June 06, 2007
My Garden Of Eaten
One of my many problems is I think big.
This creates problems because though I'm a big thinker, I'm not much of a doer.
In a perfect world I would have great ideas and a bunch of minions to order around to implement them. Come to think of it, in theory, that's what I have here at The Independent. The trouble with this theory however, is most of my staffers pretty much ignore me.
Anyhow, I've bitten off way more than I can chew with my new vegetable garden.
It had modest roots, if you'll excuse the pun. I bought one of those Grow Your Own spice kits and put it on the windowsill in January. Then I added a bunch of flower seeds. As the weeks turned into months, the seeds grew, and I'd have to get bigger and bigger pots. Pretty soon there were pots of growing things all over the place.
A couple weeks ago I proudly transplanted the blooming flowers into urns on my front porch and bushel baskets on either side of the driveway.
The next day, Karen went out to the front yard to get The Times and noticed they were all gone, eaten by the deer.
With basil, two types of parsley, oregano, thyme, cilantro, chives, and rosemary still to be planted, I had no recourse but to build a mesh fence around the front yard, where I had a couple piles of topsoil from an earlier project. Then I figured, what the hell, might as well plant some tomatoes . . . and then, peppers. And then, I added yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, watermelon, two kinds of cukes, five kinds of lettuce and three more varieties of tomatoes.
The mesh fence was immediately trampled by the fearless deer. The problem, one neighbor advised, was they couldn't see it. So I took some old white jockey shorts and cut them into strips, tying them to the fence in different spots. Still, my feeling the deer would get in and eat all the veggies come harvest time persisted.
That's where the Irish Spring thing sprouted wings.
I had read deer don't like the smell of Irish Spring soap. One old adage advised to sling a string up over a tree branch and tie a bar of Irish Spring to it. The hope being as the wind blows the soap sways, creating motion that will alarm the deer and releasing the dreaded scent of the Irish Spring that will also repulse the animal. I hung six. That chore accomplished, I took to fertilizing the tomato plants, because I read seaweed under the soil made for much tastier fruit.
Bad move, said the garden center guy. His wife did that, and the raccoons came, attracted by the scent of dead fish (why raccoons find that smell attractive is a topic for another time) and uprooted all her plants. What next?
Raccoons don't like the smell. I raced to the drug store, got a couple packages, and sprinkled it liberally. So far, so good. No raccoons.
They ate the first parsley I planted within hours. "Need to get 'em up off the ground," the neighbor advised. At first I thought he meant I should hang the rabbits, but he was referring to the herbs. That's where the upside down garbage cans came in handy. A few of them and I had all the herbs potted and up where they could flourish safe and sound – from the rabbits.
Of course, there were still voles and field mice to worry about.
Tabasco sauce. Yep. They hate it, preferring their vegetables on the bland side. Off to the supermarket for a summer's supply.
To say my grandfather had a green thumb would be an understatement. In our modest yard on Howard Street in Sag Harbor, he grew enough food to last a year, and raised chickens to boot. He also had apple, pear and fig trees. And of course, grapes. He also had a goat and once a year would slaughter a pig. He could feed the entire family all year long.
In those days they didn't use Irish Spring and talcum powder to ward off critters. Papa had a dog, Boots, who would chase the vermin who bothered the chickens, like weasels and opossum, for example. I remember on really hot summers he would have to spray soapy-water on the tomatoes every now and then to get rid of the slugs.
Basically, he just planted stuff. He knew from experience what to do – he'd plant the basil in between the tomato plants "they like it there," he'd say. Marigolds planted around the tomatoes seemed to help keep pests away. He was very careful with members of the cabbage family – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. because they attract beetles.
Anyway, by day's end I had the makings of a first-rate garden . . . or at least in my mind I did.
And then Karen came home.
"Why are there garbage cans in my front yard?" she asked angrily.
(An aside to men: when jointly owned objects are referred to in the singular, you know you are in hot doo-doo, as in "who spilled beer on my rug" or "who was eating potato chips in my bed.")
She was walking around, surveying the garden, with those angry eyes women get when their husbands act like eight year olds.
"Why are there bars of soap hanging from my trees? Is today Halloween? Rick, Rick!"
I tried to explain what was going on. "A war has begun. My job is to bring this garden to harvest so I can feed my family."
"So you're hanging your underwear on a fence in my front yard?"
She disappeared into the house, the front door slamming shut behind her.
"It's OK," I told my new dog, Boots Two. "She's a little mad now, but she'll perk up when she sees the pig and the goat."