Jerry Nelson: Gardening fever

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

Despite my best efforts to avoid it, I was bitten again. I was smitten by the gardening bug.

This happens every spring when the weather warms and the soil gives off that heady perfume from trillions of soil microbes awakening and getting ready to party. It’s an irresistible aroma that whispers sweet nothings in my ear, a tiny voice that murmurs, “It’s time to go play in the dirt!”

I have done the math numerous times and concluded that having a garden makes little economic sense. The value of the veggies that the garden will produce divided by the number of hours that I’ll spend hoeing and weeding and watering add up to a pay scale of pennies per hour. And that doesn’t include the cost of the tools I need to tend the garden such as a rake, a hoe and the John Deere 3010 that I use for approximately five minutes’ worth of plowing.

But there’s nothing like the flavor and the texture of a garden-fresh tomato. Yes, they sell tomatoes at the supermarket. But they are an industrial product and cannot compete with a homegrown, vine-ripened tomato that spent the afternoon basking languidly in the summertime sun.

The last two springs, our garden was so wet that it looked more suitable for a marina than a melon patch. This spring, the garden’s soil had just the right amount of moisture and it tilled up like, well, a garden.

It seems that I got what I wished for when I said last spring, “It can stop raining anytime now!” I had no idea that I had that amount of power over the weather. Many are now concerned that it’s become too dry. Don’t worry; I’ve submitted a requisition for some timely rains. However, I have been informed that they are on backorder.

Over the years, I have developed a distaste for posh, upscale greenhouses.

You stroll into one of those chichi greenhouses and are greeted by a handsome young lady who’s wearing a chic dress and stilettos that look downright deadly. “Welcome to our humble conservatory!” she exclaims in a French accent.

You’re led to an airy room that has been decorated with tasteful pastel tones. You take a seat on a couch that contains enough throw cushions to construct a serious pillow fort.

As the plethora of pillows threatens to engulf you, the stylish young lady asks, “What is monsieur’s wish today? Some kale, perhaps? We have leaf lettuce that is as fine as baby’s hair and our spinach is – how you say? – to die for!”

“I’m not really a greens guy,” you reply as you struggle to keep your head above the tsunami of pillows. “What I’m looking for is tomatoes. Do you have any Beefsteaks? Or Better Boys?”

The young lady tosses you a coquettish smile. “I know just what monsieur wants!” she declares. She snaps her fingers twice and a tuxedo-clad young boy walks into the room. He is pulling a gilded garden cart that contains a single potted tomato plant. An overhead spotlight bestows the plant with a heavenly aura. Angelic choir music plays softly in the background.

“This,” says the young lady with a breathy flourish, “Is a proprietary variety, created by our team of devoted tomato geneticists. Its fruits have subtle overtones of saddle leather with back notes of 50-year-old balsamic vinegar. Her name is Queen Victoria’s Secret Garden. We have a limited supply for only $2,000 per plant. How many does monsieur want? A dozen? A gross?”

“I dunno,” you reply. “You got any Mortgage Lifters?”

Visiting a greenhouse to buy garden plants is always a problem for me. This is because I like just about everything that I see. Out-of-the-way greenhouses that appear to be down on their luck have the most appeal. And whenever I visit a greenhouse, I’m always on the lookout for plants that are strange or odd. I feel a kinship with them.

The same is true of the seeds I purchase. I have cultivated a lifelong fascination with vining plants such as pumpkins and gourds. The weirder and the more warts they have, the better.

During my most recent greenhouse expedition, I was exploring a hidden corner when I stumbled across a mysterious substance called kohlrabi. I’d never seen the stuff before. Since it was tucked away and there were only a few plants, I surmised that kohlrabi must be somewhat illicit. This made it all the more appealing, so I purchased several plants and gave them a new home in our garden.

I have no idea what kohlrabi might be. But it looks weird, and that’s good enough for me.

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at jjpcnels@itctel.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.