Making Hay
Week of June 6th, 2011 | Cold Spell following Record Heat

A Garden Story

By Sarah Holm

Spring is a revolution. Every year I watch the struggle between Old Man Winter and the sun and wonder who will win. This year we nearly missed our spring. My fellow students and I were joyfully walking around in shorts for a few days only to have it snow again. The first few weeks of May found strange get-ups on everyone on campus—bare legs sticking out of winter coats, dresses paired with snow boots, and that fashion statement I sincerely hope is only found in Northern Wisconsin—sandals and socks.

But the revolutionary forces of spring did eventually conquer, if only for a few weeks. The animals and plants on our dairy farm are quickly rushing into summer. If anyone dares to complain about the pell-mell pace of the warm weather they are met with an old joke.

“Well you know what they say about the seasons in Wisconsin, don’t you?”

“What?” One must respond obligingly.

“There are only two. Winter and road construction.”

This spring I instigated a revolution of my own. For years I have struggled to maintain our large garden. I love watching things grow, adore messing around in the dirt, and get an immense satisfaction out of any harvest. But every year the garden and I go through the same routine. I plant it, keep ahead of the weeds until July, and then, when the hot sun prevents the movement of everything but the weeds, the weeds take over and I venture back out in September through waist high foliage to hunt for vegetables.

Every year I vow to not let the weeds win. I make plans for organization, swear to not plant more than I can manage, and obtain promises of help from my other family members. Things improve a little, but the end result is the same.

But this year spring came so late I was given time to think. I hadn’t dared to venture out into the mess of mud and skeletons of weeds that was the garden, so I had stuck to my flower beds. I was kneeling by the side of one bed that is filled with violets and my thoughts began to float over my history of gardening. The violets were crisp and clean and beautiful, but what I loved the most about them was their wildness. I had rescued them from the lawn years ago as just slivers of roots and they had thrived in the gravely soil of the old farmhouse’s eldest flower bed. I had thrown large rocks in between them to catch the water from the roof and they climbed over and around them and poked their buds through cracks. I thought guiltily for a second that they should be controlled. It wasn’t respectable to let your flowers act like weeds.

Suddenly the thought hit me that they were my flowers. What is more, these were my flowerbeds, and it was my garden. Although I did all the work I still thought of everything as belonging to my mother and grandmother. I realized that I was trying to plant in a way that pleased my mom, almost copying exactly what she had taught me years ago as a little girl.

This blinding flash of the obvious continued. I realized that my mom loved to line plants up and tie them up straight and mulch in between them and color coordinate everything just so. I didn’t want my flowers to line up. I wanted them to have company. I didn’t want my vegetables to be in rows. I just wanted lots of them.  I didn’t want plants to grow in certain places. I wanted to let them grow wherever and however they wanted to.

So I revolutionized the garden. First, I cut it to half its size. It is now only thirty feet long and thirty wide. I cut out the wet spot that always flooded and announced to my dad that it was to be lawn. I took the daylilies that had been told to grow in a line against the fence and put them into a big circle. I took some old boards and created seven square shaped raised beds. I dug up the strawberries one by one and put them into one of the box beds so tightly together that I would never have to weed them. I used the extra fencing from shortening the dimensions to reinforce the areas where the chickens were getting in. I moved the gate and its attached bluebird nest (complete with babies) from the center of the garden to the side simply because it was easier.

Best of all, my family helped me. Apparently my stranglehold on tradition for fear of disapproval was simply a construct of my imagination. My mom was happy to be left with a garden that one person could manage. My dad was delighted to have the eyesore in his lawn at least reduced in size, if not eliminated. My great-uncle Jon even came over to plow up the ground with his little tractor.

I wish I had taken a picture of my uncle plowing. Our chickens had come running over at the sight of the newly turned dirt and there was a busily scratching red chicken for every two square feet. They moved in waves away from the tractor as it slipped on the mud and tore through the dirt. I was a bit put-out when I discovered they were gobbling up all my earthworms, but it couldn’t be helped.

When he was done, my uncle put the tractor in idle and we talked for a bit as we stood in the newly turned dirt. He lives in a little spot in our woods and is visited by herds of deer and other wild animals. He had seen some gray foxes the other day. I was surprised to learn they could climb trees.

“Well I suppose I should go,” he said, and turned and walked toward the tractor.

“Thank you so much for your help,” I smiled, feeling a bit self-conscious now that I was in his debt. I thought of a remedy, but he already had eggs.

“I have to remember to not to drive on your driveway,” he pretended to grumble as he climbed into the seat.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“Because your father hates it when the dirt from the tires gets on the blacktop. He won’t even let me take the gator on it.”

“Well please do listen to him! I’m the one who has to sweep the driveway when it gets dirty!” I laughed.

He kept grumbling as he drove off.

“Makes me drive on the lawn! It’s like geez! What is this— the servant’s quarters? I’m not allowed to use the front door? No, no, you can’t come up here, go up the back steps! Why I…”

I laughed and waved as he drove away. A few minutes later my mother drove by on the riding lawn mower as I was planting some gladiolus bulbs in a big bunch between my hazelnut tree saplings. She slowed down and frowned as she saw the circular hole.

“You aren’t going to line them up against the fence?” She gestured with her hand.

I took a deep breath and smiled.

“Nope!”

“How sad.” She sighed and made a little pouty face, but then winked at me and drove past.

Exuberant, I pushed the dirt over the bulbs… my bulbs.

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Comments

jill from from los angeles on July 6, 2011 at 05:56:58 PM
fun story
Sarah from from Elk Mound on June 21, 2011 at 07:22:22 PM
Hi Susan! I think it would be best for your chickens if you supplimented their diet with some corn or some "small grains" like oats or barley. Our family's chickens are entirely free-range, but we still suppliment their diet to ensure a steady supply of eggs. We feed a few pounds of corn a day and give them table scraps. You can tell if your chickens are getting enough food in several ways. First, if they are laying eggs regularly, secondly, if they look healthy and not too thin. Finally, in the level of interest they give their food. If they aren't interested in it, they probably aren't hungry.
Susan from from Lafayette, Louisiana on June 20, 2011 at 10:36:31 AM
Thank you for the lovely story, Making Hay.

I'm a city girl and have never had chickens. But, if chickens are protected with chicken wire cages so they have room to roam and eat insects, and are protected from hawk and owls, cats, dogs, and other smaller predators, could the earthworms, and insects feed them enough that one would not need to worry about not getting enough alfalfa or chicken scratch?
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