It’s coming. That day in May when the garden plot that has rested silently through the winter is just right for turning. The days of perusing the seed catalogues will be over, and it will be time to get down in the dirt. This is a happy day. Vegetables and fruits that we grow ourselves always taste better. When we put the sweat into it, we enjoy it more. Nothing is as tasty as a fresh tomato warmed by the sun, picked by our own hands, cut into thick, juicy slices, and placed on a piece of homemade bread that’s been spread with Miracle Whip or mayonnaise. (Or better yet, homemade butter.)
Gardening is a wonderful project for the family, and the finest expression of cooperating with the earth to produce food that will sustain us and bring pleasure to the taste buds. I still remember my Dad in the summer, biting into the first roasted ears of sweet corn for the season—slathered generously with real butter—the appearance of near ecstasy on his face. The happy sigh. ”This is food fit for kings,” he’d say.
Dad’s gone now, but the experiences and memories are alive and well. We lived on a farm near Elida, Ohio in those days, and owned an old Ford Tractor 9N. We used it to plow the garden, and disc it down. I loved to feel the cool, black earth under my bare feet as I followed the plow, picking up nightcrawlers. Then running through the freshly disked soil like a calf let out in the springtime, falling face down, and breathing in the scent of the good earth—those are memories so vivid, I can smell the soil in my mind.
Once the ground was prepared, Dad would take the old high-wheel hand-cultivator, put the row attachment on, and make perfectly straight rows.
“You pick a point at the other side of the garden,” he’d say, “and you aim for it. Don’t take your eyes off that spot. That’s how you make a straight row.”
Then he’d tell us how many seeds to drop, and how far to space them, while he followed us with a garden rake and carefully covered them.
As a boy, I always got the hoe with the broken handle. It fit my short stature. Dad didn’t throw things away. He believed in fixing them—except for the old hoe. It stayed small for small people. And I remember the old axe. He’d hold it up and say, “Yep, it’s the same old axe. Only changed the head twice, and the handle three times, but it’s still the same old axe.” And he’d grin. I like the way he thought, and I try to live his philosophy myself.
The old Ford tractor was sold long ago, but it was my good fortune to purchase another
one for my use as a family man with children who needed to experience the joy of gardening. And it is still my practice to use the old hand cultivator, not only to make rows, but later on to put the cultivating attachment on it, and periodically cultivate the garden. Rototillers are fine. Many people choose to use them. I don’t. It’s more fun to get a good work-out while pushing an engineless machine. Step, then push. Step, then push. Listening to the cultivator digging its way through the soil, and watching the small weeds give way to my progress, is a very satisfying experience. The satisfaction is all the more pleasant when the job is finished, and I can sit in the shade of the old Hickory tree, with a Golden Retriever happily laying beside me, and a big, cool mug of mint tea in my hand—tea that was picked from the sizable wild patch in the pasture, down by creek. Man, that’s living!
From the little town in the country, Kidron, Ohio, where Dads and Moms and their children work together in the garden. It’s a family project. Plant together, harvest together, and eat together. Pretty rare these days. But so worth it.