June 9, 2013

Little garden a rite of spring


---- — I’m as old as dirt, but I’m still able to bend over and dig in it.

These days, there’s likely to be dirt under the nails on my green thumbs. I can thank my late mother for that. Growing up, we always had large gardens. You name it, Alta Grace grew it. She always allotted a small plot for me. I was given seeds and plants and allowed to care for my little corner. 

I always wanted to dig in the dirt and sew my seeds on the first warm day in May. She would shake her finger and warn me to cease and desist until June 1, when the last frost should be over. She allowed me to put the peas in before that, and I was appeased.

There were always little plants started earlier inside the house and transplanted into her makeshift greenhouses, constructed from old glass windows and who knows what all? Gardening was for me and my mom an important rite of spring. 

She canned everything she could. Up until recently, I still had the old copper canning receptacle under the bench in my garage. She called it a boiler washtub. It had a top and wooden handles. I watched her fill the Mason jars and put them into the water as it heated on the old kerosene stove. I ended up donating the tub to the Babbie Rural and Farm Learning Museum on the River Road in Peru. There were many pleasant memories attached to it. I even recall her using it to boil water for washing clothes when it wasn’t canning season.

I’ve had large and small gardens over the years, depending on available space and inclination. One year, my plantings took over the entire side lawn, much to Kaye’s consternation — especially when a friend backed his pickup truck and dumped a large load of horse manure onto the grass. We had good crops that year and needed them for our burgeoning family.

Nowadays, there are no children left in the nest. Our six-bedroom 19th century Morrisonville home is now more full of what Kaye calls my collected “stuff” than kids. As a matter of fact, we still have closets packed with things our grown offspring left behind. Hint. Hint.

The garden has been reduced to what I lovingly refer to as my “crop strip,” running along the fence that separates our Little space from that of the adjacent fire station. I must constantly remind myself to be humble, and toward that end, I went out and purchased a brand new wide-tined spading fork. I once had a nice one, but it was probably borrowed by a relative or friend and found a new home.

I dug the sods and shook them out, using an antique cultivator to break up the earth. I have managed to keep most of my mom’s old gardening tools and am proud to use all of them every year. My old hoe is worn down from more than a century of use, and I’ve replaced the handles on the old rakes. 

Besides crockery shards, I dug up half an ancient horseshoe, a large piece of unidentifiable forged iron and various cut nails.

Yes, Mom, I waited until June 1 to plant my tiny garden this year. No peas, please. But we do have tomato plants, cucumbers, peppers, carrots and green and yellow wax beans. There is still room for a few onion sets or perhaps some squash.

My mother always said to plant three times what we need — one for the birds, one for the neighbors, and one for us. I’ve always told the firefighters next door they can have everything that grows through the fence.

Speaking of a fence, I installed one around the crop strip to help keep the river bank critters out. Kaye wanted one tomato plant next to her flower garden and, with my little fence, it looks a lot like a grave site.

Let’s all sing along with the late Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party."

Have a great, green day and please, drive carefully.

Gordie Little was for many years a well-known radio personality in the North Country and now hosts the “Our Little Corner” television program for Home Town Cable. Anyone with comments for him may send them to the newspaper or email him at