Friday, June 4, 2010

So I had these seeds....

When I was a little girl, my grandfathers were my heroes. They had both been farmers and both had been displaced from their farms and were living on tiny acres and half-acres compared to their previous many acres. By the time I was old enough to spend time with them, digging, hoeing, planting, trapping gofers or whatever, they were in their sixties and had been growing things most of their lives.

Much of my sucked, really, but when I was with my grandfathers in their gardens...nothing else mattered. The sky was blue, the air was crisp (it was usually just after dawn), there was moisture on the plants. Things smelled good and looked good and a little kid that didn't have a lot to look forward to could believe that the day was going to be OK. Life was gonna be OK.

Those gardens were magic and my grandfathers were magicians! They could make anything come out of the ground. Small round hard green pebbles would go in, and a few days later, soft green tendrils would begin shooting up the stakes in the ground and it only seemed like days later that we'd be eating fresh peas right out of their pods. Row after row of bare earth would sprout into green labyrinths of corn plants so tall that I could use the rows as secret hideouts.

My grandfathers produced food with their bare hands and although we didn't have a lot of money, we never lacked for food. In fact, our property was where all the other neighborhood kids wanted to play. We could play in my grandfather's gardens all day, because we had ready-to-eat snacks and water to drink right out of the garden hoses. There was never any reason to leave. Many times we'd still be playing far past dark and only my mother or grandmother hollering at us to come in and eat dinner could entice us away from our magic gardens.

And my grandparents were smart. They'd all gone through the Depression and had the effects of being dirt poor grafted into their bones. I didn't know it then, but everything they did had been informed by the Depression. For instance, my grandmother "put up" nearly everything my grandfather grew. She could can corn, tomatoes, rhubarb, peas, beans; you name it, she canned it. She also dried peaches, apricots and grapes. She had a huge pressure cooker and Ball canning jars were always piling up in the sink or drying in a rack, or being filled with something yummy.

My grandfather kept things, and I don't mean just a few things. He kept everything that he could get his hands on. Wood, pipe, barrels, nails, machinery, name it, he either stashed it in his multitude of sheds and barns or he piled it out back in the corner of the property.

For years, my grandmother had an old tub clothes washer on the front porch. The thing was ancient, probably something grandpa had traded or bartered for. It had a crank mechanism in which you fed the clothes between two rollers to ring out the excess water before hanging them up. When finished with a load of laundry, grandpa would pick up the tub and poor the water into the flower gardens that surrounded the porch. Later, when grandma finally got a modern electric washing machine (she didn't get a dryer until much later), grandpa ran a pipe that fed the dirty "gray water" into the bed.

My aunt has also been a garden mentor to me throughout my life. Her gardens have always been spectacular things of beauty. She has been creating calming, serene, whimsical or rustic garden "rooms" for twenty-five years. I can't tell you how many hours and days we spent in her gardens, planning, building rock walls planting, watering and at last, enjoying the green spaces she created for us to enjoy. Her gardens were gifts to us.

My grandparents and my aunt sowed the seeds of eco-conscious gardening & farming into my brain as a child. They were BIG into recycling, saved everything, reused almost everything, re-routed gray water, composted, mulched, and practiced eco-agriculture before it was cool. It was this kind of "use everything but don't sacrifice beauty" philosophy that has brought me to my present project.

I've been reading about backyard suburban farming and co-op urban gardens for years and I've wanted to try something like it. Every year I've said "this is gonna be the year I do it" and yet April sneaks by me, then it's May and too late for cold frames but too early still to start directly in the ground, and the wind (which is every New Mexican gardener's Achilles heel) begins and dries out the soil. June would be perfect but I've forgotten to buy hay for mulch or a part for my drip system. July is too hot to really start anything, August is when we get the picture. Has this happened to you?

Well...this year I've finally done it. I went out and purchased all of my seeds in March, starting them in flats in the garden shack. I ignored the roof of the shack through which you can now see big patches of New Mexico's gorgeous blue sky, and forged ahead anyway (the shack's rotting roof used to be one of my best excuses). This year I've decided to resurrect my grandparent's motto, their credo, their secret weapon. This year I've decided to "Make the best of what I've got" The seeds of this idea were sown long ago. We'll see how it goes.....

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