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The heart of a farmer

In my heart, I am a farmer -- at least during the summer months when I'm outside tending my garden. I love growing things. I enjoy the feel of moist black dirt between my fingers. I get a sense of satisfaction when my seedlings sprout. I even tak...

In my heart, I am a farmer - at least during the summer months when I’m outside tending my garden.

I love growing things. I enjoy the feel of moist black dirt between my fingers. I get a sense of satisfaction when my seedlings sprout. I even take pleasure in the achy, sweaty feeling I get after a day spent outside moving dirt and pulling weeds - doing good work. Real, honest work in the garden with Mother Nature as my boss and my husband as my supervisor. (Not really, but I let him think so.)

But even though I truly dig gardening, I am not a farmer. Nor is my husband a farmer. I’m a writer who is sometimes a farmer at heart. Transoccupational would be the trendy term for it.

My husband and I are a pretty good team in the garden. I pull weeds. He hauls dirt. We express satisfaction with the height of the tomato plants and anticipate the first pea pods and squash blossoms. We marvel at the ever-vigorous growth of the indestructible, immortal mint.

Over the years we’ve learned growing things involves a never-ending learning curve. (There’s a parenting analogy in there for anyone who wants to harvest it.)

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We’ve also learned that gardening success comes not only from what you plant, but where. Plants are social beings and garden relationships are key to a robust crop. You don’t have to be a farmer to reap the benefits of companion planting. Strong smelling herbs like basil, dill and green onions protect tomatoes from insects and slugs. Beets like bush beans (but not pole beans). Corn likes cucumber. Nasturtium is an edible flower that deters bugs and aphids. Ditto that for marigolds. You can also eat pansies. They look pretty in a salad.

Some plants experience irreconcilable differences and do not make good neighbors. Cabbage and cauliflower prefer to stay away from one another. Beans don’t like garlic or onions. Lettuce and celery may both be green and crispy, but they don’t like growing in proximity to each other. Garden plants possess more (or less) social skills than I ever would have imagined.

Another interesting aspect of gardening is sex - most specifically (and literally) the birds and the bees. What I’m referring to is pollination, which in plant circles means S-E-X. Both birds and bees can pollinate, but bees are better known for this skill.

Garden plants produce flowers. Some plants develop male and female flowers, others are hermaphrodites; their flowers are twofers - male and female at the same time. For plants to produce fruit (most things in the garden, even tomatoes and cucumbers, are technically fruit) pollen from the male part of the plant must make its way to the female ovaries. Here’s where the birds and bees come in.

I don’t want to get all R-rated, but as bees collect nectar from flowers, pollen clings to their tiny bee feet. As they flit about the garden, the pollen is distributed to a female flower (or portion thereof) and the deed is done - pollination! Flower sex at its finest and it’s all made possible by busy bees (or in some cases butterflies, bats or even the wind). They flutter from bloom to bloom in search of nectar seemingly oblivious to the flora life cycle they are helping to perpetuate.

Summer’s in full bloom in my yard and my husband and I are busy bees ourselves with weeding and watering and - hopefully soon - harvesting.

We aren’t farmers, but you don’t have to be an official farmer to enjoy growing things. We started with kids and moved up to tomatoes and beans – if you consider that an advancement, which it probably isn’t. I guess that’s okay with us. It is summer. We are outside. And we are having fun pretending to be farmers together.

Feels pretty good to me.

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