Jessie Raymond: New dog not garden’s best friend
In my steadfast, if naïve, belief that winter is someday going to end, I’ve started thinking about gardening.
I just need to keep in mind that last year’s garden was a spectacular failure.
I blame the dog.
Indirectly, I mean. We got him last spring and it changed my routine. Knowing he needed exercise, I started walking him every morning before work, during the time I had previously devoted to the garden.
The dog liked it. I liked it. The garden hated it.
At the end of the summer, after many weeks of neglect, when I finally belly-crawled into the garden through the underbrush, I found hundreds of ripe tomatoes rotting on the ground. The weeds had sprawled over everything else, though a killing frost eventually revealed many other vegetables. (I had no memory of planting Brussels sprouts, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.)
While my garden had never been a tidy, well-managed showcase, over the years prior to 2014 it had improved to where I could reach a majority of the ripe vegetables without having to wield a machete.
I discovered something a few years back: Putting in a half hour of gardening before work each morning yielded greater results than working five straight hours every other Saturday. Mathematically it was a wash, but switching to consistent, short stints made a difference: I’m proud to say I went three straight years without once having to yell for my husband to extricate me from a mess of toppled tomato cages and runaway cucumber vines.
But then the dog came along, and my old habits returned.
Not that I didn’t make an effort. I tried gardening after work. As it turns out, hot, humid afternoons are not much fun, even if you manage to fend off dehydration and sunburn.
I tried gardening after dinner. While the temperatures were better, the gnats and mosquitoes clocked in at around the same time I did. Any weeding I got done was merely the inadvertent result of my flailing around to fight off the bugs.
This year, if I want to keep the morning walks, I have to make my gardening time more efficient. I have some ideas:
1. Be ruthless. I know gardeners act all nature-loving and nurturing, but if you want to keep your garden in check, you’ve got to have a cruel streak.
I need to get mean. I need to pull volunteer tomato seedlings, for instance, so I don’t end up with quadruple the number I need. Four times the plants means four times the weeding, picking and processing — not to mention four times the likelihood that I will encounter a tomato hornworm, a gruesome creature closely resembling, in both size and appearance, the caterpillar from “Alice in Wonderland” (without the hookah). I still gag just thinking about the hornworm I accidentally touched in 2012.
2. Exercise self-control. Each spring, my excitement to grow things makes me want to buy every seed packet in the store. I have to stop and ask myself: How many varieties of eggplant does one family need? We don’t even really like eggplant. This year, I’ve got to limit myself to 40, maybe 50, of the most common vegetables. No exceptions.
3. Plant more corn. Lots of it. We don’t eat that much of it, but corn conveniently hogs up a lot of garden space. That space must not be left open, or I will be compelled to fill it with exotic types of eggplant (see 2), or rutabagas, which I want to grow only because I like the word “rutabaga.”
These small measures will help. But they ignore the most practical and obvious solution, which I’m sure has already occurred to you. Let’s say it together: Teach the dog to weed.
On the surface, it sounds brilliant, because it would occupy the dog and help the garden at the same time. Win-win. But who are we kidding? With the dog’s short attention span he’d only get through half a row at best before taking off to chase a passing butterfly.
It’s too bad. Knowing me, I’m never going to scale back the garden to a manageable level. I need more help.
Maybe, just maybe, with a little training and some treats in my pocket, the dog would come around. You know what they say: Many paws make light work.
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