A friend of mine knew a woman with very definite ideas about child-rearing. I don’t’ know exactly what those ideas were but, for our purposes, it doesn’t matter. She had a baby, a boy, and reared him according to those principles.
Little Nigel was a paragon of childhood virtue. He slept through the night almost immediately. He ate everything he was supposed to, and nothing he wasn’t. He was never ill, and seldom cried. He talked and walked ahead of schedule. When he got a little older, he did what he was told, was helpful around the house, and always said ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
Nigel’s mother, her child-rearing philosophy borne out, couldn’t help herself. She told all her friends that she’d discovered just how it was a child was supposed to be raised.
Then she had another baby. A girl, this time.
Little Ernestine was a holy terror, right out of the gate. She cried all day and fussed all night. She wouldn’t eat anything except mashed sweet potatoes and chocolate frosting. The only word she mastered before the age of three was ‘no.’ She was big for her age, and beat up on her big brother (but really, with a brother like that, who wouldn’t?).
Her mother, who’d had so much invested in nurture, had been humbled by nature. To her very great credit, she took her medicine. She visited her friends one by one and explicitly apologized for telling them how to raise their kids.
As we decommission our garden, I feel her pain.
Last year, almost everything we planted came up roses. Our tomatoes were abundant and sweet. Our kale was sturdy and bug-free. Eggplants were firm and smooth, cucumbers were crunchy and dense. We had basil, parsley, and chives in abundance.
We had exactly three flame-outs. Our beans failed to thrive because we planted them in the shadiest part of the garden. Our watermelons were a total bust because you can’t grow watermelons here. Our cabbages were completely devoured by insects, but they seemed to act as a kind of lure, keeping the bugs off the other crops.
I may be new to gardening, but I wasn’t stupid enough to attribute our success to our high-class fertilizer (we got our compost from the dump), or our careful planning (we just picked the sunniest spot) or even the classical music we played our germinating seeds. I know that soil, weather, and blind luck play big parts in the gardening equation. Still, I’ll admit to a smug sense that we had this vegetable thing down.
This year has disabused me of any smugness. Most of our crops – carrots, beets, fennel, potatoes, cucumbers, kale, peppers – were a total bust. We did get a few butternut squash and a few eggplants, and our collards did pretty well.
The high point, surprisingly, was the tomato crop. Surprising because we, like just about everyone else in the northeast, got the blight. We fought it, though. I trimmed off all the blighted stems, leaves, and fruit, and we sprayed a fungicide. Then, a week later, we did it again.
The weather cooperated, and our eradication effort coincided with a (brief) warm, sunny period. We didn’t exactly win the fight, but we bought ourselves enough time for our vines to produce a reasonable crop. Our cherry varieties were delicious, and we’re still harvesting a few. Our slicing varieties weren’t nearly as good as last year, but at least we got some.
Some of our failures were certainly our fault. We put up the fencing too late, and the cat and the chickens wreaked some havoc. We planted some short things behind some tall things, and they didn’t get enough sun. We may have over-watered the tomatoes.
Partly, though, it was just an Ernestine of a year. It was cold and cloudy and damp until August. Then it was hot and muggy for two weeks before it went back to being cold and cloudy and damp. This kind of weather is a double whammy, being both bad for crops and good for insects that are bad for crops.
It’s not that nurture doesn’t count; skilled gardeners do better than unskilled gardeners, whatever the weather. It’s just that you can’t expect Nigel results in an Ernestine year.
I’d sure appreciate a couple of Nigel years, while I get my skills up to speed.