Hello, thanks for checking in!! Yesterday Jessica and I spent several hours together in the city, with the aim of installing her first garden. I have so much to tell you and will break this up into parts so you can read what interests you. It’s gonna be long. : )
Lunch and How Love Brings Us Full Circle
First, I picked her up at her new place and we drove south for lunch at the salad bar inside Green Acres health food store on 240. We both love salads and fruits and veggies to the max, and she said she had been craving it a little more than normal, so it was perfect. I loaded an obscene amount of everything into my plastic clamshell box and did not have leftovers.
We sat there talking about life and God’s plans for us and how things don’t always turn out the way we expect. But that His love and intentions for us are always good. She didn’t know that for several months now every message I get from God has been about unconditional trust. We reflected even more on her time in the convent in Germany last spring, on how her first month has been living on her own, and food and health and gardening and budgets.
The salad bar provided an excellent starting point for deciding which of the foods she likes to eat are also feasible for growing in Oklahoma. Not papaya, for example, but definitely cucumbers. We discussed homemade salad dressing and the past and the future.
And about how many small gestures or idiosyncracies she seems to have inherited from me. Ha!
After a refreshing lunch, we walked next door to Big Lots to buy her a shovel and a few other basic things, nothing fancy. (I still use a shovel I bought there over a decade ago!) She selected a pair of polka-dot cotton gardening gloves which were exactly her style but which later while digging in the dirt, she would toss aside because “It feels too impersonal.”
She used to say that when she was a little girl. At our old house in the city, the girls would sift the dirt with their tiny bare hands, twirl the earthworms between their skinny fingers, flood the backyard with hose water for “Mud Monster” days, and more. It was a very backyard-oriented childhood. I am so grateful for that and so thrilled at how much she remembers.
After Big Lots, we drove back toward downtown OKC to stop at Pam’s garden stand near the historic Farmer’s Market. The day was warm and sunny, and the spring winds were combing across row after row of intensely colored petunias, marigolds, begonias, coleus, impatiens, and much more. Ruffles of life and happy energy. We were in heaven. She explored the aisles completely in obedience to her instincts, touching everything gently, marveling at the variety. I could not take my eyes off of her tall, graceful frame. Not very long ago she and her sister were so small they would run between the rows and disappear into the ocean of color, shining brown hair bobbing up and down.
When we reached the building at the furthest corner of the city block, we found the greenhouse filled with vegetable seedlings. Humid and intimate, undecorated, weeds rampant on the edges of the gravel floor which is bordered with railroad timbers and concrete blocks, you step into a space like that and know that something primal and true is happening. The wind whipped hard at the plastic roof, over and over again, and it made my heart race. The plainest of plain handwritten labels, the strongest looking plants. Simplest pricing, almost like the exchange of money is a formality.
I enjoyed an intense memory of the vegetables my Grandpa used to start from seed and the plastic knives he used as labels, each little plant identified in his beautiful slanted handwriting, black magic marker always. “Celebrity,” “Early Girl,” “Beefsteak,” “Best Boy.” I selected one of each of Grandpa’s favorite tomatoes for her, and we found a few new ones too. “Super Fantastic” got a long, good laugh from us both! She was especially happy to scoop up yellow squash babies and cantaloupe vines. Bell peppers, a basil plant, and more. So much fun, this miniature safari expedition to start her very first garden at her very first place.
We paid for our bounty and listened to the growing advice offered for free by the proprietor. Promised to return soon and in the meantime to mound up the soil on that blackberry vine so its feet never stay too wet.
Back at her place, I was amazed again at how much gardening technique Jess remembered from childhood. She used to help me outside all the time, and the familiarity was deeply comforting. She’s an enthusiastic learner, too, so the information that happened to be new fell on eager ears.
We took turns digging the virgin earth and clearing away dry leaves. (I should have brought more tools.) Fortunately, the little garden space next to her little patio was pretty good soil already, just a bit compacted and dotted with a few bricks which we unearthed easily. It was also laced with ivy roots from the adjacent yards. Clearing all of that was a good little exertion on a humid day, and I loved watching her concentrate on the space.
When it was finally time to arrange her tomatoes and peppers and plan the cantaloupe spots, this girl was downright giddy.
I can relate.
There’s so much more to tell, but let me end by saying proudly that she did such a great job on the first day of work and her garden will grow very well under her care. She already texted me this morning asking how I thought the overnights storms will have affected everything.
Veggie Growing Advice from Grandpa Stubbs
Since lately I can scarcely smell a tomato leaf or crush a spent marigold without thinking of Grandpa Stubbs, I hope you’ll indulge me by considering some practical advice from the best gardener I have ever known. And a very special thank you to my girl for listening to so many Grandpa stories yesterday. Telling those stories is how he lives on, and I know he would be thrilled to see his great-granddaughter keeping his old techniques.
- Strip the bottom one or two sets of leaves from the stem and toss those inside your planting hole for good luck. Where you removed leaves and created a small wound, the stem will grow new roots.
- Lean your tomato to the side and place it almost horizontally into the hole, gently guiding the top of the plant skyward. You’ll be amazed at how readily the plant finds its way. Just be gentle, taking care not to break its neck. Firmly pat all the soil back around the tomato plant and press it well. Water deeply.
- As the tomato grows, keep it groomed by removing not only yellow leaves but also any shoots that appear at the “Y” intersections. This is what thumbnails are for. If you’re feeling really thrifty and ambitious, you can root those suckers in a glass of water and soon have a brand new seedling to grow outdoors.
- Coffe grounds and crushed eggshells are good additions for the base of your tomato plants.
- Consider interplanting tomatoes with marigolds, nasturtiums, and basil. Grandpa once told me this was actually just for looks, a false old wives’ tale, not insect prevention as people claim. Then he exploded into that deep, loud, vibrant, chuckling belly laugh of his, and he called me “Mareezee,” and I wasn’t sure which was the joke, ha! I’m still not sure! But I always plant these with my tomatoes no matter what, and for every possible reason, just in case, and just because he did. And I suggest you do the same.
- In Oklahoma, this fruit grows well both from seed and as a seedling you buy at the garden center. Do it! It’s cheap and fun!
- Grandpa trained his up and along a chainlink fence, maybe to disguise the eyesore in his yard, and it worked great. So he taught me to do this and I recommended to Jess that she take advantage of her chainlink wall and place her melon vines there. It’s strong and perfect.
- Once the vines grow (don’t worry, they will) and fruit appears and gets heavy (it definitely will as long as you water it a lot), use old nylon pantyhose as miniature hammocks to suspend the melons and take the weight off the vine. Repurposing. Jess was all about this idea!
Vegetable Seeds in General:
- Most seeds want to be planted at a depth similar to their own size. So, sunflower seeds need a centimeter or so of dirt for a good burial. Radish and lettuce seeds, which are not much coarser than salt, need to be only scratched into the surface of your garden. Pat-pat-pat.
- Plant wide-row beds of lettuce, for sure, but also use that real estate below and between your bigger plants for spreading extra lettuce seeds, etc. Leafies make an excellent (and edible!) ground cover. Weed prevention and food at the same time, for almost no money.
- Radish seeds, by the way, can be interplanted with all of your leafy greens. They will not only grow more quickly, which is exciting; but by harvesting the big ones throughout your salad garden months, the vacancies they leave behind will provide a little aeration.
- Thin your radishes. You will almost inevitably plant them too thickly, so be ruthless in thinning them. Otherwise, none will have enough elbow room to mature. You can add the threadlike castoffs to your compost or eat them if you are cool like Grandpa and me.
- Lettuce, kale, spinach, and more can stay in your garden almost all year if you trim the food with scissors instead of pulling the plants up. They grow over and over. “Cut and come again” is what they call it.
- Water the seedbeds more than you think they need it, especially in the beginning, and especially as the plants get lush and summer heats up.
- Don’t be afraid to try a small garden here or there in odd locations. Especially if you have access to magical compost! You might be surprised at what will grow in shade or in sand or in something else crazy. Seeds are not expensive and are a fun way to experiment with growing conditions, design, and more.
- Have fun!! Laugh hard about it all. Spend time out there, just looking at it. Grandpa called this, “piddling around.”
Those radishes got harvested today. Gorgeous!! Delicious!!
Friends, I will end there. My heart is full. I thank you for your love and hope you feel mine. Check in tomorrow for stories about Klaus and Lincoln! The brothers’ slumber party week continues.
“The best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow.”
“Count it all Joy.”