Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Six Bean Story: or why gardening can drive you crazy.

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

The song mothers sing to their babies sounds like a sweet paean to a little girl's garden, but Mother Goose's nursery rhyme about gardening alludes to Bloody Mary Tudor and her habit of burning her subjects at the stake - 300 subjects, to put a number to it. "Silver bells" refers to thumbscrews and and cockle shells were instruments of torture used on areas of the body even more sensitive than thumbs , as explained in this Nursery Rhyme Origin and History website.
My experiences this spring as a novice gardener are what got me thinking about how Mother Goose may have been on to something by linking gardening and slow torture.

Timeline of librarian's garden, 2009:
February: very impatient to start seeds but none are in stores except for a basil kit and a bachelor button kit at the drugstore: dirt, pots and seeds all inclusive. I buy the kits. There are more seeds than pots though so I...
March: plant leftover seeds in egg cartons enclosed in plastic "clamshells" (the things take-out salad comes in) and place on sunny windowsill.
March cont'd: water seeds as needed and stare at plants several times a day. Check local stores for seeds other than basil and bachelor buttons. Told that seeds are late coming in this year to stores (duh.)
Sometime later: green basil and bachelor b. sprouts appear. Announce to all family, friends and colleagues by phone, email and in person, that seeds have sprouted. Strangely, no one finds this as exciting as I do.
Soon after: anxiety about the dread "damping off" sets in, but most sprouts continue to thrive. Friends, f and c not anxious about this possibility either.
April: become impatient to put plants outside but read that Mother's Day is the traditional target date. yeah, right: in Florida maybe, not New Jersey having a cold, rainy spring.
April cont'd: very cold and rainy April continues unabated, no chance of moving plants off windowsill and putting outside even though they have outgrown their clamshells and egg cartons and now there are seedlings all over the house in every available sunny spot and my Director does not want them in the library staff room. If I were the Little Red Hen, I would promise myself not to share in my bountiful harvest when the time comes.
May-ish: fellow librarian takes pity and gives me peat pots to put overgrowing seedlings in. She has given up gardening due to deer, bugs, mildew, diseases, drought, varmints etc etc. I do not take the hint.
Mother's Day: very cold May, cannot put plants I have obsessed over for two months out to die in cold, which brings us to...
Hardening off: plants must spend some time outdoors in shade, being jiggled, exposed gradually to their future surroundings with more light, but no direct sun.
Must find large trays: to transport seedlings outside for their little outdoor recess every day and to bring them back in at night. Cookie sheets pressed into service.
Memorial Day: finally put plants outside overnight. Awake all night worrying.
Last week of May: put seedlings in large pots and place in the few sunny places available in my shady yard. Stare at out of window with dog at my side (she is looking for the mailman and other dogs though.)
Rainiest June in the history of the planet: plants look pale but hang in there.
Still June: still rainy, plants even paler, but the deer seem to like the squash blossoms, something is eating the bean plant leaves, the basil looks all wrinkly, the lettuce is malingering, and sproinging up (forget proper term), the radishes are anorexic and the leaves have been munched into lace, the oregano has brown spots, the sage has spider mites and might not survive.
Insecticides: Do I have to?
Morning coffee for me and my plants: I spray aphids with my leftover morning coffee. It seems to work. Imagine what it's doing to my stomach.
Later in June: tomatoes up to their necks in puddles of water which I dump out twice a day.
Moving: squash plants put in backyard where deer do not go due to my dog and fence but in which there is very little sun.
Finally! Success! June 27: after months of work, I harvest six, count them, six, green beans, mix them with the store-bought variety and have for dinner. I dig through my stir fry trying to figure out which are "my" beans.
End of June: my library colleagues will never let me live down the Six Bean Story.

The Dewey number for gardening is 635.
Apologies for long post, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the emotional rollercoaster that gardening has been this spring for this blogging gardener.

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