North Dakota is way up on the Canadian border. In honor of my maternal grandmother Rhoda Straus, and of course Thomas Jefferson, I have planted a garden each year since I returned to North Dakota in 2005.
Thomas Jefferson was surely right when he said, in a letter to Charles Willson Peale, that “no culture [is] comparable to that of the garden. such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, & instead of one harvest a continued one thro’ the year.” [August 11, 1812, from Poplar Forest]
Last year I had a vast unexpected cucumber crop, excellent sweet corn, and bountiful but not fabulous tomatoes. My soil was probably too “hot.” My rancher friend helped me bring two loads of four-year-old manure to my garden. It was a hot brew for some garden plants.
This year’s garden will consist of three zones: 1) the Square Nine Thomas Jefferson seed exchange garden with Jefferson’s Monticello, my good friend Pat Brodowski. I send them Mandan, Arikara, and Hidatsa seeds; and they send me Jefferson seeds. 2) My Italian garden. When Jefferson had his brief “peep into Elysium” in northern Italy in 1787, he smuggled piedmont rice seeds back across the Alps in the hopes that he could start upland rice in South Carolina. It was a capital offense to take such rice in its raw form out of Italy. Jefferson put a few handsful into his great coat, and hired a muleteer to smuggle a couple of saddle bags of the rice out of Italy. (Jefferson was antagonistic to patent and copyright protection, too, because he believed that ideas, once dis-covered, belong not to individuals but to mankind. I don’t need to smuggle my Italian seeds, but I do pretend to do so to pay tribute to Jefferson. 3) My traditional corn, beet, onion, tomato, potato, bean, and pea garden.
Typically I till three times before planting. So far I have tilled just once, with a ten-year-old tiller that my mother gave me as a housewarming gift when I moved back to North Dakota. It’s on its last legs, but I should be able to get another year or maybe even two out of it.
Stay tuned. Last year with a little help from my friends I canned 175 quarts of tomato sauce, juice, soup, etc. Plus cucumber pickles. And 25 quarts of creamed corn.
As Jefferson rightly said, “no occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, & no culture comparable to that of the garden. . . . under a total want of demand except for our family table I am still devoted to the garden. but tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.”