Woodworking again: Gabbing about gardening

By Dave Wood
Posted 4/24/24

After reading John McLoone’s recent essay on weather predictions for what’s left of winter and might happen if spring brings heaps of snow , I’ve decided to abandon our little bare …

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Woodworking again: Gabbing about gardening


After reading John McLoone’s recent essay on weather predictions for what’s left of winter and might happen if spring brings heaps of snow, I’ve decided to abandon our little bare patch of dirt to my wife, who definitely has greener and of course more shapely thumbs.

Me, I must rely on remembrance of things past when I gardened with gusto to turn our hobby farm in Dissmore Coulee, Trempealeau County, USA, into a veritable Eden of earthly vegetation. Oh, it was good!

As green horns—and thumbs as well— I reasoned that if a small garden would save some money, a large one would save even more. Thus we hired our westward neighbor, Henry Sylla, to plow up an entire half acre of topsoil washed down onto a sidehill of clay. Then I forked over $50 for seeds and transplants. Soon it became apparent that the plot’s immensity required the purchases of a $200 Monkey Ward rototiller, a canning kettle and Ball jars ($45) and also a $300 17-cubic foot Monkey Ward freezer (clearly I was going mad for mud!), to say nothing of our monthly farm payment, which I missed only infrequently.

Have I mentioned that our ramshackle kitchen had no running water? Or that we were a bold fringe of the Hippy Movement? Or that we had no concept of how much WORK a garden required?? So we waited impatiently for RESULTS. And they came and came and came! What could we do with all of it once our meager supply of canning jars and freezer space was used up? SELL IT!

My bachelor pal John Berg bought three dozen roasting ears for $1 (this was 1972). A local restaurateur Gene McDivitt accepted bags of seeded Simpson lettuce and reimbursed us with a quart bottle of Walter’s beer, which retailed then at 50 cents per.

But did B.W. and I give up gardening because our winter larder was overstuffed with carrots, kale, and kohlrabi that cost us $1 an ounce to produce and process? You bet we didn’t! The next summer we gardened with a semi-modified vengeance—and the next summer and the next summer and the following—with a little less naivete than we had started with.

You might think that makes us foolish, but we had come to realize that gardening in small town Wisconsin was not so much a way to save money as it was a way of life, a way to commune with nature and neighbors; a habit that yields a great deal more than kale and Brussel sprouts.

In Whitehall we shared seeds and sage advice. One year I complained to the ploughman’s wife Sara Sylla that our French breakfast radishes were wormy. Sara suggested pouring table salt in the row beside the seeds. So I poured salt—and still got wormy radishes. Sara unabashedly proclaimed that Dissmore Coulee worms must be more like people: they like salt on their radishes. We had a neighborly chuckle on that one. And many more of our garden woes and triumphs led to good talk over coffee at the City Café and cocktail hour at Gino Mcdivitt’s restaurant. “My rutabagas are so big this year, I’m gonna need Jurowski Company’s backhoe just to dig ‘em,” exclaimed Mayor Lambert Gronemus. “Yah, and I’ll share the cost if you let me use it to turn up my spuds,” said Bert’s neighbor Ralph Severson.

“You guys just like flapping your lips,” said Lawyer Floren Hegge—the town’s most eloquent lip-flapper. But Tubby Davidson didn’t shirk when Floren asked if he had a big garden this year. “Nope,” says Tubby. “How big then?” “Fifty by fifty.” “Feet? That should be enough for you and Alice.” “Yards,” says Tubby. “Yards, by god, and clean as a whistle. You won’t find a blade of quack in the whole darned thing.”

“What’s in your garden besides spuds?” Floren inquires.

 “Onions and cabbages.”

“With so many, how do you keep them from spoiling?”

“I just use Alice’s old panty hose. Stuff the onions in the legs and the cabbage in the hips and then hang them from the beams in the basement.”

Floren, a man about town as well as a wordsmith couldn’t resist asking: “Tubby, doesn’t that sort of turn you on when you see Alice’s figure just hanging there in her nylons?”

Tubby sucked in his camel butt and replied: “You see, Floren; I’m a gardener, not a billygoat.” 

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