just call me mrs. green jeans
By Deb Baer Becker
Inspired by nostalgia for the pastoral Pennsylvania landscape of my youth, with its electric green corn fields reaching leafy arms in praise to the summer sun, and the scent of good earth, I planted my first garden here in the hardscrabble dirt that is Texas. I’d grown up during the 1970’s Eden that was the Lebanon Valley—green as far as a child’s eyes could see—goodness growing in neat rows, planted in quilt-like squares, within an empire of well-nourished Holsteins, all stitched to a backdrop of blue mountains and the Susquehanna River.
A yearning for green hums it's melody inside me.
So, when I set out to infuse my new six-by-six-foot raised garden bed with all of my green inspiration, I thought, I’m a natural! God’s gift to gardening.
Just call me Mrs. Green Jeans.
Now this new Mrs. Green Jeans did not have the Farmers’ Almanac, or a seed catalogue, nor any of the stuff that William Carlos Williams said depends on a red wheel barrow. She didn’t know which direction the sun shines on the garden; or that tomato plants like their lowest stalks free of leaves in the same way that Mrs. Green Jeans keeps her legs shaved below the knees; or that the spoilt milk in the refrigerator nourishes the garden with calcium. She didn’t know that stink bugs really do stink; or that a hundred mosquitoes hide in the celery plant, and bite her face. Too, Mrs. Green Jeans is not married to Mr. Green Jeans; she’s married to Mr. Golf Greens.
That said, the Hubster built the garden, and offered more help, but I did much of the grunt work myself because sometimes I am an impatient and stubborn old witch.
We’d spent more than two hundred dollars that summer on the wood, soil, fertilizer, plants, and the PVC pipe and widgets that my dear Hubster purchased to run water to the garden.
My first summer’s crop yield?
Six tomatoes that the USDA would have classified as marginally edible; one strawberry (some nocturnal thing with big teeth ate the rest); and a bushel of humungous but tasteless, pale and phallic cucumbers. That penis vine had spiky stalks, which shot forth strapping cucumbers and a million leaves with sticky tendrils, that leashed themselves to every living thing in and around the garden, even one of the dogs.
My first garden failed, as do all ideas fueled by not much more than nostalgic idealism, rather than good old-fashioned working knowledge, earned by sweat and patience.
One summer, when I was eleven, I’d befriended Mr. Struphar, a retired farmer who lived next door to our house in Bellgrove. Tanned face, furrowed brow, blue eyes smiling under the brim of his John Deere green cap—Mr. Struphar was the real Mr. Green Jeans.
His garden held long rows of potatoes, peas, carrots, asparagus, garlic, onions; a whole cornucopia of good eating. He taught me how to shell peas by pinching the pod’s tip open, and then sliding the ten or so tiny green miracles into a bowl with my thumb. I learned that it’s okay to get dirt under my fingernails so long as I brushed it out and washed my hands for dinner. I still remember how to count to twenty in German, which he patiently taught me, his voice rich with a Pennsylvania Dutch accent, saying, “Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs….”
I’m still earning my stripes, er, suspenders, to become a garden-savvy Mrs. Green Jeans.
There’s a whole university of gardening and farming knowledge--and cow manure! How in the world did I forget to add nature’s fundamentally organic and truly magic soil conditioner to my hopeful garden?
This year’s garden is pumping out some nice Juliet tomatoes, and jolly green peppers, a load of army-green kale, and peppery celery (which I add to everything I cook). Big Tooth is still eating the strawberries.
When this summer’s crop is spent, I’m planning a fall garden with beets, more kale, and cauliflower! It’s good to be green!