Inch By Inch, Row By Row, I'm Gonna Make This Garden Grow – Even If It Kills Me

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.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Two's Company, Three Hundred's A Crowd – On The Trail Or On A Sidewalk

While kayaking the 341-mile Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany a few years ago I spotted another paddler a mile or so away headed in my direction. Having encountered only one or two other kayaks nearly a week into what turned out to be an...

Wouldn't It Be Wonderful To Hibernate?

When I pried a rock up with a mattock the other day, rushing to finish a small retaining wall before the ground froze, I inadvertently disturbed a hibernating spotted salamander’s winter home.

Happy Days Are Here Again: Cheap Fuel And Gas-Guzzlers!

Isn’t life great?! Gas is so cheap now I can get rid of my puny, poky, fuel-efficient econobox and get behind the wheel of an auto with plenty of ponies under the hood that any American would be proud to drive, just like the good...

Siri To The Rescue!

"Siri, how much farther to the summit?"

A-hunting We Will Go

Blam! Blam! Blam!

Urban Excursions: Finding Adventure In The Big City

A brisk autumn breeze scattered crimson maple leaves that fluttered from trees lining a pond glittering in the morning sun as my friend Bob Graham and I loped along a narrow path the other morning.

My Friend The Log Splitter: Leaf Blowers Notwithstanding, Not All Machines Are Evil

After my overwhelming victory last year in a rake vs. leafblower contest I hoped I’d heard the last of those infernal, noisy, polluting contraptions — but while out for a run the other day, savoring the fall foliage, a familiar whine as...

Welcome To Steve's Lumberjack Camp

Good morning! I hope you all had a good night’s sleep, enjoyed the griddle cakes and are eager to work off those calories.

At Nayaug Canoe And Kayak Race, A Win Is A Win Is A Win — Sort Of

Race starts are notoriously adventurous — jackrabbits at the line itching to shove and elbow their way into the lead; clueless slowpokes poised for pileups; nerve-jangled competitors, fueled by surging adrenaline, chattering...

Rocks In My Head, Part 37,482

Descending New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in a blizzard some time ago, a friend and I briefly strayed from the ice-encrusted Lion Head Trail – not all that surprising considering wind-whipped snow reduced our visibility to...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

How to freeze your - - - off in four easy steps

I know you’ll find this rather shocking, but all those white things in the new picture of me aren’t really snowflakes – they’re feathers from an old pillow, which we thought would be a clever way to illustrate a...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

Forget San Juan Capistrano – If You Want to See Hundreds of Thousands of Swallows, Check Out the Lower Connecticut River

Like the first snowflakes of an approaching blizzard, a small flurry of tiny birds flitted across the slow-moving water of the Connecticut River earlier this week, just as the sun began to dip below the western bank in Old Saybrook.