July 8, 2013

A Canuck in Kantuck: Growing our garden

By Tara Kaprowy

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Last fall, after another poor show in my harvest, my husband William gave into building me a proper garden. For years, I had made do with the existing landscape in the front of the house, with me inconspicuously planting tomatoes and beans, cukes and peas wherever space would allow. But the big hill behind our house made that slice of space decidedly shady and my tomatoes especially, though they’d grow and grow to try to find the sun, never produced much of anything.

So last fall, we called Josh Samples at Minks and started hammering out a plan. It soon expanded not just from a garden but to adding 15 trees around the yard and making the garden space organically shaped, irrigated and split into two levels with the help of a pretty limestone wall.

In December, once the project was complete, I had a beautiful blank canvas that, in fact, was every bit the shape of a painter’s palette. Now it was up to me to fill it.

Work started slowly in March with a spring planting of lettuce, onions, peas and carrots. Then a small addiction to visiting Gina’s Greenhouse and Laurel Gardens followed in which I picked up tray upon tray of interesting flowers and delighted in learning all of their names (and, whoops, promptly forgetting them). My own seed-growing experience was mostly a flop, so soon I was heading back to these places to pick up seedlings for nearly every vegetable on the planet.

And then there was the wait.

The wait, unfortunately, was a little too long. And by that I mean I didn’t monitor the growth closely enough so that by June, green had taken over the garden and it wasn’t my vegetables and flowers that were doing it. Instead, it was weeds. Lots of them. Of every shape, every variety. Poison ivy. Crab grass. Bermuda grass. Ones that sprout yellow flowers. Ones that sprout purple flowers. Ones that looks like ornamental grasses. Ivy with marijuana-shaped leaves.

I had cheerfully borrowed my father-in-law’s hoe in May. In June, I started using it along with the handy-dandy weeding tool my husband got me for my birthday.

And so for the past month, if you couldn’t find me in the house, you’d find me in the painter’s palette.

During those hours outside, I’ve realized that, like “muffins” are really just “cake” and “dressage” is really just “horse back riding,” the word “gardening” is really just a fancy, pretty word for “weeding.” Sure, there is some planting at the beginning, but for the most part, you’re spending most of your time with the problem child in the classroom while the gifted ones are left to work on their own.

Weeding is also just another form of cleaning, though, granted, you get to be outside and you don’t have to use stinky Scrubbing Bubbles. Of course, while you’re outside cleaning, the inside of your house is still getting dirty so you are, in fact, doubling your workload.

When I first discovered that the garden had gotten taken over by weeds — after a rainy week and then five days out of town — I pluckily decided I’d spend a few hours outside and get things back in order. When after three hours I’d only made six square feet of progress, I knew I was in for the long haul.

Part of the reason for my slow advancement was due to the soil we have in our garden. In addition to the irrigation and rock wall, we decided to really do it right and replace the soil too. So for days, the guys from Minks diligently removed our clay-packed backfill and replaced it with black, fertile stuff enriched with vitamins and minerals. My husband only half-jokingly refers to it as our gourmet dirt.

Anyway, that dirt means that when I weed I am disinclined to throw any of it away, so the roots of all the weeds need to be shaken free of any debris, which of course takes time.

Unfortunately, I sound like I’m complaining, when I’ve actually truly, truly enjoyed the process. Turns out getting rid of weeds is extremely therapeutic, and my garden is actually nearly perfect now, aside from that whole back end part. Tomatoes are starting to blush on the vine. My sunflowers are hip height. My edamame had a bit of a problem with deer but are coming back. My lettuce bed was an utter success. All this and I’ve gotten a killer tan too.

The best part is that after a long day outside, I get to bring my husband to the back and show him the progress I’ve made. We get to talk about flowers and vegetables together, we inspect the new growth on the trees we planted, and we get to watch the irrigation pipes rise like submarines and sprinkle everything with a drink. And all that has finally turned summer into summer for me.