• 77°

Recalling that garden question

“Do you have a garden?”

This column first heard that inquiry about 44 years ago.

It was around June 1, 1968.

I was standing in a checkout line at Mississippi Wholesale in Brookhaven. It was a locally owned, smaller version of WalMart, providing area residents with a multitude of items required for everyday life in a small town.

The respondent to the above question began to tick off a variety of vegetables, some of them unknown to me. I was a transplanted Yankee, with past residences in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and major Texas cities of Houston and Dallas.

Vegetables came in a can. Green beans were warmed up and consumed. Carrots, spinach, cream-style corn and baked potatoes were a common table food in my growing up years. Most of them came out of a can.

“My butterbeans are almost at the top of the pole,” replied the local resident. “My okra is trying to put out, if those dang rabbits don’t chew it up again.”

My grandparents on my mother’s side of the family had owned a dairy farm, located outside Manitowoc, Wis. They raised beans, potatoes, corn, carrots, spinach, celery, green peas, cabbage, lettuce and beets to feed their family. Cherries, apples and strawberries were a sweet bonus.

What was okra?

I had heard of turnips but the Lincoln County folks liked greens and onions; even mustard greens and black-eyed peas.

“My purple eye peas are looking good,” said the local resident. “We should have watermelons by the Fourth. We’ve got plenty of squash. Would you like a sack of ’em?”

Southern hospitality shares home-grown vegetables.

“Sure. When the rutabagas are ready, I’ll bring you some. Looks like we’ll have plenty of tomatoes if we can keep the worms off them.”

Worms on tomatoes?

What kind of worms?

A few years later, my wife Laurie would introduce me to gardening. Her parents, Percy and Alta Fauver, were close to the earth. They had a beautiful garden, overflowing with all kinds of fresh vegetables.

Thus began my relationship with the good earth.

“What are those sticks stuck in the ground for.”

My agrarian ignorance was obvious. I didn’t know a butterbean from a lima bean. Didn’t beans grow in bunches close to ground? Didn’t beans come in a can with chunks of pork rind mixed in?

I soon became part of forays into the forest, searching for butterbean poles. Sweet gum trees provide the best poles for the bean vines to climb.

Brandishing a machete and feeling like Jungle Jim, I would plunge into the undergrowth, unaware that hungry ticks and chiggers were ready to launch a vicious, surprise attack on my tender, northern skin. Note: bites from deer flies are more painful than horse flies.

After a few restless nights spent scratching the bites, I invested in several cans of insect repellent. It worked wonders…most of the time. Stock market gains in bug repellent spiral this time of the year.

Our infant garden grew with vigor. The warm ground, bathed in sunshine, nourished with rain and humidity, promoted 24-hour a day growth.

Blooms were pollinated day and night, either by bees, moths or butterflies. Every insect has a purpose. However, the fire ant was sent from hell to torture us.

Back to the tomato worm. Our tomato plants grew tall, first sprouting blooms and then delicious fruit. It looked like a bountiful crop until the worm arrived.

“They usually come out early in the morning or close to dark,” explained Laurie, sharing her in-depth knowledge. “You can tell they’re around by the dark droppings on the ground.”

Those worms could clean a tomato plant of its leaves in a day or two. Holes in the fruit provided more condemning evidence of their intrusion.

Squatting, crawling and squinting in the late evening, this rookie gardener searched for the elusive tomato worm. They were as green as the stalk and resembled a giant caterpillar with steroid muscles.

Grab a 4-inch tomato worm and you immediately are impressed by their strength and power. Thank goodness they don’t have a large mouth and sharp teeth. They would make great fish bait but that’s another story.

Captured worms were squashed underfoot with a vengeance. They left a pile of green ooze at the murder scene.

Personally speaking, a garden can be a therapeutic experience. After an exhausting day of writing sports stories, proofing pages, making deadlines, doing interviews, taking photographs, covering ballgames, answering the telephone and sharing the news, an escape to the great outdoors is refreshing. My headaches and troubles are placed in God’s good earth.

Currently, our tomatoes are turning red, our cucumbers are starting to produce, tiny butterbean shells are appearing, bell peppers are growing, jalapeno peppers are prospering and there’s plenty of squash. Even the okra looks good after a cool and wet spring.

Laurie and I even planted a row of cotton this year for a special occasion. Our granddaughter, Jessica Boyd, wants to use bolls of cotton as a decoration for her wedding in late September.

For sure, cotton picking time will arrive before that important date. It will be my first time to pick cotton.

Contact sports editor Tom Goetz by Email: tom.goetz@dailyleader.com