Friday, June 26, 2009


When I told my Mother about our plans to plant organic produce on the land in Dewey County, she asked me to plant her garden.

"It's a beautiful garden, she said, "the soil is rich and soft, and I really have missed it since Dad died."

She went on to say that she especially misses the garden fresh salads she has grown to love over the many years she gardened with our father.

This year, for the first time since I moved to Seattle in 1966, we will be here in Mobridge all summer, and there is time for projects that make my mother happy.
Thus, the idea to replant the vegetable garden that my father had lovingly tended for many years, was spawned. There are also many flower gardens that Mother can no longer work, but that weeding will not begin until the main garden is under control.

I bought organic heirloom seed before we left Seattle with the idea that most of it would be planted in the country, but as it turned out, the majority was planted in the Hardcastle garden, the same garden that fed our family all the summers I was growing up in South Dakota.
It was prolific and our family of ten, eight children and our parents, enjoyed it's bounty every year.

As luck would have it, and due to other commitments, we got a late start in mother's garden,
and there was extensive preparation before we could start, much more than we expected.

It's only been a year since Dad's death, but the garden had suffered some during the last few years of his life. He valiantly tried and spent most of his waking hours slaving to keep it going, but after the age of ninety, all the resolve and determination in the world could not help him regain his once powerful strength. It was all he could do to crawl around out there, indiscriminately weeding everything and anything.
He needed prompting and help to rise to his feet and return to the house.

The last year of his life, Dad could no longer get to the garden, and so it lay fallow, with grass growing up over the bricks my parents had once so lovingly placed there for walkways and space definitions.

Several fruit trees had died and fallen over the high grass, turf covered brick, and old leaves. Even garden tools and metal objects lay hidden among the sod and grass, and we soon realized that we had a bigger task at hand than we originally thought.

Before we could do anything we had to cut up and haul out the dead trees. That occupied the whole first day, and half of the second.

My brother, Bill brought over his chain saw and cut up some of the branches and then Jim took over with the saw while Bill mowed Mother's yard and the back two lots behind the house, which are now his. There is enough work for all of us there, and we all contribute what we can.

It wasn't unusually hot that day but it was humid, and as Jim cut the wood and I hauled the branches, we were uncomfortably warm and sweaty. Bill was smart. He sported a big straw hat while he rode the mower, and it protected him from the sun, while we took breaks in the shade on the north side of the house to ease our discomfort.

We rented a rototiller and used it for some of the garden, but there were so many hidden bricks that I soon began to dig and lift them out with a pitch fork, ahead of the tiller; carrying them to a spot in another section of the yard and heaping the whole batch in a large pile.

There was one well defined walkway made of bricks that was just under the sod, that we left undisturbed with the intention of pressure washing and letting it's beauty and originality shine in our father's memory.

Dad's original garden concept was being unveiled as we went along, and it was good to know we could refurbish his original work. Some of my parent's garden projects were very creative and attractive, just cloaked and shielded by Mother Nature's minions of grasses and indigenous plants. She will undoubtedly reclaim this land again after we're all gone, but for now, we are here cultivating and sowing heirloom seed in this precious place.

After two hours, the rented rototiller began to show signs of strain, and we returned it and commenced to hand shoveling and shaking out the large grass clumps, then raking it all. There were still many bricks and other objects being unearthed.

I carried large branches and tree sections to a spot near the brick pile and created a huge mass of wood. It has the appearance of a ghostly dead tree zone, a Halloween like landscape which only needed pumpkins, a few eerie props, and lowered light to complete the image of All Hallows that was dancing in my head.

Whether we discard the wood or decide to save the fruit wood for flavoring meats on the outdoor barbecue grill, we will need to cut it into much smaller pieces. But, as the saying goes, "time is a wasten". We were eager to prepare the ground for planting, and so we put the wood aside and would deal with it later.

Our backs began to ache as the day wore on and I had a tender spot in the lower left quadrant of my pelvis which I have had before and was hoping would improve on it's own. It's kind of the ostrich with his head buried in the sand in denial concept. Refuse to accept reality and it will change.

On the third day of working in the garden, we began to make headway and the "vision" of the end result was beginning to form in our psyches. We had cleared enough land to plant the corn and tomatoes.

Corn was the first to be planted, and I had chosen organic Ashworth sweet corn, by Irish Eyes Garden Seeds. This was planted in blocks all across the main body of the garden, to enhance open pollination.

Ashworth corn has beautiful, golden yellow ears that are about 6 1/2 inches long with 12 rows of large plump kernels according to the package.

Early maturity and good soil emergence coupled with an extended harvest period makes
Ashworth an excellent open pollinated home garden corn. Quality holds reasonably well on the stalk with good flavor. We had rain the night the corn was planted, followed by warm sunny days and true to the seed company's claim, the kernels sprouted and germinated very quickly and are growing vigorously.

Mother warned us about damage from cut worms and advised putting tooth picks around the tender new shoots. We haven't done that yet, but we should go buy the wooden picks as she advised, because Mother is a wise old bird. We ran across many big , fat cut worms in the garden as we worked, and they were even bigger and plumper than I remembered them from childhood. Note to self: Don't procrastinate. Listen to the voice of experience, Mary Cat.
Your mother knows best.

In Western Washington, we didn't run across cut worms in our gardens. We had slugs and that was enough. They just tend to slime onto the plants where as cut worms cut off the stalk. So, our way of dealing with slugs would not work with cutworms.

We went on to plant several varieties of tomato plants purchased locally from Lind's hardware store and at that point, I felt like a mud pie. The combination of sweat and dirt on my face certainly gave me that appearance. The pain in my pelvis was not subsiding and I wondered, but didn't want to think chronic diverticulitis was flaring up again.

I didn't feel well, and we went home, I went straight to bed. Getting out of bed was difficult, and the pain was not allowing me to stand up straight. Jim was concerned and noticed that I had a fever during the night. Still in the morning, Jim and I drove the 100 miles to Aberdeen, S.D. to buy a high definition TV. Installation was scheduled for Tuesday to hook up television and internet and having been without either for several weeks, we were anxious to have access to both again. We left all of our television sets at home in Washington, so we had to buy one before installation.

I was sick on the way to Aberdeen, and the pain in my lower left pelvic quadrant was worsening. It was so severe, and the discomfort from nausea so intense that we hurried there and back as quickly as possible.

Back at home, I went to bed and Jim took care of me. I felt too sick to want anything, but he offered me food and drink and cancelled all plans to stay with me. He only left the house to take the dogs for walks. He contacted the kids, and Steph and Jamie and Jim all began to urge me to go to the doctor or Mobridge Hospital, but it was Sunday, so I waited until Monday morning to call for an appointment. By this time, I was retching in the sink and sweating all over and thinking, "how can I even go to the doctor like this?"

Fortunately, this is Mobridge, and the kind receptionist at the medical clinic agreed to fit me in to their very full schedule at 4:30 of the same day I called. That would probably never happen in the city, especially for a new patient. So, once again, we were blessed to be here,

I saw Dr. Malmberg and he concurred that the old diverticulosis had flared into a more acute condition, diverticulitis, and he prescribed an antibiotic for infection and a digestive aid called Allign, which is a pro biotic that puts friendly bacteria back into the intestines.

I was relieved to be under a doctor's care and had confidence in the physician I saw. Diverticulitis can be quite awful, and has made me very ill in the past, so, we anxiously filled the Rx just as the hospital pharmacy closed.

The garden would have to wait for a few days. Everything was on hold while the antibiotic cleared up the nasty infection in the diverticuli. It would take days for the fever induced headache, and the pelvic pain and nausea to subside.

But subside it did. partially, and we when we got back to the garden, the corn was up in rows and was looking very robust.

The first day back, I could only crawl around. Jim did the spading of the soil and I planted carrots, organic little finger and organic scarlet nantes, and then hills of pickling cucumbers., and sections of Yukon Gold potatoes with "eyes".

Once again we were drenched in sweat and had to get home and rest.

The next time we went over, we cleaned some of the flower beds and cleared and tilled the area along the fence. Pole beans were planted there probably in the same place Dad had put them in
in years past. It's the ideal spot with a nice strong fence for the beans to climb.
He did have some very good gardening ideas, and it was no accident that his produce was delicious year after year.

Our son, Jamie had advised us about companion planting, and based on that and a web site he provided, squash was planted among the corn plants, and soon more pole beans will be planted with the corn. They will grow up the corn stalks for support and provide elements to the soil that corn removes.

Corn is a heavy user of nitrogen and for that reason, it should not be planted in the same place year after year. It depletes the field of nitrogen, Beans on the other hand, have the ability to draw nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil, and when they die back, they give nitrogen back to the earth, replacing the amount the corn used, So, now that the corn is up, we'll plant beans with each corn plant, and the squash will shade the under growth.

There is a big, round, brick enclosure in the flower garden where I planned to put a kitchen garden of lettuces and herbs, but decided to plant some of those in annuals in the beds outside the house we are renting before starting another project at Mother's house.
Since we are living here, I want it to look nice, so I have been watering the lawn and trees in front and we have cleared the front flower beds, and planted them in flowers and salad garden plants. More about that in another blog .

UPDATE: 2/26/2011
Upon returning to Washington state in the fall, I headed to Digestive Care Associates, the gastroenterologists that had cared for me in the past when diverticulitis was acute. After diagnostic tests were done, they wheeled me into a surgeon's office for consultation. A few days later we scheduled surgery for among other things, a Intestinal Resection, Left Colectomy and Splenetic Flexure Take Down, and a Prophylactic BSO.

It meant a seven day inpatient stay in St. Claire Hospital in Tacoma, and my biggest worry was
recovering in time to go on a much anticipated trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico the following month. My surgeon, Dr. Phillip Wright assured me that recovery lounging on the beaches of Mexico would not be a bad idea.

Surgery was on January 12, 2009, and they removed 18 inches of my infected colon. Recovery went well. Jim and daughter Stephany were there for the surgery and were the first faces I saw upon awakening. Jim was there for me the whole week I was in the hospital,which is right where I wanted him to be, and our children and grand children came to visit as often as they could.

Care by physicians and nurses was excellent, and I even had a private room.
My doctor, Phil Wright, delighted me one day when he spotted a beautiful Amaryllis plant in my room was drooping over, and fashioned a splint, held together by surgical tape. The plant and I both did well under his care, and I would highly recommend him to anyone contemplating surgery.

Upon arriving home, at our house in Puyallup, WA., we were met by our grieving dog, Oliver, who had been sitting at the top of the steps watching for my return the entire week. Son, Jamie arrived shortly there-after and provided love and support.

It was good to be home and in my own bed under the care of a loving family,
Jim, my soul mate, took excellent care of me during the next few weeks, and then.......

WE FLEW TO MEXICO on February 20th, 2009, for a wonderful tropical vacation!

Arriving home, rested and relaxed, we knew we could begin preparations for the next part of the move to South Dakota, reassured that would be no peritonitis or intestinal emergency striking out in the prairies.

Mother's garden was in need of care that year, but went fallow again with all that was going on.
Now, in 2011, fully recovered, maybe we'll try again early in the spring. Maybe this time, having learned from earlier mistakes, we'll plant a better garden for Mother. We'll see, we don't have the green thumb that Dad had.

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