Hunched over like Quasimodo the other day while I hacked a trench with a mattock and then dropped pinpoint-size kale seeds into damp garden soil (why do they have to be so blasted tiny?!), I nonetheless found myself humming "Garden Song," David Mallet's iconic folk song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary:
Inch by inch, row by row,
I'm gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
and a piece of fertile ground.
Granted, the song does mention the need for "pullin' weeds and pickin' stones," but by and large it implies all you need to produce fruits and vegetables – besides the aforementioned rake, hoe and fertile ground – are some seeds, sun and rain tumbling down. Oh, and it helps if you "temper them with prayer and song."
Would that it were so easy.
Not that I'm complaining – I knew what I was getting into years ago after having evolved beyond tossing a handful of zucchini seeds into a patch of dirt behind the house.
Loyal readers will recall my constant battles with voracious deer and catbirds, which for the time being I have prevailed only because I toiled for weeks constructing a 10-foot-high fence around the entire 500-foot garden perimeter, along with framework for netting that covers blueberry plants and grapevines.
These defenses may have stymied four-legged and feathered freeloaders, but were easily penetrated last year by another invader: a fleet of Japanese beetles, which almost overnight devoured all my Brussels sprouts and grape leaves. By the time I discovered the infestation the damage had been done.
Spraying insecticide is not an option, and I have neither the desire nor patience to pluck beetles one by one and drop them into a jar of kerosene, which some old-time farmers recommend.
All right, enough about failure and frustration – let's move on to reward and satisfaction.
First of all, I was thrilled – thrilled! – a few weeks ago to see garlic shoots poking through barely thawed soil. I had saved 25 bulbs from last summer's bumper crop, and then in the fall divided them into 100 cloves that I stuck in the ground and covered with composted cow manure and a 6-inch layer of ground-up leaves.
Planting always requires a leap of faith, especially before a frigid winter, but voila! All 100 cloves germinated into new plants, so by midsummer our home once again will be redolent with the intoxicating aroma of sautéed garlic – not to mention vampire-free.
After I planted four rows of kale the other day I also put in about a dozen rows of peas and onions. Later, when the weather warms, I'll add tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans and other veggies. As much as I crave broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts I'll skip the cruciferous plants, which seem to require more maintenance, and stick to ones that produce a reliable harvest.
Earlier in the week I also transplanted about 100 pine and spruce seedlings from a makeshift nursery adjoining the garden to various places in the woods where I've cut trees for firewood. Next week I'm picking up another 100 tree seedlings that eventually will find their way into the forest after they've had a couple years in the nursery developing firmer root systems.
Yes, you do grow a garden inch by inch and row by row, but another line from Mallett's classic song also resonates:
Mother earth can keep you strong if you give her love and care.