I swung into Sunday afternoon on a braid of coffee and NSAIDs ready to plant my okra bed. The endeavor required a little more than just sinking seeds into the soil. I pulled out the spent sugar pea vines and their makeshift supports. The soil needed to be turned and raked and looked at. It was full of small brown caterpillars. Cutworms, I think. I collected about fifty and put them out for the wild birds. I transferred the vines to the compost bin, filling it to the top.
I'm crossing my fingers that the compost pile gets hot enough to destroy the pea pods so I don't have vines shooting out of it, turning it into some sort of free form Chia creation. I can't be bothered with that now. Getting the pile hot takes some work and I don't have the strength for it this week. I have to tackle one thing at a time. Right now it's okra.
I grow okra for my neighbor Ruby, the widow that lives across the street. Mind you, she wasn't widowed when we moved in. Just a few years back she would sit on the porch with her husband in a haze of cigarette smoke each evening. Once he was gone I started talking to her more. I think Ruby is fantastic. The other neighbors aren't so sure. The thing about her is that she minds her own business, but that's not to say she doesn't have an opinion about things. She doesn't talk to just anybody. She's slightly guarded. She's uncomfortable around Michael. I always feel the thrill of having fed a wary little mouse when she accepts the meals I give her. Ruby loves garden fresh vegetables and at the top of her list is okra.
Okra isn't difficult to grow. It suffers from being disliked by those unaccustomed to its ways, for its tendency to slime. But once you get to know okra, it's fantastic. The thing is, I'm not there yet. I like to grow it more than I like to eat it. Ruby likes to eat it, but can't grow it. As you can see, we were destined to come together.
Okra is pretty proud of being okra and stands tall. It doesn't leave a lot of debris along the soil line. Last year I tried to grow greens along with the okra. This year - thanks to Katina's little story about growing a peanut plant one year - I decided to follow suit. I've ordered my peanuts from Southern Exposure. It's the same place that sells a variety of cotton seeds. Last year I ordered both white and brown cotton and discovered that the cotton plant produces a beautiful and delicate flower.
It's no wonder that my garden has been referred to as a "little plantation" by some (you know who you are). I referred to a small section of my garden as "hippie hollow" last year when the patchouli was doing well and the sage and mint were robust. I'll never know if the hens appreciated their nestbox sachets I introduced to their boxes as much as I did. Maybe this year I can fluff up the boxes with cotton bolls but that seems a waste.
I have mixed feelings about growing cotton. It makes me feel oddly sheepish. I don't have the same feelings about the peanuts but they do make me think about Jimmy Carter. Growing peanuts makes me want to write to Jimmy Carter. But what would I say?
"Dear President Carter, I'm growing peanuts for the first time in my garden this year and I thought of you. Do you have any tips? My goal is just to get a ice-cream size bowl full of peanuts to snack on. How many seeds would you recommend growing?" I can't imagine that he would mind getting a letter requesting garden advice. I never know how to address letters to writers or public figures so I don't.
I see I've strayed. The point of this post (I flatter myself, my posts seldom have "points") is to tackle the question of what my garden is to me. It's partly a year-by-year experiment and partly a way to de-stress and lose myself. It's a way to feed my husband, a way to make something, a tomato for example, out of so little, a seed. It's a way to share. Gardens are always a reflection of those who tend them. Mine is a little messy. Mine sates my curiosity. It's a place to be quiet and work at something. It's not perfect. It's not a beautiful outdoor room for entertainting. Some days I wish it were but mostly not. It's a little bit southern right now. It's a little bit country. I now feel the urge to write to the Osmonds.