John Clark slowly recovering from a hernia repair. I had one fixed back in 1981 and I can tell you, my body at 67 sure doesn’t bounce back like it did at age 33. As things stand, I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for six weeks and can’t drive for at least one more week. Boxes of books sneer as I waddle past and I can hear the back lawn giggling every time it rains.
Each time I’m tempted to do something stupid, I remember what happened the day I got out of the hospital back when the first one was repaired. I hadn’t planned on fruit trees arriving at an inopportune time when I was diagnosed and surgery was scheduled, so imagine my chagrin (yes liberals were allowed to possess up to 8 ounces of chagrin in the early 1980s) when the UPS driver backed into the driveway and handed me a long box. If I’d had any common sense, I would have thought of someone I could call and ask to plant the trees, but that wasn’t in the cards, so I grabbed a shovel and started digging. I wasn’t down more than six inches when I felt a pop and a burning sensation. Fortunately, it was only one stitch, but that was enough to convince me to be ultra careful as I finished excavating three holes for the new trees. My folly resulted in no permanent damage and there was an unexpected bright side to the whole hernia experience. I ended up being out of work for seven weeks and it was a real eye-opener. I’d started working regularly at age eleven, mostly in the blueberry fields, but in a neighbor’s poultry barn as well. Until the forced medical leave, I’d pretty much been a workaholic. To realize that there was life outside of the workplace was a complete amazement and altered my outlook significantly.
Times have changed in terms of what’s done and how they do it. This time around, it was day surgery and involved three small incisions and a miniature camera wandering around my belly, followed by the sewing into place of a mesh screen and then having the incisions glued with a variation on the super glue we use to repair household items. Even so, that was a week ago and I’m still bent over and trying not to hobble a lot. Fortunately the post office, the library and the grocery store are two blocks away, but the recent spate of rainstorms washed a lot of mud down to the edge of the sidewalk, particularly in sloped driveways. Yesterday, I was about to say hello to some young veggie salesmen who were selling garden goodies down the street when my foot hit some of the really slippery mud. Next thing I knew, I was doing my James Bond martini imitation—shaken, but not stirred. All I could think about as I desperately tried to maintain my balance was ‘hope to hell I don’t pop anything.”
On to a garden status report. Last year, Brenda Seekins who is a local master gardener, asked about having an informal gathering at the library of people interested in sharing garden wisdom, seeds, plants while getting answers and inspiration. We met four times and developed a core group. In October, we agreed at the final meeting to resume in April of 2015. The group had our third meeting last night. Even though we all live within a four mile radius, what has happened to our gardens this summer shows some significant variation. Before I get into those, let me backtrack and share some of the things I’ve heard in my travels and conversations during the growing season. It started with a chat I had with a man in Detroit who sells hay and straw. He also grows plants for seed purposes for a Maine company. He said that the month of June was the worst he could remember in terms of growing weather. It was too cold and too wet, causing seed rot and real difficulty getting into his fields to plant.
His observations were mirrored in a conversation I had a couple weeks later with a friend from Canaan who is an organic gardener. He went even further, noting that even stuff in hoop houses wasn’t growing very well thanks to the chill. The next piece of information came from Joe, the man who services our furnace. We were talking about picking strawberries and he noted that his wife had gone to a nearby pick your own place a couple days earlier and when she returned, she said the owners had told her that last winter was extremely hard on strawberry plants, resulting in significant winter kill. This was reinforced when it took me almost a week to find a day when Sites Farm in Athens was open for picking. The berries were nice, but got picked out very quickly each morning. Before leaving the field, I checked out their high bush blueberries. From what I could see, there won’t be any shortage in that crop.
Both people I encountered at the post office and those in the gardening group lamented the effect June’s cold and damp had on certain crops. Sweet corn has been a disaster for everyone in the group. I planted three times before giving up. I have two lone stalks and gave the rest of the row to a late planting of turnips. Zucchini and summer squash required a second planting before anything worthwhile showed above ground. Likewise for cucumbers and winter squash. While both came up, six weeks later, they’re sitting there looking dazed and nary a blossom is visible. Peas and green beans came in very spotty, necessitating a second planting in between what did come up, but both are now healthy and close to being ready for picking. After discovering an almost full packet of yellow bean seeds, I planted them in mid-July and it looks like every seed germinated overnight.
Beets, carrots, parsnips and broccoli all did well from seed, but four very hungry woodchucks decimated the red and green cabbage as well as all but one of our cauliflower. While we have yet to see a single deer track, folks on the other side of the Sebasticook river here in Hartland, can’t keep them out of garden spots. Unlike several people I’ve talked to, who all bemoaned the terrible luck they were having with tomatoes, our five varieties are not only thriving, but have been producing ripe fruit for a couple weeks. Finally, I’m very happy to report that there are fruit clusters on the grape vines and we’ve already picked two gallons of raspberries. While it’s still early, the apple crop also looks pretty promising.
Flowers, particularly perennials, seem to have an immunity to weather foibles. Our raised bed garden is a sea of color and the small garden my neighbor, Larry, let me rehabilitate (it had become a sea of milkweed, pigweed and crabgrass) will soon feature Tithona, morning glory, calendula and hollyhock in bloom. He was happy and it allowed me to find a home for extra plants. Larry also let me reclaim the vegetable garden behind his house that was sliding back into wilderness. It’s pretty eye-opening what a good zero-turn mower can do to a Maine jungle. Three hours of rototilling later and it was serviceable. I have a row of lettuce, some broccoli from seed and another 40 or so golden hubbard squash plants growing there. Potatoes and sunflowers I planted didn’t even give me the time of day. I’d be extremely interested in hearing what your gardening experiences have been this year.
In the you had to be there to completely appreciate it category, (or have an uncensored imagination) I offer the sight our local animal control officer encountered last week while responding to a loose horse report. Just as he pulled up where the horse was standing in the road. The couple who own it and are considered local characters, burst out of their dwelling and proceeded to chase the horse. However, it’s reported by reliable sources, that neither bothered getting dressed before doing so. Small town life never ceases to provide plenty of fodder for fiction and post office gossip.