Saturday, April 6, 2013

Garden Dividends

Have you done your taxes yet? April 15th is just a week away. Most of the people
I know use an accountant or a website like Turbo Tax for this tedious job, but I do
my own and actually got them mailed in March this year.

Way back in  1974 I got a job at  H and R Block. Whenever I  had free time
between customers, I spent it composing poems for a new garden club program
I was putting together. The poem below  already had a melody. 

Sing a song of Swiss chard, pocket full of peas.
Four and twenty vegetables, grow them with ease.
When I plant the garden, I fertilize it well,
Lots of rotted cow manure, and never mind the smell.
When I see the lettuce dancing down the rows,
I forget the sticky sweat that trickles down my nose.
Hubby’s at the office, making lots of money.
I prefer the garden where all is nice and sunny.
I’ve produce by the bushel, and I can just relax
Cuz all my garden dividends the government can’t tax!

Much has changed since 1974, but the greedy government has yet to tax our garden produce.  No tax men come snooping around counting those sweet peas, and delicious tomatoes, the  fresh broccoli and melt-in-your-mouth onions  you harvest each summer from your back yard garden. 

So, yes, this column is going to seriously encourage you to start a vegetable garden this spring, even if it’s just a  decorative row of lettuces in a window box, or a couple of tomato plants in a bucket on the back porch. How about a single zucchini  plant tucked beneath the lilacs by the back door?  Just one plant will produce zucchinis all summer long which can be served up in a dozen different ways.

If you have a full-time job I’m sure you’re shaking your head, but let me just point out some of the advantages of growing your own vegetables.  Obviously they taste better.  Store-bought vegetable are not bred to be tasty, they’re bred to tolerate the agonies of being shipped from the farm thru the various steps involved to finally  reach the supermarket. If you’ve ever wondered why home-grown tomatoes taste so flavorful compared to the store-bought ones, it’s because the varieties we raise are bred for taste and wouldn’t survive all that traveling. 

Lettuce is one of the easiest and most rewarding vegetables to grow.  It matures quickly and causes few problems unless you count the slugs who love lettuce. However,  slimy slugs also like beer, so if they become a problem, just leave a saucer of Budweiser (any brand will do) set level with the soil in the lettuce row. By morning there will be lots of dead drunk slugs in the saucer.

Buttercrunch is my favorite lettuce, but I also buy a seed packet of mixed varieties so I get some smooth, some ruffled, some  red and some green.  Burpee has some nice collections this year, even one called “Heatwave Blend” that should appeal to the global warming environmentalists.  

Another reason to have a vegetable garden is to educate your children or grandchildren about the excitement of watching plants grow, to see a bean seed push up from the soil and turn into a leafy vine that spirals up a pole and eventually drips with clusters of string beans.  Think of the magic a child can produce by pulling up a carrot from the earth or digging down to find  a new potato.

A vegetable garden can also help solve America’s obesity problems.  Kids aren’t crazy about vegetables, but there’s a world of difference between  fresh string beans picked from the garden just before supper and the tired ones bought at the supermarket  And how can a 6 or 7 year-old resist eating those sweet peas he helped Mom plant?

Not only are items like carrots and broccoli and tomatoes more tasty, they provide kids with an alternative to watching TV or playing video games. 
The government is making a lot of new rules to try and limit all those sugary drinks and junk foods that kids eat,  but  I think obesity is primarily caused by lack of exercise.  Instead of being a couch potato glued to the tube, when kids are asked to help keep the vegetable garden up to snuff, they get plenty of exercise --   spreading manure, rototilling, raking, planting, weeding, mulching, thinning, harvesting. 

I happen to love doing all of the above, but I realize there are many people who find such jobs anything but enjoyable. Nowadays almost every town has a summer farm market piled high with home-grown and freshly harvested vegetables., and it’s a fun way to spend a Saturday morning.

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