Grow.

When I was little, my grandmother and mother shared a garden plot with my aunt and uncle who lived just behind us on our block.  The garden plot wasn’t in either of our yards, but in the backyard of an old guy who was a worm farmer.  He had a giant claw foot bathtub near the garden that was FULL of giant worms.  Well, I don’t know how giant they were, but when you’re a girl and you’re about six, they are definitely GIANT WORMS.  He sold them for bait to local fishermen, but back to the garden story.

My grandmother was…mmm…what’s the word…cantankerous.  She ruled that garden with an iron fist and phrases like “YOU’RE STEPPING ON THE BEETS” or “GET OUT OF THOSE TOMATOES”.  I obviously was not much help in the garden unless I wasn’t IN the garden.  They canned a lot of their produce and I can remember coming home to the eye watering smell of vinegar in the house and there would be tub after tub of cucumbers soaking in pickling brine.  I’d poke them with a spoon and then hear “LEAVE THOSE PICKLES ALONE!”.  Grandma apparently ruled the kitchen with an iron spoon.

When I decided to take up backyard chicken raising, suddenly I wanted to grow food too.  Not just for me, but for the chickens who seem to love garden fare.  I happily announced, not long after the trip to the Rural King for chicks, that I wanted a garden.  It was received with surprisingly few comments from the family.  Keep in mind, that these people KNOW me and my love of new projects.  I’m always cooking up some fabulous idea that usually involves me giving a lot of directions and my husband and son doing a lot of work that I respond to by saying “Oh…I didn’t want it THAT way” and the usual response is that I’m going to end up with just my head in a duffle bag on the front seat of my car.

As per my usual, I was terribly excited at the prospect of growing food.  First of all…food is expensive, second of all…when you buy food in the store you have no idea whether or not they’ve beaten the spiders out of it.  I’m convinced that I’m going to be killed by a bunch of bananas some day that contain some sort of fang-toothed-forty-eyed-furry-legged spider from South America OR I’m going to buy some lettuce that has been irrigated with water that somehow contained a dead animal and I’m going to contract some horrible disease carried by…well, dead animals.  My husband thinks I’m a head case.  I think he should check the bananas for spiders.

Anyway, on another trip to the Rural King (calm down…I didn’t get more chicks…don’t think I didn’t TRY though), my son and I poured through all the seed packets, onion sets and seed potatoes.  I didn’t even think about the size this garden would have to be, I just happily kept tossing seed packets in the cart while Greg (my son) came trotting over with an arm load of other garden goodies like seed starting trays, those pots that dissolve in the dirt (do those have a name?) and other various garden bric-a-brac.  When I started ranting about corn, my husband decided it was time to go.

So we hauled everything home and Greg sat on the deck with a bag of dirt and a bag of peat moss and planted seeds in pots and trays.  Everything was carefully labeled with dates and the type of seed in the pot, something I’d never thought of doing but hey he’s an environmental science major so I just went along with whatever he decided because I have no idea what I’m doing.  We loaded up the freshly planted seeds on to the deck during the day and dutifully dragged them back into the house at night because Spring was dragging its great big green feet and didn’t seem to want to make an appearance any time soon.

Finally, the plants started poking their leaves through the dirt.  They were so delicate and so fragile and really very miraculous.  I suddenly became rather attached to them.  They were sort of like strange, green, leafy children that didn’t say much which made them all that much more lovable.  One day, I realized that I would have to thin out some of the 600 tomatoes growing in each pot…and the cute broccoli was starting to get so big and it needed to be thinned too.  It makes me kind of sad, because they went through ALL that trouble to germinate and now I was going to just yank them out of the pot and ruin their whole plant groove.  So I keep putting it off, which isn’t good for them, but works for me.   I plan on making my son do it because I make him do all the stuff I don’t want to do and although he’s oddly obsessed with fish, I don’t think he’ll have any problems with mass plant homicide.

plants

I still have far too many packets of seeds to plant…the ones that really don’t need to be started in a pot.  One night, I was discussing it with the indentured servants (read as: my husband and son) and I realized that this garden was going to be roughly the size of a football field if I really plant all this stuff.  I also don’t want to use any chemicals, so that means I have to WEED.  Remember what I said about spiders?  Have you ever seen those giant orb weaving garden spiders that are the size of hotdogs with four inch legs?

I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to hear me screaming from your house.

Hooked.

At some point, when I was really young, I fell in love with the country.   We lived in a small rural town in Illinois and although we could smell the stench when the local dairy farmer cleaned out his barn, I still felt as though I was a “city” girl.  Many of my friends lived in the country and I loved going to their farms, just to be out in the open ad see the animals and just the way everything smelled.  I couldn’t get enough.

Farms made my dad a wreck.  For some reason, he was convinced that a rogue farm implement was going to come careening out of nowhere and mow me down.  His second favorite scenario was that we would be somehow trampled by wild farm animals.  Since the anxiety of the thought of either of those two events made him nearly insane, I was not allowed to go to friends’ farm homes very often.  Which made me want to go even more.  By the time I was in junior high school, I was convinced that I would someday live on a farm…and would have to have my father sedated daily.

Every summer, I would spend about a week at my best friend/cousin’s farm.  If you look on a map for “Middle of Nowhere”, this farm was just south of there.  At least it seemed that way when you’re twelve.   I lived for that week in the summer when my aunt and cousin would come to visit for the day and I’d get to go home with them to their farm. A REAL farm.  Not one of those grain farm operations, although they did grow grain as well, this farm had all of the typical farm-type animals…cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats and KITTENS.  The barn smelled of cattle and manure and above the cattle was the most glorious hayloft you’ve ever seen.  Huge soaring space sparkled with dust specs as sunlight streamed through the windows set high in the peak.  We would climb into the loft with a bag of my aunt’s giant chocolate chip cookies and lay in the sweet hay and eat cookies and laugh.  Convinced we were being horribly emotionally damaged by boredom, we would craft all sorts of schemes in that hayloft.  We never accomplished one of them, but it was always a good time to eat cookies and plan.

Every morning I’d awaken to the crowing of a rooster, the contented clucking of hens in the henhouse, the slamming of the doors of the pig feeder and the bleating of sheep.  We’d get dressed, eat chocolate cake or something equally inappropriate for breakfast, and head outside where we spent the entire day harassing the animals, eating all of the raspberries, or finding other trouble to get into.  I think that it was during those times at the farm, that I felt the happiest.  The days were long and hot, everything felt a little bit dusty, evenings seemed to stretch on forever.  In other words, it was perfect.  The worst part was returning back to town at the end of the week.

I turn fifty this 0048-Roosteryear.  I can hardly even write that without twitching.  For most of my life, I’ve lived in an urban setting.  Some were more urban than others.  For the majority of my life, I lived not far from Chicago.  Five years ago, I moved to southern Indiana and got a fresh look at “rural”.  I resisted it like a hooked trout for the first four years, complained non-stop and eventually in the last year or so, I’ve started to calm down about it.  I mean, it’s really not so bad.  It’s definitely a different way of life.  I came to appreciate the area though and the diverse landscape that it possesses.  We moved to a home at the edge of a large city that was at the end of a cul-de-sac in a small subdivision.   We are surrounded by oak trees with a field and a small lake behind us and a small swamp and creek that borders one side of the property.  The home is close enough to civilization for me to not freak out if I need to run to the store for something, but still “country” enough that when we sit on our deck at night we hear owls and during the day we see foxes, wild turkeys, hawks, eagles and we often see the hoof prints of deer down in the swampy area of the property.  It’s pretty sweet.

I’m an animal nut too.  Six dogs.  If I could cram more in the house, I would but in addition to cramming them in the house, I’d have to get them past my husband and it would probably end poorly.  So, I gave up on more dogs.  There was still something missing to the whole country feeling though.  Then one day we got the mail.

“CHICK DAYS”, proclaimed a newspaper flyer from a local farm store.  You can buy chickens at a store?  I poured through the flyer several times, fixated on the adorable pictures of baby chicks that seemed to be covering every square inch of the flyer.  My husband was shuffling through the rest of the mail, not at all noticing what I was looking at.  I held up the flyer with a ridiculously cute chick on it,

“Chick Days.”

“Yep”

“People can buy chickens?”

“You can have a few chickens in town here.”

I froze.  Chickens?   I LIKE chickens.  I LIKE eggs.  This seems completely plausible!

“I want to get chickens.”

“WHAT?”

“It would be soooooo fun.”

He thought for a minute.

“You can get some chickens.  Just find out the ordinances and stuff.  We can go later if you want.”

I sat there stupidly for a minute.  He won’t let me have another dog, but I can have chickens?  Huh.  I’m good with that.  And in a moment standing at the island in the kitchen, I became an urban farmer…at least in my own mind.  I knew very little about chickens.   I mean, of course I knew they laid eggs and roosters are boys and they stink to high heavens on a hot humid day, but I didn’t really know what they ate or how eggs were made or how they should live.  I recall thinking, it CAN’T be that hard, for Pete’s sake I have six dogs, I can surely handle some chickens.  Right?  Suddenly, I felt very important!  I was going to have CHICKENS.  Egg-laying-sweetly-clucking-beautifully-feathered CHICKENS.  I got a little giddy and soon I was not only planning on having a few chickens, but in my imagination I started selling fresh eggs, cultivated a huge garden and had a wildly successful farm stand that sold out of everything every day and made a trillion dollars.  I could hardly stand the excitement!  So forgetting that I knew nothing about chickens and just going with that feeling of “I’m going to make a trillion dollars on eggs.”  I made the decision to get chickens and my husband actually went along with it.

Turning fifty, getting chickens, living in a subdivision…this was exciting stuff!  I bounced around the house chattering wildly about chicks as we got ready to head to the farm store.  My son came into the house about that time and I gushed,

“WE’RE GETTING CHICKENS!”

After he stopped laughing, I shoved the “CHICK DAYS” flyer under his nose and he cooed stupidly at the chick on the front page.

I’d suckered another one into my plan.