I admit it: much of what I know about growing food (as opposed to the much less trendy purchase of it at the grocery store) was gleaned from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books (You know, Little House on the Prairie) during my formative years. On the one hand, you have those charming Garth Williams illustrations of rosy-cheeked girls with pigtails and Rockwellian family life and the strong sense that prairies make lovely backyards in which to run barefoot, but then on the other, you’ve got a steady stream of fire, plagues of grasshoppers, drought and crows decimating the corn crop.
Give a bookish girl a diet of such books when she’s seven and then fast forward twelve years and what’ve you got? An undergraduate whose final essay for Spanish 103 answered the question What do you foresee for your future? (translated to English as, alas, Spanish 103 doesn’t stick with you very long) with a scenario that involved a big white house, lots of land, a fruitful garden outside, and kids tumbling around the family hearth like puppies. I did envision that there might be a desk somewhere in the picture, where I would be busy writing, but otherwise, my vision of the future contained very little that could be considered a … career.
Ahh, The Garden! The first garden I remember was the one my parents planted when I was three, when my idea of helping was to dig up a row of peas soon after they were planted to see if they “were growing yet.” A true child of the seventies, I absorbed all this earthy-crunchy behavior — composting, organic gardening, etc — to such an extent that during the above-mentioned undergraduate days I baked bread for potential boyfriends (unfortunately, 22 year old men did not appreciate this gesture as highly as they should’ve) and as soon as I moved from GA to Texas, bought a hoe and packets of seeds and attempted to plant a garden in the hardest, grayest, driest, most infertile dirt known to man.
But life brought me back in Georgia 10 years ago, and since this is the kind of ground I know how to cultivate, I always have a garden. Some years are more successful than others. I’ve battled blossom end rot and squash borers and drought myself, but not until this year have I felt like the stereotypical image of the beleaguered farmer, shaking his fist at the damage done his crops by (insert pest name here). Squash bugs have made lace of the leaves of the zucchini. Pill bugs have left the immature summer squash to lie like casualties on a battle field. The squirrels…
The squirrels. They started with the unripe, golf ball sized apples: were not in the least deterred by the aluminum pie plates tied into the tree (the first unsuccessful internet tip) or homemade anti-squirrel spray concocted from cayenne, chile powder, tabasco sauce and murphy’s oil soap (the second internet suggestion). One drop of this stuff in your eyes and you’d be blind for life, but does it give the squirrels a second’s pause? Maybe they’re Mexican squirrels, Elder Girleen suggested, referring to their apparent love of spice, as politically incorrect as such an observation might be.
And now they’ve started in on the tomatoes. And the figs. My visions of enough tomatoes to gift extras to the neighbors are going up in smoke. The fig preserves I’ve imagined lining the pantry shelf: no go.
The internet-ordered netting to throw over the plants will arrive next week, but at the rate we’re going, that might be too late.
Thank God I don’t have to feed a family of four from this endeavor: 2 summer squash and a handful of beans do not much of a harvest make.