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
Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there was a small vegetable farm or a
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
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,
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.
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
course I had no idea what I was doing. Some of the crops grew to maturity
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
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
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
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
So I gave up on the garden. The following year my parents
there with a little more success than I had. After that they used
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