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Monday, August 27, 2012

Gardening: A Life-Changing Experience


This morning I want to share an essay I wrote some time back. It's all about my second passion - gardening. Hope you enjoy!

Thirty-odd years ago we followed our dream and moved a small farmhouse onto seventeen acres of land in East Texas. Part of the back-to-the-land movement, our goal was to grow and raise our own food and become as self-sufficient as possible.

The nearest town was named Big Sandy and we soon discovered why. To get our property’s sandy soil to a state where it would absorb and hold moisture took tons of grass cuttings and leaves which we collected and hauled back home in our pickup. Each Sunday when we went to the nearest city for lunch, before heading home we’d cruise suburban developments and fill the truck’s bed with bags left for the trash collectors.

Ah-h-h, those first tomatoes and peppers and green beans and lettuce. Soon we were carrying sacks of cucumbers and squash back to distribute among our city friends. An asparagus bed I laboriously planted yielded high rewards for years to come. Those first years were busy ones as I divided my time between caring for the garden and continuing to clear more of the brush and briars that claimed the land.

I planted fruit trees; apples, peaches and a pear tree. This pear tree continues to provide food for the colony of squirrels that share the land with us. For a few years our grapevines produced juicy fruit, enough to can juice, until a virus wiped out the vines.

When I became enraptured with herbs, I sought out and collected as many different herbs as I could find. At one time, I had over one hundred different varieties. This necessitated creating additional beds which meant collected more grass clippings and making more compost. Eventually I began a small business, selling the plants I propagated. Especially useful was the shade house my husband built for me. In the winter, we would wrap it with 4-mil plastic, making it useful for overwintered tender plants inside. Early spring days, when the weather curtailed outdoor activity, I would step inside and delight in the protective warmth of its plant-encouraging environment.

We live in Zone 8 so our biggest gardening challenge lies in helping plants survive the torturous summer heat. This year, for example, we have already had ten solid days of 100 ยบ weather and it’s just the middle of June. Shade cloths comes into use frequently. Living in Texas gives us two planting seasons. Fickle winter weather sometimes takes out the early planting of tender vegetables. Yet, we brave its unreliability, planting peas in January and setting out tender plants like tomatoes sometimes before the last predicted frost.

As the years progressed, my efforts to grow our own food slowed. These days I concentrate on flowers, setting out bulbs and perennials, then filling in with annuals. I’ve come to learn what our temperamental part of the world will allow me to grow and what cannot endure those long hot summer days.

But whatever I grow, gardening continues to be a life-changing experience.

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