The Old Hippie (aka wife Stephanie) has been spending a lot of time in her little hand-turned garden patch of late. She keeps the phone down there and when I called her from the shop at North River Mills, she requested a five-gallon bucket of cow manure from the barn. When I tried to make idle conversation, she said, “I’m in the garden — go away,” and hung up. Gardening is therapy for her, I suppose. Anyone who chooses to put up with me surely needs therapy of some kind or another.
I can’t distinguish most of those leafy green garden plants from each other — they are just things that I get a fleeting glance at in my salad before a tsunami of blue cheese dressing washes over them. A salad is just a vehicle for blue cheese, you know. Currently finding their way to the table are radishes, mustard greens, green onions and at least four types of lettuce, one of which may even be kosher for Passover; iceberg/goldberg — so what’s the difference? (Well, you can take the kid out of Jersey.)
On the tractor repair route, the first fruits — mulberries — have only recently formed and are not yet ripe. When they do become edible, the seat of a tall 1949 Farmall C tractor will make an excellent picking ladder while mowing near these trees — fast food. Mulberries begin a series of wild delicacies that will last through wild strawberries, cherries, wild seedling fencerow peaches, a few species of raspberries, apples from an old, abandoned orchard, pears, paw-paws and so forth concluding with persimmons in November.
That should all begin in about a week. Meanwhile, back in the garden, little will have changed. I don’t know where she’s headed with her gardening. Some years ago, the late Harry Saville would make the rounds plowing local gardens with his Massey Ferguson 135. Harry would not accept payment until he made his second visit with the disk. This all cost the gardener a whopping $25.
In those days, I would bring in manure by the ton, usually on our 1954 Chevrolet truck. On one occasion, a very attractive young lady was visiting Stephanie by the garden. The woman happened to be visibly pregnant and barefoot. I had just arrived with a load of bovine by-product on the antique truck. While the two women admired the fertilizer potential in this load, I asked our guest to pose for a photo with a loaded pitchfork. My intention was to submit the photo to Country or for the back cover of Vintage Truck. However, my prospective subject politely declined, which was probably the best decision for her and the rest of West Virginia.
If Harry were around today, he would scarcely have room to turn that Ferguson around in our garden as it is now. The Old Hippie has let a sycamore tree sprout at the upper end and its shade has crowded out some growing area. Perennials, such as mint, have laid claim to another corner. In another corner, I’ve let an apple seedling sprout and grow into a tree. It’s a very early summer apple similar to a Lodi and I’m in competition with the birds when this soft apple ripens.
At present, using the Old Hippie’s scottish thrift, it is more cost effective for us to use other gardener’s surplus and cheap commercially-grown produce for canning. She still freezes some our own greens and some beans. I like to think that if that situation should change, we could easily go back to gardening on a larger scale.
Even though she has launched an attack on age 60 and has it pretty well cornered, it’s still fun to watch her garden and wonder what might be going on under that flowing gray hair as she works in the manure and spreads the newspaper and grass clipping mulch. This is somewhat different from watching her garden thirty-some years ago but that’s another story in another publication that I mentioned here a few weeks ago. Having noticed that the May/June issue of Antique Power is nearly sold out locally, it’s likely a story that many local folks already know. Some locals were actually there as that tale unfolded.
Since she’s working with manure, she’s probably thinking about me. I have this thought verified as I walk past the garden this Friday afternoon. I usually open the North River Mills shop on Saturday. “Goin’ to the Mills tomorrow?” she asks. I said that I was. She kicks a five-gallon bucket toward me across the grass. Yes, she’s thinking of me, all right.