Here on Big Ugly we are surrounded by the old ways which are quickly dying out. Some families have been here for generations. Others, like mine, are relative newcomers. But we have all had to deal with good conditions and not so good conditions. When I got the soil test results on our soil I was encouraged. The nutrient levels were pretty good for N, P, and K. The soil texture wasn’t the greatest, but I knew that over time that could be corrected. Building up the organic matter overcomes a lot of evil. My many, many years of experience have shown me that your garden doesn’t start in early spring, but early fall. That is the time to build up the organic material which will, in large part, determine the outcome of the next summer garden.
This year I have been less than successful with the garden. I didn’t move here until late winter. Thus, there was no time to begin the garden in the fall. After I tilled, we collected whatever organic matter we could find and covered the garden with a heavy blanket of leaves. That was about all we could do. Then we planted. The early garden wasn’t bad, but as the summer progressed we got more and more rain and sweltering heat.
Yesterday I was out trying to pick some produce and I noticed how different from a regular August garden ours seemed. The air was different; the ground was different; the plants were different; even the smell was different. The garden smelled of rotting stuff. So many tomatoes have split and been attacked by slugs and then began to rot on the ground. Yuck!
I usually think of an August garden smelling rather hot and dry. The August air is usually hot and dry and the raspy sounds of crickets and other late season bugs are in the background. The plants are usually beginning to dry up and if we want to plant fall crops we wonder if there is enough moisture. This year the ground is wet—even the clayish soil that needed the additions of organic material. The mulch is slippery wet. There are signs of mildew, and blights that are encouraged by hot, wet conditions.
Some parts of Marcelle’s garden are better. Her soil is so much sandier than mine even though it’s only about 150 ft. away. However, the new area that Marcelle was opening up was absolutely boggy. The corn didn’t germinate and squash didn’t thrive because it was so wet.
I had so looked forward to putting up produce with some of my community friends at the Big Ugly Community Center where they have a big Vulcan stove and large open counters. Well, at least we have had some fresh produce to remember the taste. There might even be some fall produce that we don’t usually have because the garden is too hot and dry to get fall stuff started. Plenty of water this year.
Most of all, I thought of the old people who lived here at a different time. What did they have to look forward to after a year like this? Would they have to go look for work elsewhere so they could buy food? Would that mean only cornbread and beans all winter and vitamin deficiencies? I am a grandmother. My daughter with her two daughters, 6 years old and 4 weeks old live here with me. Would I be worrying about not making it through the winter, of maybe seeing my precious ones actually starving? Thank God, I don’t think we will starve, even though we may not have all the really good tasting stuff we grew ourselves. Marcelle will be thinking of methods for extending our growing season in practical, affordable ways. I will be thinking of methods for better dealing with not enough rain or too much rain. And I wonder if we could develop an avenue for sharing with those who had a good year without costing any of us too much. I’m sure there is.