Friday, May 15, 2020

Are you, yes you, panic gardening?

If you want this, here is how it happens. 

In the past many days I have had so many emails or an occasional phone call on gardening.  People who really never thought about gardening are buying seeds and digging up yards or lining driveways with pots, maybe putting pure organic dirt in their bathtub.  Is the end near?  It must be!  

I am not the Cliff's Notes for a life time of gardening!  There is sooooo much information on social media, in the library, online, youtube and blogs it boggles the mind!  I never thought I was very smart about anything, I barely got through school and after 35 years of pottery, can finally make a decent mug.  But I am happy gardening and I do post a lot of stuff on social media so I guess I opened myself to an onslaught of questions and inquisitions when the pandemic hit and somebody said the word; FOOD SHORTAGE.   

Free tip, you're probably not going to feed your family or yourself the first year.  But plant some tomatoes or potatoes and you will more than likely get a great meal and it's good to know how stuff grows.  Especially if you have kids! 

I grew up with old Hungarian people who stuck stuff in the ground.  The women wore babushkas and rolled their stockings around their ankles.  Their ankles were attached to black lace up shoes with a 2" heel, although I think they would have rocked CROCs.  They wore dresses and an apron with a hankie pocket and they sweat, they were big beefy woman.  They were not gardening because Martha Stewart or Monty Don told them it was "good thing".  They gardened to eat and they had just come off the depression.  I really can't remember a time when there weren't tomatoes in the backyard and flowers in the front yard.  I think I still have the little garden stool my great grandpa made me so I could sit and weed ....... at FIVE YEARS OLD!  We also used it to sit on when we cleaned each and every brick on the driveway every hot August summer.  Kids of big beefy woman also sweat!  We were in servitude or slavery as I fondly remember yelling at my Mother.  To this day I will not wear an apron, I have a clothes washer and dryer.  Anyway I revolted from this whole garden thing but apparently dirt seeps through the pores and lives on in....... kind of like a virus.  It will kill you or cure you too. 

Then something strange happened.  At 17 years old I took an organic gardening class with my Mom.  And the old geezer teaching the class was looking for help on his farm.  I volunteered.  On a very cold, early March day, my Mom dropped me off in the little town of Columbia Station wearing shorts, a thin pink windbreaker and looking pretty cute.   I spent a week pruning and tying up grape vines.  It was snowing, I was cold, my feet were wet, my legs were beet red and at 5:00 pm when my Mom picked me up I was beaming.  I loved it!  The next day I wore jeans and long johns but still wore mascara.... because I was seventeen.  Grape vine pruning went into seeding hay fields and planting potatoes and corn on 250 acres (which is now a subdivision filled with shitty McMansions on some of the best dirt in Cuyahoga County)  and we baled organic hay all summer, 4 hay wagons a day stacked high enough to block the sun.  Every morning the bales got stacked in the top of the barn.  And in the Fall I was paid with a cow, freezer wrapped and ready for pick up from the local butcher.  It's the first time I saw my parents almost pass out with joy. No money changed hands.  I did it for three years and then enrolled in college at the prodding of the guy I worked for.  Unfortunately the school I attended was teaching Agri-business and not Agri-culture.  So I quit after the first year when the head of the Ag dept. wanted to know what I was doing there.  I was the only girl in the program.  Did I have a farming family?  Did I plan to marry a farmer?  Nope just a girl from the suburbs of Cleveland who really liked growing stuff!  I was sternly talked too and told to think about what I was doing.   And my bounce around days began.  A law firm, a gas station, a groundskeeper, a park ranger, a naturalist, a house cleaner, a waitress, a hardware store, a bakery, camp caretaker, manager of mens furnishings in an upscale Dept store called Godchaux's in Louisiana and finally for a few months homeless.....  I just never fit in anywhere. 

But I went back every summer and worked for the guy I started with at 17 and every year I got a frozen freezer wrapped cow and every year my folks were really happy.  It was payback for the 350 days of pure hell I put them through.   I was really happy and really broke.  Then finally I got a real job and my summers were gone.  Every year for the rest of his life the old farmer would call me in the late Spring and ask me if I got my garden in .... and then a few years ago the phone call didn't come.  He was 102 when he passed away.  But I usually said, Yes, I had my garden in.  I look out my back window and the comfrey growing in my yard is from his farm in Colombia Station when I was 17... I have taken it everywhere with me.  

I had enough experience to be hired as a groundskeeper for Ohio State Parks for $3.75 hour.  Whew, rolling in the green...... not money!  But I was outside and it was great.  My partner in crime, also a woman, started her own business estate gardening.  Hey, you want a job and I said YES!  We worked on a lot of estates in and around Cleveland.  I thought I died and went to heaven and made my own yard into an estate.  Then on a very hot July day, a garden designer had us dead head an acre of scabiosa around a concrete pool.  I declared:  ANYTHING THAT NEEDS TOUCHING THIS MUCH I WANT TO EAT!   I came home and started transitioning from ornamentals to edibles.  We even hired my kids to estate garden and we even fired them.  Gardens are weird like that, it's a life lesson.  You yell and scream at the kids to weed or even patiently explain what you're doing and they slam the door and say I'm going to the mall!  But who knew the dirt seeped in?  One kid just put in her own gardens last year and has chickens and the other has expressed interest in growing something on her window sill and maybe learning to can.  You think you have been out in the garden on your own little quest but you were not! Somebody was paying attention!  It doesn't even need to be your own kid.  It might be anybody who stops over.  If you really want to know something, find a garden group, put your head down and pull a couple weeds together or plant a few peppers or herbs.  You gotta let the dirt seep in.  Most gardeners I know don't have too much time for social media or pontification.  Buy a Farmers Almanac, subscribe to a good garden magazine and get busy.  If your first crop fails, WHY? and figure it out!  Books are wonderful things, I think I have them in every room in this house. 

So thats how this happened.....

So I guess I was mentored into this gardening thing and along the way found out there were a whole lot of ways to do this thing called gardening.  I made very little money but I learned a lot and became pretty comfortable.  I believe that is the definition of mentorship.  You work for somebody and you get to experience a craft or gardening or or or....... something that seeps in.

So do not ask me for a youtube channel or a book or "do you think I can plant corn in a patio pot".  Seek out a gardener in your area, maybe one you ride your bike past or walk the dog past and strike up a conversation.  Maybe ask if you can help to weed or spread some mulch.  Or join a community garden..... figure it out, you will learn far more and you will fail.  But just to let you know it doesn't happen overnight or during a pandemic.  And you might be really great holding down a great job and really happy at that job.  I happen to suck at that but I have things that work for me so maybe we should barter?  I have learned it's really hard to push a boulder up a hill and just don't need to do it anymore.  

Put the word panic in front of anything and you're in deep do-do.  Panic food storage, panic knitting, panic gardening, panic foraging. 

Roll up your sleeves and find a wheelbarrow and go for it! 

and now I relinquish my soap box to someone who really cares....


  1. You can only learn so much from reading and watching; at some point you must do.
    That being said I learned to grow asparagus and raspberries from watching and reading Crockett’s Victory Garden...long ago.

    1. That was the best show!! When we cleaned out my Mom's recipe collection she had all the Victory Garden cookbooks and garden books. Yes, I learned so much from Jim Crockett and his later hosts for the show!!

  2. Loved hearing 'your story', Sandy! ... unfortunately I don't get the joy from gardening that you do but Rick does ... its his thing along with the chicken raising. My part in the whole thing is to put in a few plants for esthetics and help with weeding. However I do do all the processing when harvest time comes. I grew up with canning being something that you just did and I have done so, in one way or another, every year, be it our own harvests, something donated neighbours or purchased (we used to live in a green belt farming area). Thanks to your info (last year?), Rick put in kidney beans this year and I am going to can them instead of drying them. Our daughter is trying her hand this year. Yesterday she sent a pic of her first harvest ... radishes ... as she says 'radishes are a very gratifying thing for a newbie to grow' 😀

    1. Good Morning Brenda!!! Argh the well traveled road of my life, it's true, the best is yet to come! You got the dirt gene in the clay world! It all works though right :) Squeal ......... your daughter picked her first radishes! Yesterday I picked the first lettuce and posted it all over facebook and instagram, seriously worse than baby pictures, oh and think I posted the salad I made from the lettuce....... and Butch sat down grinning from ear to ear and ate his first grilled hot dog of the year. I think we both just as happy LOL! A jar of baked beans from the basement accompanied that hot dog, winning!! I stuck adzuki beans in the ground yesterday, can't wait to see what those do! Yesterday we 80F... last Saturday it was snowing. I have weather whiplash. Kiss the puppers!!

  3. I work in an organic garden store and it has amazed me the people that come in and want a 1/2 acre garden to feed a family of four, like tomorrow! (because of the pandemic). Boys and girls, that ain't how it works! It has taken me years of failures to figure things out and I still fail at something every year! Last year I battled cutworms and leaf blight, this year frost in MAY took the cucumbers, its never ending learning....

    1. Tracey! LOL OMG I just emails I can't imagine talking to someone with stars in their eyes. As a business owner......... yes, sell them all the stuff! And that first tomato just cost $125.00. Walk away from the seeds....... For the first time ever I have slugs! But I agree, every year it's something! I put cukes out yesterday and hope we are out of Jack Frost's woods for now. I am really good at lettuce, garlic and potatoes, everything else is crap shoot! But hope Springs eternal up here at happy acres so were just going with it. I have figured out I need to put up a two year supply of fruit as the weather is so crazy we now get shut out of whole seasons. Looks like no peaches this year!