By early March, my thoughts were turning to the garden.
I was maxing out my DHS ration card every month and starting to run low on the preserves I had put down. My hooped winter garden was providing modest clippings of winter lettuce. As a last resort, I dipped into my dwindling supply of #10 cans. Anything for added nutrition and variety.
Although the snowfall had been average for the mid-Atlantic, it was a tough season from a diet standpoint. So after several days of warm sun and nighttime temps hovering above freezing, I decided to start a batch of seeds harvested last year and some that I bartered for on a recent trip to the Lot.
The Lot downtown had become the hub of activity after the collapse of the economy. Regular paying jobs and private transportation were uncommon these days. The flow of money that once circulated through the now extinct American Consumer was pretty dried up.
The myriad shopping malls, restaurants, and big box retailers on the bypass were abandoned and left to the scrappers and ultimately, to nature. However, economic activity had quickly taken root in the open parking lot downtown which was within walking distance from the city’s remaining residents. Cash was king. Silver coin was not uncommon, and barter was accepted as an equal form of exchange by just about everyone – the honest ones anyway.
Standing on spongy ground several weeks later surveying my weathered raised beds, my next door neighbor Henry appeared at the chain link fence between our side yards with a wave. “Hello Henry – enjoying the sun?” I asked, setting down the assorted planters and seedlings I was carrying on a cookie sheet.
“Yes, it’s good to be out and about,” he replied with a broad smile.
I was glad to see Henry looking so well. He and his wife, both in their 70s, were valuable neighbors. He had hunted since he was a boy and made fine venison jerky which he often gave me in exchange for picking up items for them at the Lot or splitting wood. His wife Edna grew up on a farm and was a wealth of information, everything from apples to zucchini.
“Listen,” Henry continued, “our granddaughter Katie is on her way to stay with us and she’s bringing a friend. With two more mouths to feed, Eee and I were wondering if you’d be interested in taking down this fence and making our yards into one big garden? We were thinking if we took out our azaleas along the fence and maybe that shade tree,” he said, pointing to the young red oak near the end of my driveway, “we could really put some food on the table. Of course, we’ll help and Katie too, although she doesn’t know a shovel from a spade.”
“Not what I had in mind” was my initial reaction as I looked toward the chicken coop, hiding my discomfort.
I had this vision of pulling weeds and trying to water almost half an acre in the middle of July by myself. How would we divide the labor and the harvest? What if there was no harvest? How would we procure the materials for that size garden? My little pile of chicken compost certainly wouldn’t fertilize that many raised beds. And I had never met their grown children or grandchildren, but I vaguely remembered hearing their son had been killed in the riots and his daughter, Katie, was an English teacher (not a horticulturist).
After everything I had been through since the collapse, I had learned that I could only count on one person: me. Taking down that fence seemed like asking for trouble. What was that old saying about “fences and neighbors?”
But I knew, standing there with my feet getting cold, staring down at a tray of pitiful seedlings, that Henry’s proposal made sense. It was the easiest way for me to expand my food supply. Besides, it was a chance to learn what I could from Henry and Edna before that generation was gone.
Still, I resisted. “Well, Henry,” I said digging my hands into my jacket pockets, “it sounds like an interesting idea, but it’s a lot of work. For starters, we’re gonna need to get tons of soil from somewhere, several more rain barrels and I don’t have any more lumber for raised beds…”
Henry interrupted with the palm of his hand. “I’ve got some wood left over from my cabinetry business,” he said, “and some old tools we can barter for the other things. I haven’t put in a garden back here because neither one of us,” he said with a wave toward his wife somewhere inside, “has the energy needed to get this done.”
He paused a moment to take a deep breath and then continued, “We realize this is asking a lot of you, but getting seeds in the ground this spring before Katie arrives would mean a lot to us. I promise – this will work out for all of us. Whaddaya say?” he finished with a hopeful wink. Many people pay good money to have a high-quality fence, as found at Oakdale Fencing, put up for extra privacy, yet I was considering taking one down? Once I’m allowed to put the fence back up, it may be time for me to start thinking about getting another style, as I’ve had this one for quite a long time now. I’ve recently been trying to work on reducing my carbon footprint so that I can do my bit to help the environment. My friend has recently had a plastic fence built around their garden. The company they used told her that “We supply high quality plastic fencing products” and without hesitation, she decided to buy her equipment from there. I may have to ask her where she got them from because it looks great. I guess it is the last thing on my mind at the minute though.
It was hard to say no to Henry and I had to smile as I walked over to the fence. “All right, I’m game,” I said as I shook his hand, “but there’s one more thing I’d like to talk to you about at some point.”
Work began later that morning and went on for days. We started by cutting the chain link from the posts and rolling up the section for use later. Henry pruned the azaleas so I could get at them with a pickaxe. Once the root ball was cut, it was easy to pop them out of the muddy ground. Watching from the kitchen, Edna brought us hot tea and ham biscuits whenever she thought we needed a break, which fortunately was quite often.
Henry had a chain saw to take care of the oak, so we thought we’d try the Lot for a gallon of gas and some two-cycle engine oil. Surprisingly, we found the gas but not the oil. The seller told us he could get it in a couple of weeks. Instead, I decided to bring the 14″ diameter tree down the old fashioned way: a single-bladed, long-handled felling axe.
With the fence and the bushes gone, there was a nice place for the tree to fall. I notched out the face-cut leaving a hinge perpendicular to where I wanted it to land. Then I released the tension on the other side with a couple of strokes just above the hinge and brought it down. Looking at the fallen trunk and tangled canopy, we agreed that trees look bigger on the ground.
Edna worked on limbing the canopy, while Henry and I cut the heavier branches and trunk into manageable lengths. We’d wait till we could get the engine oil before cutting the logs up into 16″ lengths for our wood stoves. We figured we’d get a least a cord of wood from it.
Back during the housing boom, Henry owned a cabinet and casework business. When the bubble burst, he consolidated what he could into his garage. From the vertical racks inside, we extracted enough wood for half a dozen new raised beds. Edna suggested we leave my garden intact since the seedlings I had planted were now well established. Starting with my grid, Edna expanded the pattern into their yard and developed a very convincing planting schedule.
Between the two of us, there was plenty of wood ash to use as a soil amendment and we discovered almost two dozen bags of well-rotted lawn and leaf clippings behind the abandoned house across the street. The tool shed had been broken into long ago, but we did find an old galvanized bucket and a length of garden hose we could use for irrigation. Scavenging from abandoned properties was dangerous business; you never entered a house or a building unaccompanied or unarmed. Most of the valuable materials had been stripped anyway, so it wasn’t generally worth the risk.
By the end of the second week, Henry had managed to barter an antique two-man cross-cut saw that had once hung in his shop for a pickup truck full of garden soil. The loaded truck, with a hole in its muffler, attracted some unwelcome attention from passersby. It reminded me of the other concern I had about removing fences and planting a big garden: security.
But that conversation could wait. We were ready to plant.
By the time Katie and her friend arrived on Friday, May the 1st, we had planted a mix of lettuce, turnips, spinach, onions, garlic, and peas. We even had two deep beds blended with potash ready for our chitted potatoes. Edna and I were talking about constructing a bamboo trellis for the peas. We actually really like the idea of having bamboo in the garden as it gives the garden another dynamic. We might even introduce it as a plant! However, I have heard it can grow quite fast so I should probably have the bamboo removal nj number on speed dial just in case it overgrows! have Katie came up the driveway wearing a backpack over a pale green jacket and a long brown dress. Her hair was pulled back into a single ponytail like the small girl, 6 or 7 perhaps, holding her hand and looking quite nervous. Katie and I had to be about the same age.
There were quick introductions and hugs from her grandparents. The young girl, Sakiko, was the daughter of Katie’s former employer. Katie explained how she had been in southern Japan for two years as a private tutor, working off her college debt in the service of a Japanese official and his wife. The wife had died of cancer last year at the age of 32 and he had been recently diagnosed as well. It was the widespread result of years of uncontrolled radioactive contamination.
With connections at the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sakiko’s father had arranged for their daughter to travel with her tutor, Katie, on an extended study-abroad visa. As I listened to Katie and Sakiko recount their long journey, I was suddenly very proud of the progress we had made. Watching this garden grow and pulling weeds with Katie certainly wasn’t “what I had in mind.”
Actually, it sounded much better.
— JB Sties for Transition Voice