Life is Worth Living

Is That Your Garden?

The Flops and Foibles of Gardening in 2020

As I stand in my yard and look around at the deeply wooded ridges and valleys, I think, Humph, I’m not in Kansas anymore.

Actually, I never was in Kansas, but I was living on those same Great Plains for nearly four decades, and now I’m not.  This is my first year gardening in the “Driftless Area” near the Mississippi River.  Driftless Area is a technical term referring to 24,000 square miles of steep, forested ridges that the last Glacier Period neglected to iron out.

In other words, we have zero flat spots in our yard in which to place a neat and orderly garden.

No matter, though!  We’re figuring it out.  Gardening is worth it after all, even if one doesn’t have a green thumb.  Today I’ll show you what our family has done this year, and by doing so, I hope to accomplish one thing:

To give hope and inspiration to those of you who find gardening horribly tedious or overwhelming, like me.

Now, if you’ve got a beautifully well-managed garden, this post will still be for you too, because perhaps, by reading about those of us struggling to keep our thumbs green, you may be inspired to give us your extra lettuce and rhubarb.  For heaven knows ours didn’t grow.

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Check out my pathetic rhubarb plant.

Gardening Tip #1:  Get Somebody to Help

Now I’m the mother of 7 little children.  I need help.  Thankfully my husband is more than willing to bust out the power tools and build something.  Earlier this spring he built a little garden box into the hillside because as I said before, we have zero flat spots in our yard for a traditional garden.

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You may remember this photo from April?

And here it is today:

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This box features one tomato plant, two pepper plants, two broccoli plants, and some basil.  Originally I had planted mint, but it didn’t come up.  I have no idea why.  So after about a month, I drove over to the local nursery to see if they had any vegetables left to buy.  This was really smart on my part because they were practically giving away the remainder of their broccoli plants and jalapeños for free.

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Broccoli.  Looks like some bugs are eating it already.

I’ve never planted broccoli, but I thought, why not?  And my husband loves jalapeños.  So we’re giving it a shot.

But that little box is hardly big enough for everything I wanted to plant.  And so, that leads me to my next Gardening Tip:

Gardening Tip #2:  Get More Help: Enlist the Children

Last year we tried something new.  We told our children that if they wanted to earn some money, they could plant a garden, and I’d buy all the produce.  And they actually did it.  They bought seed with their own money, planted some potatoes, onions, and pumpkins, and took care of it, and I bought it all.  It wasn’t a lot, mind you, but it was worth it.

This year, we knew we’d have to get more creative.  Just where were we going to dig up some earth for the Children’s Garden?  Well, why not try on the hillside?

So, the boys carried up their folding saws and bow saws and hacked away at the sumac in order to clear a patch of earth.  Then my husband hauled up the tiller and did his best to rip up the ground.  Naturally the soil wasn’t fertile, so we added some peat moss and Holy Water.  Lastly, the whole thing had to be surrounded by a deer fence, if we hoped to enjoy any of the produce ourselves.

And this is what we ended up with:

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Notice all the horrid sumac surrounding the thing.

Admittedly, it’s rather small, but I guess something is better than nothing.  This little garden boasts of a pumpkin plant, a few onions, some green beans, a pepper plant, and two tomato plants.

Here is a close up of the pumpkin and pepper:

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I know it’s hard to see through the deer fence, but the pumpkin is in the right corner and the pepper is in the upper left.  The onions in the background aren’t worth even mentioning…

And here’s the tomato plants:

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They look rather unruly.

They had planted cucumbers in there too, but they chose not to grow, which is just as well as they’d likely have vined all over the place.

I tried to get the children to plant beets, as they’re one of my favorite vegetables to roast and eat, but alas, the children positively refused.  They insisted that there was no room for such nasty-tasting roots, which leads me to my third Gardening Tip:

Gardening Tip #3:  Plant Vegetables Instead of Marigolds

Now this hurts me a little, as I love flowers, but if those rebellious children won’t plant beets, somebody’s got to!  So, instead of a row of marigolds, I planted a row of beets (and some onions) right by our front door.

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See the beets and onions in the front row?

Anyone can see that neither vegetable is truly thriving.  I’d like to blame this on the hail that went through a month ago, but really it’s because I’ve got a two-year-old who walks all over it too.

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Oh, but she’s cute!

In the end, I hope this little garden tour inspired you to keep at it, especially if gardening overwhelms you.  It’s always worth it!

Just the other night the children sold me a handful of their green beans.  We haggled over the price.  I told them that the average market price was a $1.68 per pound.  They responded promptly by reminding me that their green beans were organic and likely worth triple that amount.  How outrageous!

Kim's Kitchen, Life is Worth Living

Chopping Tomatoes With Patrick Coffin

I have a tomato problem.  I didn’t think it would come to this, but it has.  There are just too many tomatoes in my garden.  Every day the children are bringing in buckets of them.

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The Latest Bucket

I thought that having six tomatoes plants would be manageable because I treated them so poorly.  In fact they’re just lying all over the ground in a tangled mess.

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Remember this photo from early September?  Utter neglect.

But I guess one can mistreat tomato plants, and they’ll still produce.

This is a problem because I don’t “can.”  I don’t know how to can, nor do I have any desire to can, but I do hate wasting good produce, so lately I’ve been making fresh salsa every day.

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Making fresh salsa.

But that still didn’t get rid of all these tomatoes.

So I sallied forth and made my very first pot of homemade tomato soup.  I did this by roasting a bunch of tomatoes, onions, and garlic first.

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Here’s a pan ready to go into the oven.

Then I blended them all in batches with basil from the garden.

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Blending.

My husband loved this soup, but the children thought it needed a little cream cheese.  Me?  I don’t care, I’m just trying to decide what I’m going to do with these:

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More tomatoes

In the meantime, what have I been listening to while chopping tomatoes?  The Patrick Coffin Show.  Have you heard his September interview with Joseph Pearce?  It’s soooo entertaining!  He and Pearce talk books for an hour and a half.  It’s delightful, especially because they’re mentioning such great books like Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Belloc’s The Path To Rome.

Speaking of good books…if you’ve never read Joseph Pearce’s autobiography Race With the Devil, you should.  I have a tremendous respect for that man.  He went from being the leader of white supremacist group to writing Catholic biographies and editing a series of literature books for Ignatius Press.

Incidentally, my local Saturday Morning Book Club will be reading Pearce’s book Unmasking of Oscar Wilde in a few months.  I can’t wait for it.