Saturday, March 1, 2008

Our Own Little Slice of Heaven

It's that time of year, when the hearts of young men and women turn to things like cabbages. :-)

Today I got to see a side of my lovely bride that I hadn't yet seen much of. Oh, I knew it was there, all right; but this side of her hadn't really had chance to express itself since we've been married.

Regular readers of this blog will recall me making occasional comments about how I need to get the project done by the beginning of March, or I'll be in deep doodoo! The thing is, my wife is only one generation removed from her farmer's roots, and it shows. Her dad was raised on a farm in northern Alabama; her mother was raised on a farm in western Kentucky. And while Tonya herself wasn't raised on anything looking like a farm, she has always loved growing things. She babysat a pomegranate tree at her childhood home for many, many years, and kept it alive through a couple of transplantings (as they had to move the tree around during re-landscapings); she was heavily involved in maintaining the gardens they had.

And in the 7.7 years or so we've been married, she hasn't had the chance to do much honest-to-goodness gardening. For the first three years of our marriage we lived in a tiny shoebox-of-an-apartment in San Jose, and the only living green thing in our apartment was an overgrown potted vine (which has long since set its roots in that great rainforest in the sky). We moved here about four and a half years ago, but she hasn't had a good opportunity before now to have her garden. We were always doing some other project: planting new fruit trees, building terraces and walkways and a patio, pruning, working on the lawn, doing other projects indoors.

And truth be told, this place was a bit of a mess when we bought it; there was a lot of work to be done to get it into shape. This was especially true of the backyard, where previous renters had done automobile maintenance on their fleet. We've found a whole lot of weird debris back there as we've been digging and landscaping--everything from big lengths of chain, to what must have been an entire roll of nickles, to the bones of a cat that had been buried in a burlap sack, to (found today!) the two halves of a G.I. Joe action figure. Furthermore, most of the trees that were here on the property were in pretty bad shape when we moved in. We've lost nearly a dozen of our original trees; in their place, we've planted nearly twenty.

Part of the issue comes from the fact that our lot is a good-sized one. It's just a hair under three-tenths of an acre; but it's the corner lot in the development; and since our house is right next to the street, the lot is nearly all backyard. In fact, it was the backyard that sold us on the house in the first place. But in part because it's so big, it's taken us a long time to get it in order.

And it's been obvious for a while that Tonya missed being outside to play in the dirt.

So, as the Never-Ending Backyard Project began to wind to a close, Tonya started getting starry-eyed. She'd pull out a sheet of paper, draw a trapezoid in the rough shape of the area we had set aside for garden, and would start drawing stuff like this:

Mind you, this was only one of her diagrams, and an early one at that. Her later ones were labeled "Spring Garden", "Summer Garden", and the like, and were much neater than the above.

Now, the big thing preventing her from starting the garden was the fact that all the dirt I'd excavated while putting in the foundations of the walkway and patio was sitting there; and I needed much of that dirt for back-fill for when they were finally done. But I finished that project a couple of weeks ago. So, it was time to prepare the garden.

Yesterday I went out with a spade, dug up the rest of the dirt excavated in the patio/walkway project, and threw the big clods into a fairly even distribution over the garden-to-be, so that it wasn't piled up in one big lump.

Then, I mixed up a couple batches of Round-Up and doused all the weeds I could see in the garden, the orchard, and a couple of our planters. The weeds may still be green, but they're all going to be dead in about two weeks.

This morning I went out early and attacked the compost pile that's been getting bigger with every lawn-mowing for the last four years. I basically did with it what I did with the excess dirt: I threw it in a semi-even layer over the entire garden area.

Then, I pulled out the roto-tiller. I went for a couple of hours on that patch of ground, at progressively deeper and deeper depth settings. When I quit about lunchtime, there was at least four or five inches' worth of soft, tilled soil covering the entire garden. The dirt was positively fluffy.

Mommy was just finishing up giving the kids their lunches. I came in and reported what I had accomplished, and she asked me (with a smile on her face and an impatient sparkle in her eye) whether I thought she should go to the plant nursery first (to get seeds), or rake the garden level first. I suggested the former. Then she dumped the girls on me, grabbed the baby, and headed out.

Not long afterward she came back with nearly a dozen packets of seeds, put the baby down to sleep, and headed out.

When I went out to check on her, she'd pretty well raked that garden smooooooth....

When I went out to check on her an hour or so later, she'd used a hoe to draw lines into the dirt, outlining the zones of her garden in accordance with her latest "Spring Garden" diagram. She then carefully, systematically, began shaping the dirt into mounds and trenches:
Hm. I just noticed... this is exactly what she's done with her mashed potatoes every time we've had them since we've been married. Every time, she takes her fork and knife, and starts making orderly, regular shapes. I always found this a little unusual about her; she's usually very practical and no-nonsense; she doesn't usually play with her food in any other way. I wonder if there's some kind of connection here; that mashed potatoes bring out the farmer girl in her some subconscious way, and inspire her to start shaping the potatoes like so much fertile ground--ready to receive the expectant seed? Well. This theory needs more investigation. (That, and white gravy.)
That's the no-nonsense farmer's girl I married. :-)

She then proceeded to plant nearly everything that she got from the store. I watched this in a rather amused way: very happy about watching my lovely bride in her element, the way God intended her to be, and totally unwilling to tell her that four rows of cabbages is probably a little excessive. Warning to all my friends: Do not be surprised, in two months or so, if we try to give you a cabbage... or seven...

Anyway, it's the right time of year for planting, and for a lot of other stuff. Spring has hit here on the West Coast in a big way. The above picture is of our nectarine tree, which really likes being in our backyard. We planted it in the fall of 2006, and it has really taken off; last year's crop gave us over a dozen fruit, on the first bearing season since we had it in the ground. From the looks of things, we could have a lot more than that this year.

(Oh--and all the weeds in that picture? I hit them with Round-Up yesterday. They're all dead--they just don't know it yet.)

There's just something about a day like today that's satisfying. I do think of our yard as our own little slice of heaven, and every year it becomes more and more so. And especially after days like this, I'm a happy man.

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