Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sweating My Butt Off in the Hot Sun Because Barbara Kingsolver Told Me To (by Jody Casella)

I'd always liked the IDEA of gardens. But I could never see myself actually, you know, out there in the dirt, gardening. 

The extent of my gardening experience was to buy a couple of pots of tomatoes from Lowes, stick them out on the back porch, and hope I didn't forget to water them.

Then I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. (Side note: Kingsolver's one of my favorite authors. Her novel The Poisonwood Bible is easily in my top ten life-changing books She lectured once at a local university after that book came out, and I missed it --a huge regret!-- so when I saw that she was returning to give a talk about her new book, I was all over it. To attend the talk, you had to buy Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction book about... gardening. Not really my thing.)

I loved the book from the very first page. It's a memoir, of sorts, about the year Kingsolver and her family tried to only eat the food they grew themselves (or could purchase from farmers within one hundred miles). There are recipes. Gardening tips. Disturbing facts about the food industry in America. And a hilarious chapter about Barbara crawling around on her knees trying to watch her turkeys mate with each other (apparently, turkeys have been bred NOT to mate and have kinda forgotten how.)

Around the same time I read this book, my family moved from Lexington, Kentucky to Columbus, Ohio, and our new backyard had space for a large garden. I'm not gonna lie, I seriously thought about buying a few turkeys too, but decided to dial back a little on my plans.

Inspired by Barbara, the first order of business was to plant asparagus. See, it takes like, 6 or 7 years to get a good established crop, but it is so worth it to one day be able to stride out into your garden and snap those lovely stalks out of the ground.

I WANTED those asparagus stalks.

You have to plant the rootballs in March, in a trench 18 inches deep, six inches apart. I ordered 24 rootballs. That year, our first winter in Ohio, was stunningly wet and gray and cold. I wheedled my husband into helping me dig the trench. We felt like 18th century Russian peasants out in the mud with our post digger, clomping in the muck, the icy rain misting our faces. The kids were watching us from the warm dry safety of the house, laughing.

"Mom," my son said, shaking his head, and with a look on his face that showed that he clearly thought his father and I were nuts. "You realize that those asparagus won't be ready to pick until I'm away at college?"

I wish I could tell you now, seven years later, that we had a glorious harvest of asparagus.

We didn't.

Something something about soil composition.

Oh well. My son's away at college and I am still gardening. It's a hobby, I guess. Even though I never thought about it this way until I started thinking about what my hobbies are.

I'm not a gardening expert by any stretch of the imagination.

Every year I plan. I plant seeds. I weed. It's a ton of work. But there's something meditative about it. I spend a lot of my time parked inside my house staring at a glowing laptop screen, thinking. Heading out in the garden to attack a weed patch, NOT thinking, is a welcome relief.

I know I am not the first person to see a resemblance between gardening and writing. The planning. The mistakes. The work. The incredible amount of TIME!!

But I do so love the rewards when I just keep digging around in the dirt.

Spring--just planted.
Lots of lettuce and the beginnings of tomatoes, peppers,
eggplant, cucumbers, kale, and green beans
This overgrown mess is what happens when you've been out-of-town and haven't weeded in weeks
Whew! Took care of that.
And looking forward to this year's harvest


  1. I liked this book, too, though the one that really inspired me to "eat local" was Alix Kates Shulman's Drinking the Rain. That's more about foraging than gardening, though.

    1. I haven't heard of Drinking in the Rain. Thanks for the rec! I also liked The Omnivore's Dilemma and Plenty.

  2. One thing I love about Kingsolver is how different her books are in theme, plot, style, everything, yet they're all unmistakably hers. Maybe that's the elusive "voice" they keep talking about.

    I've given up on gardening. Greg and I kill EVERYTHING, even the plants that everyone says nobody can kill.

    1. B Kingsolver is brilliant. Although I must say the last book I read of hers, Flight Behavior, didn't quite work for me. RE: your killing of plants, Tracy. Have you tried growing herbs? They grow like weeds. Oregano, mint, sage, thyme... Throw a few in the ground and watch them take over. (bonus: they come back every year.)

    2. We've already killed one basil plant and are working on another.

  3. I can really relate to the connection between gardening and writing. We have a pretty big vegetable garden on our one acre here in Maine and I've written plenty in my head while weeding or picking fresh stuff to have for supper

    1. I can't tell you how many plot holes I've solved, while digging actual holes...

  4. I love this post, Jody! Makes me want to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and attempt gardening again. My tiny patch is all overgrown now. When we first moved to our house we were spoiled by an avid gardener next door. He had the golden touch and shared his harvest. High Tide in Tucson is one of my favorite books.

    1. I hope you do, Jen... My advice: don't start with asparagus! You can't go wrong with herbs. See above. (okay, maybe basil is a little iffy, as far as care goes, but oregano and mint will take over with no effort on your part) PS. I love High Tide in Tucson. Just read it a few months ago.

  5. love the post! I always imagine myself gardening and have yet to figure out why I don't move past the imagining into the reality. Possibly because it's so hot and humid here for so many months….

  6. I'm impressed! I can't grow ANYTHING.