Little hearts filled with dirt and sunshine and the promise of amazing things that would someday soon be growing in the garden.
The dirt’s been flying at our place lately (sometimes even in a productive direction), and aside from another 15 minutes of daylight to throw a few more seed packets into the ground, the garden is planted! And like a garden probably should be, the whole thing has been a community effort.
This whole garden process started before we even moved in, when we had conversations about the best spot to make our garden in our new yard. It wasn’t until we actually moved in that we discovered there already was a garden plot, and a massive 5,000 sq. ft. one at that.
It’s funny, but it never dawned on us at first or second or even third glance that the giant weed patch north of our chicken coup, the one full of forbidding-looking adult-sized weed stalks, was the garden. After being left to its own devices last summer while the house sat empty, it looked like the kind of place where a kid and dog wander in, and then they emerge somehow three years older.
We set out to reclaim it. My husband, Jarred, knocked down the dead stalks and then we burned the entire garden to get rid of it all. On the night of the burn, we lit the garden on fire a little before sunset when the wind died down to the right amount. Our five-year-old boy didn’t come into the house until well after dark, hands streaked with black ash and a grin glued on his face, happily helping out on a job that involved hanging out with Dad and lighting things on fire.
Then, a few weeks later, we had a neighbor chisel plow the whole thing for us, as a trade for use of some shop space. Plowing doesn’t make the soil as smooth as tilling the garden, but we knew it would get the job done, so a few days later, we started planting with our pumpkins. The day we started planting the garden was one of those days that I could happily take repeated all summer long: clear blue sky and sunshine, warm but not too hot or humid, and calm.
As we were out there in the sunshine, another set of neighbors noticed us as they drove past our place, and later they pulled into our yard and offered to bring a tractor and their tiller, and turn it all into that smooth, crumbly black goodness that’s so great to plant in. We could hardly believe that our neighbors were offering to till up our garden for us, not exactly a small undertaking.
We accepted their offer, and half an hour later, just as I was pulling the ol’ pot roast out of the oven for supper, sure enough, there was a tractor in our yard, tilling up the garden and carefully avoiding the far end where we already put in pumpkins. Sometimes we just shake our heads in disbelief that we’ve stumbled into an area with such friendly, helpful neighbors, and we only hope that over the years we can return the kindnesses, as well.
With the garden now tilled, I put some meat in the bellies of our four ravenous little kids, and then we turned them loose on the garden. I don’t think any of them have memories of what a freshly tilled garden is like, so tearing into that pristine, gigantic, smooth pile of blackness was brand new and pure ecstasy for all of them.
They tore all over the garden, leaving little sunken foot print trails on our big black tabula rasa. Then our oldest two, setting the proper example, began digging like dogs. Heads down, using their hands to burrow some holes, they sent rivers of dirt flying up between their legs, and took turns digging and flinging the dirt piles on each other.
Meanwhile, our two-year-old made dirt fountains that launched up over his head, and our baby took her bow-legged just-learned-to-walk steps across the soil, frequently landing on her back side, which made convenient opportunities to stop and sift the dirt in her pudgy fingers and sample enough to leave a dirt goatee around her mouth.
Then, of course, it was time for business. The kids got out the shovels and hoes, argued over who got to run what, and dug up all sorts of vitally important random holes in the garden.
During planting, we added a few kid-friendly features to the garden. We trimmed our smaller maple trees earlier that day, and the cast off branches became the interwoven stakes for what is going to be a bean tent, once the beans grow in and wind themselves up the stakes. Right now it’s still fun as a maple-tree-branch-tent, and it’s been strong enough to withstand a few raging thunderstorms unscathed. (That’s what happens when an engineer whips up a little 5-minute branch tent for his kids.)
We also took our package of mammoth sunflower seeds and planted them in a large square, so that when those 10-foot buggers grow in, the kids can tuck themselves inside and have a secret hiding space, which of course, is extremely important. One can never have enough secret hiding places. Our kids officially named it the Sunflower Garage, because it’s next to the Bean Tent. It’s also important that secret hiding places have names.
In the midst of our playing, Jarred managed to actually plant several things and I got some seeds in the ground, too. For the record, and for Jarred’s mom’s benefit, I must state that Jarred did the majority of the planting. His mom told me on several occasions that back in high school, when she asked him to help with planting potatoes, there was an extreme amount of protest about gardening from her son. But this year, he was planter-in-chief.
By the time our kids finished their garden free-for-all, they had just enough energy to help sprinkle a few seeds, and then I decided bath time was the next order of business. A fine powder of black dirt coated their ears and stuck to all of their scalps, not to mention their clothes.
The dirt river heading to the drain after they’d all been cycled through our claw foot tub was nothing short of impressive. We were all happy that night as I sent them off to bed nice and clean, their little hearts filled with dirt and sunshine and the promise of amazing things that would someday soon be growing in the garden.
Written June 4, 2012.