Backseat Rice Patties and Rotting Celery: Fond Gardening Mishaps

To be honest, we don’t actually know if it was the rice that was growing or if the rice acted as growing medium for some mushrooms to sprout. Just the same, the moral of the story is this: use the back seat more often.

Written February 13, 2012.

The wind gusted a wild, wintery 37 mph while I ran today here in Montana. That’s strong enough to give you a “brain freeze” headache through a stocking cap. More impressively, on the best gusts of wind, my spit sailed ten feet through the air before landing. As I ran on the hard frozen gravel and dodged ice patches, my mind was off in Minnesota digging in warm dirt and planting a garden and flowers. I blame the Gurney’s Seed Catalog.

When the catalog appears in the mail box, I greet its arrival with the same excitement I had for the JC Penney Christmas Catalog as a kid. When I was five, I pored over the toy section in the catalog, absorbing the images and studying the options. I gleefully circled each and every wonderful thing that I wanted. Even then as a young kid, I fully realized that I would not get all of the circled toys, but just the same, the act of circling the toys made them mine. Circling things was deeply satisfying. And so, a few years ago, when my first seed catalog arrived, I restarted my routine of circling everything I wanted. I did it surreptitiously at first, not really wanting my husband, Jarred, to notice that my inner five year-old was wielding a Sharpie, but then I cast that aside and began circling beautiful growing things with wanton abandon. Daisies! Hydrangeas! Bleeding Hearts! Raspberry bushes! These. Will. Be. Mine. Some day, that is.

Finally, that some day is arriving. This coming summer in Minnesota will usher in a new era of planting fervor at our home. We planted gardens in past summers, but I don’t define them as “real” gardens by my midwest farm girl standards because they either were not on our own land or because the gardens just barely grew to a third of their promised height. As I scheme and dream about the magical things I will grow at our new place this coming summer, I’m taking a little time to reflect back on wonderfully fond memories of gardening mishaps of yesteryear.

In our romantic first summer of marriage, our gardening was simple. Simple, that is, because we didn’t plant a thing. We lived in Poulsbo, WA, a gardener’s paradise, but our yard interests leaned more toward sitting around our bonfire pit until the wee hours of the morning with our friends than pulling weeds out of parsnips. Nonetheless, we did unintentionally grow things that summer.

Rice Patties

In the spring, we started with rice. We got married on the pier a few miles from our house, and our family happily chucked handfuls of rice at us as we got into Jarred’s ’67 Mustang to ride off into the sunset. As luck would have it, sometimes classic cars are not wholly water tight. In dryland Montana, that was never an issue, but in water-logged Western Washington, the rain sometimes seeped in a little when the wind was just right. A few months after getting married, we glanced at the floor mats in the back and noticed that the grains of rice that landed there on our wedding day had indeed started to grow. To be honest, we don’t actually know if it was the rice that was growing or if the rice acted as growing medium for some mushrooms to sprout. Just the same, the moral of the story is this: use the back seat more often.

Rotting Celery

That same summer, cleaning out our fridge one day, I found a few long-forgotten stalks of celery lurking in the back. I took the wilted sad things and, standing on the deck, practiced my spear-throwing technique and launched them toward the woods at the back of our house. Natural composting, if you will. To our complete amazement, when we wandered back to the long-forgotten celery a month or two later, we discovered the celery we left for dead actually put down roots and sprouted new celery. We never checked it again, but the way things grow in Washington, that celery might still be alive today.

Grow celery in 3 easy steps: 1. Abandon celery stalks in fridge until disgusting. 2. Hurl celery into woods to die. 3. Wander by months later and harvest the new crop.

Packrats and Drought

After all of that rain, living in a place where we could harvest a bountiful crop of ‘shrooms right off our roof if we had been interested, a year later we settled in the high plains desert of Broadview, Montana. The annual rainfall in Broadview is just 14 inches (for comparison, Rochester, MN, has an annual rainfall of 30 inches). We settled in Broadview, MT during the peak of a long drought, with precipitation four inches below normal in an already arid land.

Overly optimistic, I planted a little garden under the “shelter” of our trailer house hitch. I watered the garden like crazy, and rabbits and pack rats devoured the little that grew (pack rats are gopher-like varmints that love to chew up your newlywed rubber spatulas when they sneak in at night…but that’s another article). The wind eventually shredded the remainder of the garden that the sun didn’t bake away. My mammoth sunflowers that promised 10-12 foot stalks on the package didn’t even grow waist high. Living is tough with little topsoil in full sun, high wind, prolonged 100 degree temps, and no rain.

Not so Beefy Beefsteaks

A few years and a few kids later, I took on a more modest attempt at Broadview, Montana gardening. If the topsoil’s a bit miserable, a container garden seemed like the answer. I dumped some Miracle Grow potting soil in a terra cotta pot, and lovingly planted a beefsteak tomato plant, dreaming of the softball-sized juicy deliciousness to come. I watered the plant religiously, but in the town of Broadview you can’t just use tap water because the naturally-occurring high level of salts dries out and eventually kills plants. Yep, you can kill plants with kindness here, if the kindness is tap water. So, I watered my tomatoes using our drinking water that comes in those big, blue 5-gallon water cooler jugs. At the end of the summer, I harvested a disheartening six cherry-sized “beefsteak” tomatoes. After working so hard to grow them, the tomatoes seemed too special to just gobble up, so I kept them on the counter like a museum exhibit. The water investment alone was about $30, for six tiny tomatoes that slowly shriveled up and then eventually got thrown away. A tomato travesty.

This year, though, things will be different. I will plant my garden in the land of milk and honey, in the black dirt and plentiful rain of SE MN. And of course, I will plant it in the style I learned growing up: Plant with zeal and tend to it closely all the way through June. Then, interest will wane as the humidity increases, and by August, the garden will be left to it’s own devices. In September, I will dig through waist high weeds and with amazement find pails of tomatoes and cucumbers that overflow cake pans. And it will be grand. See you next week.

© 2012

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One thought on “Backseat Rice Patties and Rotting Celery: Fond Gardening Mishaps

  1. Gardening this year is not exactly following your plan. First hard rain washes away the seeds and now dry and hurting plants.

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