At ground level

A column about LIFE

Full circle, living off the land – maybe

Thirty years ago, I lived on an Iowa farm. I was a city girl from another country, so the environment and lifestyle were new to me. One of the things I learned there is at the heart of rural life is the garden.

Mind you, I do not have a green thumb. In fact, my children tell me I have a “purple thumb.” Despite this fact, gardening I did, together with my now ex-husband.

We planted tomatoes, green beans, green peppers, red peppers, banana peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, eggplant, peas, rhubarb, beets, zucchini and onions. The garden thrived. That’s the beauty of Iowa soil. It is so rich that anyone, even a “purple thumb” like myself, can grow anything in that fertile soil.

My first garden on the farm.

Gardening was challenging for me. I hated the weeding. I was in awe at the bountiful crop, but the novelty soon wore off. I worked part-time as a writer for the county newspaper then, yet it seemed like my real job was to put the produce from the land to good use. With the apples on the farm I baked and froze pies. Then I learned to can applesauce, and did the same for the vegetables from my garden.

The tomatoes just kept coming. I canned whole tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, and even my very own ketchup. I canned green beans, beets and froze the peas. I canned sweet pickles, dill pickles and pickle relish. I canned peaches. I even made jam and apple butter. I was a busy farm wife.

At the time, I didn’t much appreciate what I did. Gardening and canning seemed such a chore. There were many nights when I stayed up canning and sweating in a hot, steam-filled kitchen. We had to put everything to good use, my husband would continually remind me. He didn’t know that when the crop became overwhelming for me, I would sneak to the barn and feed the tomatoes and zucchinis (they kept coming too) to the hogs!

I can still remember cursing when I made my first batch of ketchup. I stirred the mixture for what seemed like hours, waiting for it to thicken. It splattered all over the kitchen – on my face, on my clothes, on my stove, on the walls, on the ceiling. I was exasperated! “Wouldn’t it be much easier and cheaper to just buy a bottle of ketchup for 70 cents (back then) at the store?” I wailed.

Yet, I have to admit, my ketchup tasted better than the store’s. So did my tomato sauce, my salsa, my pickles, my applesauce and peaches. They looked oh, so beautiful too, all lined up neatly on my shelves.

That was many, many, moons ago … I now live in Silicon Valley. What could be more metropolitan than this place, far away from farm land. It’s just a hop and a skip to the store, where I can buy all kinds of vegetables and fruits. So why do I find myself yearning for the produce that comes straight from the land?

At the store, they now call these fruits and vegetables “organic” and they are expensive. I have to chuckle at the irony of it all. I had all that a long time ago, and didn’t even appreciate it!

Last year, I planted a flower garden, and the year before, I even sodded my lawn. Alas, the Bay Area’s moles and gophers took over my lawn, and the voles devoured my beautiful flowers. I finally gave up.

Lately, I’ve become more determined. I want to have my own vegetable garden. If I want to beat those rodents, I will have to build a raised garden. So yesterday, I bought this kit with precut cedar wood and screws. I have a power drill; I just have to figure out how to use it. Once it’s completed, I want to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green and red peppers and, eventually, who knows? Perhaps, I will start canning again …

Little did I know when I cursed at that first batch of ketchup, years later, everything would turn full circle for me, and that I would miss those days on the farm, and attempt to go back any way I could – even if it means constructing a raised garden in the city.

The verdict is still out … Remember, I still have that “purple thumb.” I’ll let you know how this project progresses.

April 15, 2011 - Posted by | Iowa | , , , , ,


  1. Good luck! You can do it and you should do it.

    Make sure you line the bottom of each raised bed with metal “hardware cloth” quarter-inch fencing. That will keep out all the little diggers.

    Comment by Jimmy Cracked-Corn | April 15, 2011 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the good wishes and the tip, Jimmy! I bought some chicken wire. I am even considering a raised bed with legs, just to be on the safe side. I will keep you posted.

    Comment by rosemeily | April 15, 2011 | Reply

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