By James Richardson | Photography courtesy of James Richardson
As sunny, spring days replace the gray skies of winter, it’s time to think about gardening – an outdoor activity with fringe benefits like your own fresh produce.
Spring in the Mid-South is a beautiful time. Trees begin to bloom and show their leaves. Green grass pops through the brown remembrances of the winter just past. The spring flowers emerge. Nature’s growing season makes one think, especially in the South, that it would be nice to plant something. Like a garden. Or raising a few tomato plants. Or not.
The idea of raising and eating vegetables from their very own garden is very appealing to some Mid-Southerners. To others, just a few tomato plants will cure the urge to grow something. But a garden is a lot of work. Just ask Jim Long of Fayette County,Tennessee. He is a retired accountant, and with his wife Pauline, has been raising a garden for the past several years.
“Gardening is hard work with a lot of satisfaction on the back end. It gets me outside and allows me to get a certain amount of exercise,” he says. “But preparing the ground with manure, sand, and lime is a lot of work. Then there is the tilling to mix the dirt and aerating the ground to prepare it for the seed sets. I guess there is a certain amount of stress relief, but that is not the primary reason we garden.”
Long and his wife, Pauline, participate in the gardening endeavors equally. Long does the things requiring the most physical effort while his wife takes care of the planning and planting.
“It is a team effort and gets us working on a common goal,” he explains.
That is the way most gardeners work…together with their spouse. Not only does it give the satisfaction of growing their own food, but it also hopefully bonds their relationship.
Satisfaction and eating the end products of the labor seem to be the most common reasons for gardening. In addition, making a trip to the nearby grocery store would be a lot easier than putting in all the work and expense of growing their own vegetables.
“Mostly we get the satisfaction of growing things that we can eat after the harvest on an ongoing basis,” he says.
Another benefit from gardening is that it is the ‘gift that keeps on giving.’ The produce is often too abundant to consume as it is harvested. So, preserving it by canning is the likely solution.
“My wife makes sweet pickles by the boatload, more than we can possibly eat or need, but she has a whole list of people who enjoy receiving them,” he says.“There are some things that get planted for the benefit of others because a lot of the satisfaction in managing the garden is to give others the benefit of the things that we grow.”
Long says another benefit is knowing his garden produce is fresh.“It did not spend a lot of time on a truck after being picked green and chemically ripened – either on the way to the store or in a warehouse somewhere,” he says proudly.
“What we grow we mostly share with family. Some folks happen to show up at the house at the right time and will probably walk away with something from the garden. Most everybody likes tomatoes and when they start coming in, there are almost more than we can deal with.
“They have to go somewhere. We start working the list so that family and friends can get tomatoes before they go bad or when they are just before optimal ripeness.”
Some friends and family just can’t wait, though. “My brother-in-law showed up one day and started eating ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine by the back door,” he adds with a smile.“My wife tried to explain to him that she had just sprayed for bugs and he needed to wash them off.” Knowing what chemicals are used on a garden is another advantage of growing one’s own fruits and vegetables, which is an unknown factor when buying produce from a grocery store.
But managing a garden also has other challenges, according to Long.
“There is also some level of satisfaction in outsmarting the deer and others animals and bugs that attempt to eat things in the garden and take advantage of our work.”
Long says gardening has another benefit besides getting exercise, being outdoors and eating fresh produce.
“Being successful at growing a garden brings an appreciation of what doing a good job at something feels like,” he explains.“Like the kind of feeling that if you can grow tomatoes, there are probably other things that you can do, too.”