by Sid Pranke
I've done the community garden thing over the past six years in several different gardens in St. Paul, ever since I sold my house and returned to apartment living. It strikes me as unusual that the people I've met there and the experiences I've had have made such strong impressions on me. I'm not sure why I'm so surprised at how much I've enjoyed hanging out with other gardeners: maybe because I'm from North Dakota and I'm missing that connection to the land and sky, and hanging around people with that similar affinity helps fill that void.
hardest thing about gardening, in my opinion, is preparing your soil. Having
someone till the garden, or renting a roto-tiller yourself for the day, is the
best investment you can make to minimize your frustrations and preserve your
strength over the long run. One of my gardening partners, Joe, tricked his three
large dogs into helping him till our garden plot by hiding pieces of hot dogs
in the soil. Dirt went flying, and Joe stood alongside with his spade, to help
the process along by turning the soil over and over again.
Constructing raised beds also can make things easier on you; there’s less
bending and twisting involved. And a good garden stool has been indispensable
to me; it makes gardening feel more like a labor of love and less like pure
I shared a garden with my friend Sara one summer. We chipped in on the plot
and tilling fees, and staked out our own territory. I decided to plant a lot
of tomato plants—and I screwed up pretty much right away by not watering
the seedlings well enough, and then waiting two days too long before I came
back to check on my plants. They had all shriveled up, so I had to start all
over with new seedlings.
Sara was grooving over our garden—she made little signs with sticks attached
that said “LOVE POTATOES’ and “PEACE PARSLEY” and placed
them in the garden where those plants were growing. The possibilities are amusing
and endless with this little sign idea. How about “Strung-out String Beans”
or “Lascivious Lima Beans.” Cool………..
We got a lot of good vegetables and herbs from our garden that summer. And come
the harvest moon, Sara and I were out socializing at a local rock club. Around
midnight, we decided to leave the club with a few nice guys we had been talking
to. So we all walked to our garden about a mile away to dig up a few potatoes
and whatever else struck our fancy—one of the fellows and I had reached
the garden first. A stone wall about four feet high separated the garden from
the street. Just as I and this cute fellow with muscles were about to scale
the wall, a police car chirped at us and the officer yelled to us from his open
window—“What are you guys doing?” I said, “We’re
harvesting.” The officer eyed us over, hesitated and then said, “Have
a nice harvest,” as he tore off again down the street. We both started
laughing and ended up making out in the dirt before Sara and the others got
THE JOE STORY
you’re a little bit lazy like I am, it pays to have the right gardening
partner. The best gardening partner I believe I will ever have was Joe. Let’s
just say that Joe is unconventional. He’s known to say that he “was
meant to work with soil” as if it was ordained—and I believe it
was. He asked me to join him at a community garden plot he was squatting on.
(He paid the group well for using their water supply but had never officially
signed up.) I said sure, not knowing what to expect. I walked into his garden,
which he had been working on a few months already (it was now May). I saw the
most beautiful dirt I had ever, ever seen. It looked alive. It was heavily composted,
and filled the many raised beds Joe had constructed with minimal found materials.
Awesome. Joe told me how he had planted clover and winter wheat and turned the
soil over many times to ensure that the organic material was evenly distributed.
How lucky was I to have a gardening partner like Joe? The soil was completely
weed-free, and stayed that way all summer long. What had started out as really
crappy soil had been transformed into organically-rich soil crawling with earthworms.
We constructed fencing, trellises, wigwams—all for the plants to hang
from and over and through. I would often go the garden after work—sometimes
I would get there before Joe did. I would be checking which plants needed watering,
and if they did, I would scoop up a large watering can-full of rainwater that
Joe had stored on site through a still-confusing, but magnificent system of
tubing that caught the rain and funneled it into a holding container for our
use. Again, awesome.
I knew when Joe was headed toward the garden by the sounds of his dogs rustling
through the prairie grass next to the railroad tracks. (Why are so many community
gardens located next to railroad tracks? Maybe because the land is cheap and
generally unwanted?) Joe’s dogs would be tethered to his bicycle, so Joe
“mushed” his way to the garden. It was Romantic with a capital R.
Alas, it was not to last. We got kicked out of the garden the next season; we
think it was because the garden committee was jealous because we had the best
garden. And it was. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. ||