The wonderful weather the last week or so in the northeast drew out many thoughts of spring. I took a ride to Agway to get yard supplies. I pulled some weeds and generally did a full inspection of the yard. The shrubs are alive with new growth, especially the roses. It also brought thoughts of my father. After all it is vegetable garden planting season here in Massachusetts.
It amazes me when I say it but my father died 21 years ago. He was not famous. He never had a big important job. To the contrary, he was probably under-employed through most of his working life. But he was the most energetic person I have ever known. And he was in his glory in the spring.
Yeah, he really got juiced up for spring and the beginning of the yearly vegetable garden. The garden took up most of the usable back yard. It was about 75 feet x 40. Over the years the garden itself had grown in chunks from less than half that size. It had actually started when I was little, maybe 1st or second grade, when we had a project to make a seed grow. The whole class of 1st or 2nd graders was given a Styrofoam cup of soil and a single yellow string bean seed. My father who grew up on a farm in NH was all excited about this. The bean grew well, by the way.
The next year he rented a roto-tiller and turned up small square of dirt and he was on his way. The garden became really productive in the late 70’s and through the 80’s when my father had retired and spent most waking hours in the spring, summer and fall, tending to it. I kept telling him year after year to plant the cash crops, Tomatoes, Kentucky Wonder beans, Cukes and lettuce, you know, the things we actually ate. But did he listen…you guess. He would plant Kale, or Brussle Sprouts, Rhubarb (which never stops growing year after year…kind of like a weed). He even made a Strawberry hill. The success with the non-cash crops was limited which gave me additional leverage for my argument. As I got into my later twenties and moved away it dawned on me that he was just having fun trying to make some of these other things grow. So I stopped talking about it.
During a normal Massachusetts winter the ground would still be frozen a few inches down in late March, but as soon as it was possible he roto-tilled the garden to get it ready for planting. He would repair any of the frames he used to let the Kentucky Wonder pole beans grow upward, repair the garden fences, and make new ones if needed. He loved watching gardening shows as you could imagine, and got all sorts of screwy ideas…most of which worked, even though your first reaction would be to roll your eyes.
He was always coming up with gadgets. One year the new thing was to build a cold frame. It is a square wooden frame on the ground and it is covered with a clear-ish cover. The sun heats it during the day and the heat will not escape during the night and things inside will have 24 hour heat and not be subject to frost. It’s like a mini green house. During February and March he would plant seeds of many kinds in the room off the garage. About mid-March, we would bring as many as would fit out to the Cold frame. And they grew, grew very well. My mother and I had been skeptical…at least.
In its hey-day we were harvesting several pounds of beans of tomatoes and cucumbers every day. My parents would freeze beans and it was a great treat to come home for dinner and be served “fresh” beans in January.
We did get a little sick of having fresh string beans EVERY night. But now more than 20 years later, I’d give my right arm for one portion of my dad’s string beans.