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vegetable gardenI’m going to plant my garden today.

To me, that statement is pretty simple and self explanatory. But if I said that to my Dad he would have looked at me with the most confused face. How do you plant a garden in a day, would be his question.

I grew up on a small farm in Michigan, close to the coast of Lake Michigan. It was a fun place to grow up. We would work hard on our land, and when it was time to relax, we would head to the beach.

And, yes, our beach actually looks very similar to the beaches here in California, just not with big waves.

We raised all sorts of animals on our farm. Not the pet variety so much as the eating variety. I used to have to pluck chickens every Sunday. I hated that job.

We had a big garden too. And I mean big, like in acres. I guess with so many kids, my parents needed a big garden to feed all of us.

I remember hearing my dad out on his tractor in the early morning hours.  He liked to get out there early in April and work the soil as soon as the ground thawed enough for the plough to break the soil. He seemed the happiest when he was out on his land.

Because our garden was so large, he would carefully plan out each section. In my tiny little garden I just have to figure out what to plant in such a small space. But Dad wanted rows and rows of vegetables and fruit. He was pretty cleaver too. We didn’t have money for fancy equipment, so my dad would invent ways to get the job done for cheap, or free.

He invented this tool to mark the rows in parallel straight lines. He fashioned a long pole with wire chains on it every foot or so. And then two of my brothers would each hold an end and walk through the freshly ploughed soil, carefully marking the long rows for planting.

We would all be out there in the spring planting corn, potatoes, peas, carrots, beets, and just about anything else the fertile Michigan soil would yield. It was great fun working together.

By the time summer came and school was out the garden was in full bloom. Looking back now, I would say that being poor had its rewards. Because we didn’t have money for things like pesticides and herbicides, we grew up organic. Funny, now I pay so much more for that organic food.

I think Dad liked potatoes best, because it seemed like we had acres of them. I remember him handing me and my brothers old coffee cans with a little kerosene in them and sending us off to the potato field. Our instructions were to carefully look at each plant and pull any potato bugs off them and drop them into our cans. I remember the sound those bugs made when they hit the kerosene. They kind of sizzled.

We did the same in the corn field, picking silk worms off them and dropping them into our cans. I learned that corn needs to be planted in several shorter rows to help the plants pollinate. I learned how to build teepee like structures for the pole beans to climb on and how to plant asparagus crowns.

My dad also knew how to plant things so that we had fresh vegetables on our table most nights. I have to say, you have never tasted sweet corn, until you’ve tasted Michigan sweet corn. But by the end of the season it seemed like everything was ready to harvest at once. There was a feeling of excitement and even frenzy with all of us working day and night to get everything harvested, cleaned, canned, or stored in the root cellar.

It wasn’t until all of the work was done that my dad and mom could relax. As our reward for a job well done they would take us out for ice cream cones on our way to the beach.

Simple, but wonderful.

By the time I graduated high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of Michigan and start my own life. I moved across country to Oregon. I think at the time I thought I should live near a ‘real beach’ and I already had family in Oregon. I settled in Central Oregon, which is nothing like the Oregon most people picture. It’s not the rainy side of Oregon. It’s the high desert side.

Before long I was married with two little boys and I started dreaming about my very own garden. Since we had a small farm, I figured why not make it as big as I could. I could plant corn, potatoes, peas, carrots, beets and everything else we grew back in Michigan. I was so excited.

I didn’t have a large enough garden to use a tractor and plough, but I did find an old rototiller for sale in the paper and got busy tilling the soil. Man that was hard work. It took all of my strength to push that old tiller around the hard pack soil.

I finally got the soil ready and made smaller raised areas and even got some poles to make a teepee for the beans. This took me almost a week to accomplish. Once everything was in, I took pictures and carefully wrote everything down in my new garden journal. I was excited to see my garden take off.

I found out later that according to Farmer’s Almanac, Central Oregon’s growing ‘season’ is 30 days. July 15 – August 15, to be exact. And I can tell you what grows best there: Weeds. I spent so much time in my garden covering plants up at night, uncovering them each morning and pulling weeds that I came to dread it.

And that was a real struggle for me. Gardening was what I did; it was where I came from. Why wasn’t this any fun?

By the end of the summer I had a few things to harvest amongst the weeds. My boys came out to help me pull up beets and even the dogs joined in. As we all sat in the dirt looking for beets and laughing at the dogs helping, I realized it wasn’t gardening that I loved. It was all the wonderful time I got to spend with my family. We had a great time growing up working on that farm together. We made work fun because we had each other.

Now my garden is just a small space to plant a few things. But each time I put my hands in the soil, or carefully pull any bugs off a plant, or bite into a beautiful ripe tomato, I smile and get a warm feeling inside of me. I can hear my dad’s plough, my brothers laughter and my sisters giggling.

I can see my family in those plants.

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