Three of my four grandparents were farmers. My mom spent her early years on a farm and thereafter was an avid gardener. Once my father retired, he too became a gardener. He went overboard with it, dragging Mom into an expanded 1-acre version of her garden.
As farms go, an acre isn’t much, but for a vegetable garden, an acre is a lot. A square acre is 209 feet on each side.
He also planted separate areas for dwarf fruit trees, grape vines, raspberries and asparagus.
Growing stuff in the dirt seems to be in my blood. Being lazier than Dad and Mom were, I’ve not recently aspired to having a vast garden. In the early years of our marriage, my beloved wife, Marsha, and I had two gardens — a small kitchen garden next to the house and a 40-foot square garden for beans, beets, parsnips, radishes, carrots, more tomatoes, more peppers, and squash.
We canned stuff. We frozen stuff.
One night at 1 am, we were working to snip off the ends off the endless supply of green beans we had harvested after the kids fell asleep. The canning jars were all sterilized and the kettle of water on the stove was starting to boil again, ready for the bean-filled jars. This was our fourth straight night of processing beans.
We were tired. So tired that we decided we could buy frozen beans and canned tomatoes from the grocery store. The next morning, I plowed up the 40-foot garden and planted grass seed.
We still had the smaller garden and have had small gardens ever since.
When we moved a year and a half ago, it meant creating a new garden. Our former home was in the middle of town. The new one is in the middle of a woods. Deer, rabbits, woodchucks, turkeys and raccoons live in the woods but come to dine in our yard.
Gardens and critters do not mix.
Our first summer was busy with settling in, but we created a garden on our deck. We had big pots and a raised-bed planter—enough to provide us with plenty of tomatoes, peppers, radishes and cucumbers.
Since half of my DNA came from Dad, I was determined to expand to a larger garden. The other half of my DNA came from my arthritic mother, so raised-bed planters appealed to me.
Early in the spring, I assembled two of the big planters and filled them with good soil. Handyman Dave built a fence around my sprouting boxes.
This is not an insignificant fence. It is 7 feet high and encloses a 16-foot square area. It is clad with stiff wire fencing — no chicken wire or plastic mesh for Handyman Dave. Any furry critter that can surmount that fence deserves a feast.
Even the gate is substantial. It is tall and wide and swings on big strap hinges. It’s perfect.
The day Handyman Dave finished my fence, I happily went into the enclosure to pull some weeds, water and cut the grass inside. It was hot and humid. Soon, I was dripping with sweat. The mosquitoes and deer flies were having no problem getting inside my new sanctuary.
I finished my work, grabbed my tools and then discovered that the latch on the gate was only accessible from the outside.
Fortunately, I had my phone. Marsha answered my call and came to my rescue.
The next day, I removed the latch and replaced it with a powerful spring.
I like gardening, but I don’t want to be a prisoner to the avocation.
Jim Whitehouse lives in Albion.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Telegram: Jim Whitehouse: Almost a prisoner of gardening success