Jessie Raymond: How much gardening can I take?

All spring, I looked forward to putting in my vegetable garden. After years of planting way too much — biting off more than I could hoe, you might say — I decided this year to embrace a “less is more” philosophy.
In early April, I started just four tomatoes, along with a few other veggies, from seed, and set them in the kitchen window.
This was a fraction of my usual inventory, and I congratulated myself for showing some restraint. For once, I’d have a summer where I wasn’t spending all my time either (a) weeding and watering or (b) not weeding and watering, and feeling guilty about it. And in September I wouldn’t be faced with a dense tangle of rapidly overripening vegetables I could barely reach and was too overwhelmed to process.
But the gardening year didn’t start off well. You’ve heard the expression “April showers bring May flowers.” A more appropriate phrase for 2019 would have been “A cold and wet April gave way to a similarly cold and wet May.”
It wasn’t catchy, but it was accurate.
My poor seedlings languished in the window, craning their stalks for a rare glimpse of the sun. As you might recall, it rained. Often.
This posed a logistical problem: While my garden and raised beds sit on high ground, the old manure pile does not. And I needed that manure to top off the beds and amend the soil. (Some people, I’ve heard, do this in the fall after their regular “garden cleanup chores,” whatever those are.)
Forty feet beyond the garden sat the manure pile, looking like a nutrient-rich but otherwise dumpy castle surrounded by a moat of standing water. The tractor would sink to its axles if I tried driving it down there.
I’d have to wait for a few consecutive sunny days to dry up the ground. (Remember when it seemed possible that we’d have a few consecutive sunny days in May? How naïve we were.)
One time I got impatient and decided to go old-school. If I couldn’t use the tractor, I’d take the wheelbarrow.
Navigating a wheelbarrow through and over years-old, foot-deep, water-filled tractor ruts is a bouncy and precarious operation, especially when the squishy ground is trying to suck the boots off your feet. And wet manure is hard to shovel.
It took a half hour and a lot of groaning and swearing, but I managed to wheel away a small load of the good stuff — roughly 5 percent of what I needed.
Sure, I could have made 19 more trips with the wheelbarrow. But, being lazy, I opted to hold out for tractor weather, no matter how long it took.
The opportunity came this past weekend. The ground was far from dry, but it didn’t swallow up the John Deere. Three bucket loads got me all I needed.
On Saturday afternoon, after several hours of shoveling the heavy manure from the tractor bucket to the raised beds and digging it in, the moment came: I carried my 6-inch-tall tomato seedlings from their recent home, the back porch, to the garden. Finally!
With tender care, I planted them, caged them, and labeled them with wooden markers. It had been a long spring, and I was behind schedule, but at least I had planted my precious tomatoes.
I limped inside for a shower and some ibuprofen. The rest of the planting would have to wait until the next day.
Sunday morning, with stiffness in my muscles but tomato love in my heart, I went out to check on my babies. It seemed like just yesterday I had seen their first leaves pop from the potting soil. How far they’d come in the two months we’d been together!
I sighed with satisfaction as I surveyed my handiwork: A row of four tomato cages, neatly lined up and marked.
The only things I didn’t see — and this was the important part — were the tomato plants themselves.
I squatted. I squinted. I scanned the beds until I found what was left of them: four fuzzy one-inch stalks, their tops cleanly nipped off. Thanks to whatever had enjoyed the overnight garden buffet, I didn’t have a single tomato plant left.
I nearly cried.
I know I said I was taking a “less is more” approach to the garden this year. But I didn’t mean this much less.

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