My Brush with Agriculture
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I was twelve when I became interested in agriculture - the raising of vegetables for food and profit. I have no idea what sparked my interest. Possibly it was the move from suburban Massachusetts to rural New Hampshire. Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there was a small vegetable farm or a herd of lowing cows. Some people even called my state Cow Hampshire.

Having nothing better to do one day, I dug up the dirt around a large rock in our yard and planted nasturtiums. In weeks, where old scraps of wood once festered, fine green plants grew and blossomed. The transformation was satisfying, and the praise I got was pure icing.

Setting my sights on an unused field across the road, I got my parents' permission to dig up a long, rectangular plot, this time with the use of a rototiller. And using that contraption was almost a story in itself. Gardening magazines at the time used to advertise the latest in rototiller technology - a machine with rotating tines in the back, not the front. The ads always included two drawings, one showing a manly gardener guiding his new, rear-tined beauty with just one finger. The other drawing showed the same guy using the older, front-tined jalopy. Holding on tight with both hands, his whole body shook (motion lines radiating from arms and back) and you knew this guy was having an especially rough time because his cap was always flying off. That was the kind of rototiller I used.

The herky-jerky roto-motion tested my arm strength to the utmost, but I hung onto the beast (and my hat) and finally finished the job. I fertilized the plot with fresh manure from a horse farm and later seeded it for all kinds of vegetables.

Of course I had no idea what I was doing. Some of the crops grew to maturity (stubby carrots and a few handfuls of peas) and the raccoons helped themselves to my corn, but I was too young and inexperienced to realize the soil was too wet and claylike to grow much of anything.

Plus, the field was bowl-shaped. Not much of a problem that first year, but a major one in the second. That was when the rains came.

I had expanded my plot to twice its size, planted fistfuls of seeds, and flung manure like a madman. The seeds sprouted and grew, but a few days of unrelenting rain turned my garden into a lake. You could have water-skied on it. I can still see the row of green beans up to their stems in water, doomed to slow death by drowning.

Almost everything else drowned, too - lettuces, beets, Swiss chard. They seemed to call out to me in plaintive, underwater voices: "Heeeelp uusssss," but there was nothing I could do. One thing that came from my experience was a new empathy for farmers who lost crops or faced similar disaster.

So I gave up on the garden. The following year my parents planted tomatoes there with a little more success than I had. After that they used my rock garden, letting the field return to sod.

What do I grow today? Nothing at all. I did try some nasturtiums a few summers back, but I could barely see the blooms from the kitchen window. Every houseplant I've ever owned died. My biggest success was the ivy plant that stood on my file cabinet at work. For years, a once-a-week watering was all it needed to thrive, until one day the whole thing mysteriously turned brown.

Do you suppose manure would have helped?

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