Gay Spirit Diary

Crop Rotation: My Hot Date with Orville Freeman

He was about my speed in 1963.

When I was in 7th grade I took a mandatory course in agriculture at Morocco High School. My family lived in town, not on a farm, so I didn’t know a thing about the subject except what I picked up from visits to Grandma’s – where I mostly stayed in the house with her instead of out in the fields with Unca Deed. She owned about 200 acres in the same county, mostly planted in corn and soybeans; he also raised beef cattle and hogs, while she tended the henhouse. The two things I’d learned were that chickens don’t like you sticking your hand underneath them while they’re sitting on eggs (although you have to do it), and stay out of the “itch dirt” at all costs.

Hens get upset when they’re trying to hatch babies but you come along and steal them. Plus I was always afraid of chickens; Grandma had a rooster once that attacked my brother at 5 years old. To this day he’s got a scar on his cheek shaped like a chicken beak. (Vital Farms)

I was so good at reading the textbook in that class that I ended up winning the agriculture award that year, which was truly embarrassing considering that most of the pupils in the class (boys only in those days) were farm kids who already knew the difference between a bull and a steer, while I did not. So I asked, with no idea why hilarity ensued. Grinning, the teacher explained that steers had been “clamped.” That is, castrated; yuk yuk yuk.

When I was 15 and ready for driver’s training, I found out that all the farmboys (and half the girls) already knew how to drive – tractors, pickups, the family car. Not me – but in 7th grade I did know the name of the Secretary of Agriculture, which impressed the teacher quite a lot – and the farmboys not at all.

Thus I have never been a farmer, one dinky award or not, but I read all about about crop rotation; don’t keep planting the same crop in the same field year after year or you’ll wear out the soil.

Since then farmers have largely abandoned rotation, because corn is the big moneymaker, so they all practice monoculture now and repair the damage with chemical fertilizer instead – which runs off into streams when it rains, and winds up causing giant algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico. When your world is as small as a farmer’s you don’t pay much attention to what happens a thousand miles away.

Mind you, I like farmers; I like the human culture where I’m from, but I still believe in crop rotation, especially when it comes to planting tomatoes in the garden. They’re a relative of nightshade, which is poisonous, and you shouldn’t keep sticking them in the same spot year after year.

Fruit of the silverleaf nightshade; you can see the resemblance, but these guys are not good for man or beast.

This year I’m experimenting with growing tomatoes in containers on my deck – full size fruits, I hope, not those tasteless cherry tomatoes. I’m a little worried about whether this will work out; the vines can grow very large, so you’d think you’d need very big pots, but I only have one. So I did the best I could and we’ll see; I’ll learn something, and that’s half the fun of gardening (and half the frustration).

Is this a big enough pot for a tomato?

Meanwhile, what to do with that space in the back garden? Planting was late this year; spring has been cold and wet. But now, a month late, everything is in the ground or the pots, and all I have to do is weed and water. I actually like weeding; it’s something physical and mindless to do outdoors, so I don’t live in my head all the time.

All I have in the back are strawberries, a couple of rows of onions, and some flowers, marigolds and petunias. They don’t really fill up the space. I tried to buy some gladiolus bulbs, but Murphy’s isn’t selling them this year, so most of my ground will lie fallow. That’s good for the soil too; it doesn’t have to work every year, so let it rest, like in Bible times.

Strawberries mostly.

Now about my big disaster last year: try to picture a Gay 7th grader who was all thumbs (none of them green), lived in town and didn’t know nothin’ about farming or gardening, because that kid is still me. I got very bold with my experiments last year. Previous experience had taught me that rabbits are the bane of my existence. We’ve got tons of them around here, 4-H projects gone awry maybe; smalltown rabbits love smalltown gardens. Two years ago I tried to grow green leafy vegetables and the rabbits got ’em; I would take Elmer Fudd’s shotgun to them if I could. Last year I mustered all my courage and built a fence, using bamboo sticks, plastic chicken wire and twist-ties. Afterward I felt so butch – so I checked it again the next morning and it was still up!

Take that, you wascally wabbits.

Ready at the rabbit hole.

Well, my fence lasted a week or two, then one day I came home from Murphy’s to find a young guy and gal messing with my plastic fence, looking all concerned. I parked, investigated and found out what their problem was – a baby rabbit got caught in the fence and was now dangling by a leg.

Personally I’d have left him there as an example to all the other critters. But it was obvious that the girl was all worried about the poor widdle wabbit, which was hopelessly stuck, and the boyfriend couldn’t figure out what to do but for damn sure didn’t want his girlfriend upset. So I sighed and got the scissors and cut a hole in my handmade fence, thus inviting every rabbit in the county to free admission.

I couldn’t have cared less about the girl, and you already know my attitude about rabbits, so I guess I ruined my fence for the guy’s sake. Then a drought came, and what didn’t get eaten by the bunnies withered on the vine, while I swore off building any more damn fences.

I have no mechanical ability whatever. I’m not ashamed of it, it’s simply a fact of life; the same gene that turns on a Gay guy’s verbal ability turns off the switch on his motor skills.

So it’s time for some crop rotation. If I can grow tomatoes and peppers in pots on the deck, where rabbits seldom venture, maybe I’ll fill up my vegetable garden with perennials and tell the rabbits to kiss my grits.

***

Last year I didn’t get cherries because of a late frost after the trees had bloomed. The year before that birds came and ate all my cherries, because I didn’t pick them the very day they ripened. This year they’re back and starting to turn, but they’re not quite ready yet. So I will stay vigilant, with my ladder, plastic bag and maybe a stick or two of dynamite.

Almost ripe.

Elmer Fudd was right. When you live in the country it’s all about the shotgun, baby, whatever works, so you can eat.++

Luke would chase the rabbits if I’d let him – he caught a baby one last year and ate half of it – but at night when the critters come out, he likes to snooze in his bed. A workin’ dog he ain’t. (He’s pure entertainment instead.)