, since it might have involved walking through the muddy path between the rows. The thought died on the vine, so to speak.
When Thelma and Morris returned a week later, Thelma found more than the usual number of ripe tomatoes, along with quite a few rotten or exploded tomatoes on the ground. I don't remember that she scolded me or even made any reference to my ineptitude. But she certainly never again left me alone with a garden.