Saturday, June 10, 2017

Retirement Garden

One of several greenhouses at Christopher's Gardens in Lakeside.

People often ask what I plan to do now that I'm retired, and express their concern that I may become bored in time. It makes me laugh. I cannot even describe how very, very long my retirement "things-to-do" list is. Literally, pages and pages, typed and single-spaced. It's downright overwhelming when I think about it. Good thing I have the rest of my life to work at it!

I've only been retired for five days now, so I haven't had time to refine and restructure my list. There are some items I won't even attempt to get to this year. Maybe not the following year, either. For now, though, I needed to determine the first three or four priorities where I'd initially invest my time and energy. In my mind, over the past few months, that short list looked something like this:

1. Finish writing my novel.
2. Reorganize my home.
3. Plant a garden.
4. Make travel plans.

Gotta love this sign! I adore children, but they do need to be supervised!

This short list is stated basically in order of importance to me; however, they clearly can't be brought to pass in this exact order. For instance, reorganizing my home will be a long-term task, especially given the daily uncertainty of whether my knees are going to be cooperative. Right now, my house is a disaster because it's already in transition. Stacks of boxes and bags filled with personal items brought home from my former classroom have taken over half of Mark's bedroom. In other corners of the house are big boxes for gardening supplies I purchased online, as well as three huge boxes containing cubical shelves I'll be installing in my home office. They will largely be the method I use to organize both my old school stuff and my various retirement projects.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't deal well with visual clutter or disorganized disarray, which perfectly describes my home right at this moment. Thus, I've had to make a conscious decision to "not see" the clutter all around me and focus instead on what else needs doing. Given our short growing season here at an altitude of 7,000 feet, the third item on my list has become the first. The garden!

Christopher's Gardens features more than just plant life.

Let me begin by confessing that I'm no gardener. I kill everything I try to grow, always have. When Mark and I bought this house in July 1993, the previous owners left us a spectacular vegetable garden in back and a beautiful bed of strawberries at the side. We tried to reproduce their efforts in 1994. Nothing survived. Not even for a month. So I gave up. I had children who needed raising and a job to go to everyday, so my life was full enough.

Fast forward to 2011. I'd been married to my second husband for a year when he decided to revive that old garden plot. It was a rough start. We had to learn the hard way about hard freezes and heavy winds that delay planting to as late as June 1st in our area, but by August we had a nice little garden that produced for more than two months. 

He went on to plant beautiful gardens for the following two summers, as well. Not everything was a success. Not even Ed could make the strawberries bear fruit. His peas, broccoli, and lettuce were a bust. The bed of cabbage produced only one head after aphids ate through the crop (but that one did make a lovely coleslaw). The onions, carrots, and potatoes were only moderately successful. On the other hand, we dined like kings on the tomatoes, cucumbers, Anaheim chilies, bell peppers, and pole beans.

Christopher's Gardens also raises fish for use in garden ponds and fountains.

I can't honestly say that there's much I miss about my second husband. He was an abusive, hypocritical control freak who made our lives hell for three years. But I do miss two things: our chickens and his gardens. The chickens themselves were entertaining (Ed told us not to name them, but we did), and there's no substitute for fresh eggs. Ours were huge, in beautiful shades of blue, green, pink, and brown. Unfortunately, the old euphemism for something cheap being "chicken feed" is no longer true. For now, I can't afford to feed a flock.

Even gardening is not as cheap as a trip to Walmart's produce section. I remember that after Ed moved out in July 2013, my June water bill arrived for a whopping $80 plus! But I recall, too, looking often out a bedroom window to watch Ed in the garden, seeing how at peace he seemed and wishing he'd bring that calm spirit into the house with him. He never did. Not even our chickens did for him what the garden could--he was too busy provoking our rooster Percy to attack him or watching Percy viciously ravage the hens, because Ed admired aggressive male behavior. Only the garden brought him to true, satisfying peace and contentment.

May 26, 2107: I decided to start with tomatoes, cucumbers, 
and strawberries, as well as a packet of pole beans to plant.

I'm not sure why the desire to make a garden of my own suddenly struck me earlier this spring, nor why it took root and continued to unfurl inside until I gave in and decided to follow through. I doubt that I've suddenly sprouted a green thumb, although I hope I learned a few things from watching Ed. Maybe I felt a little guilty to see the four garden beds we built sitting empty out there, fallow, for the past three summers. I'm sure I'm motivated to some degree by the exquisite flavor of fresh vegetables, which I love. I think, though, that I'm really looking for that peace that comes from connecting to the earth, now that my life is finally going to slow down.

May 29, 2017: When the wild winds died down three days later,
I put the starts on the garden bed to acclimate.

And so I ordered a lot of gardening supplies from and made a trip to my favorite local nursery, Christopher's Gardens. I decided to start small, just using two of the four raised beds for this year. I purchased a packet of green beans to plant at the foot of a tall bean tower I'd bought. I bought four tomato plants, six cucumber starts, and six strawberry plants. Once they were planted, I gave in to the urge to go back for six more strawberries and three bell pepper plants. I think I'm done now. For this year.

June 1, 2017: The tomato plants are in the ground and caged.

A HUGE thank you goes out to my son-in-law Chris, who spent most of a Saturday clearing out the garden area and preparing two of the beds to be planted. Thanks also to Mark, who gave up two days of after-work relaxation time to break up the soil for me. Another big thanks goes to Sarah, Dylan, and Jake, who helped me get everything into the ground during the days when my knees were at their worst and even my ankles and feet were swelling. And an extra-special thanks to Sarah for the awesome foot rub afterward! (It's much better now.) This has definitely been a family effort, and everyone will reap the rewards. If I don't kill off the plants, that is.

The cucumbers are planted next to the trellis I'll train them to climb.

The first batch of plants were put in the ground nine days ago. The second batch (three bell peppers and six more strawberries) went in six days ago. And nothing has wilted or died on me yet! Even the two strawberry plants that were looking questionable when they finally got planted have perked up nicely.

The first six strawberry plants to go in.

The bell peppers looked a bit limp after being planted, but they're perky now.
June 4, 2017

It's hard for me to see the growth that's happening, since I go out once or twice every day to water and to pull up any prospective weeds I see. However, when the guys came over on Thursday night to treat Mark and me to a surprise barbecue of grilled chicken and burgers (plus a big box of White Mountain Donuts Dylan received for free when he waited on the shop's owner, who was impressed by his quality of service; she even told Dylan's supervisors, who put his name up on the wall), we walked back to see the garden and Jake exclaimed at how much it had grown. I said doubtfully, "Really?" He assured me that the tomatoes had almost doubled in size since he last saw them a week earlier, and everything else had obviously grown, as well.

June 8, 2017: Dylan wields a mighty spatula.

That's why I chronicle everything with my camera! It's hard to see the changes on a daily basis. The rest of the photos below were taken late this morning. You can be the judge of whether they seem to have grown substantially since they were newly planted, as they appeared in the pictures above.

June 10, 2017: How the strawberries were doing today.

Once the monsoon season begins with it's almost daily rainfall, in the next two or three weeks (hopefully), I know from experience that everything will start growing like gangbusters. Including the weeds. I don't know why rain seems to stimulate the plants so much more than hose-water, but it does. It will also save a bit on my water bill!

The cucumbers are absolutely larger today than nine days ago.

As for the peace that can come from gardening, I think I'm getting a small taste of it. I still feel overwhelmed by the prospect of reorganizing my home over the next weeks or months, as well as the reality that I'll have to pace myself in order to save my knees, but I do seem to feel more centered during the thirty or so minutes I spend tending the plants each day. As if I've been renewed to face the rest of the day's demands.

I'll take it.

June 10, 2017: The tomatoes and bell peppers, as of today.
You can see all twelve strawberry plants in the next bed over.

A fourth bean had sprouted this morning, when I took this picture.
When I returned this evening, a fifth sprout was pushing through the soil.

June 10, 2017: The entire garden as it appeared today.

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