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Saturday, April 16, 2016

To Garden Or Not To Garden ...

My beautiful child-bride Patty and I live in what some call the inter-mountain west and others call the great basin, right along the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada, about twenty miles north of Reno. Between an altitude of somewhere close to five thousand feet above sea level and the weather pattern disruption created by those lofty mountain peaks, gardening is a crap shoot every year.

There is no normal, but there is an average when we speak of end of frost danger, and that’s where the crap shoot comes in. If one wishes to make a fairly certain bet one could say there will be a cold storm with freezing temperatures and probable snow over Memorial Day weekend. One could get away with saying the three weeks before that would be sunny and warm.

Just one hundred miles to our west, right now, as you read this, in the great central valley of California, gardens have been planted, the plants are growing and blossoming, maybe even showing some fruit. I’ll not plant, even the strongest of my crops until at least May 20, and those veggies most susceptible to frost, on or about June 6. And still be fearful.

The ground is tilled, manure plowed under, seeds purchased, and I don’t even dare start them indoors since we’re talking more than a month before I could put them in the ground. A delightful friend put up one of those hoop house green houses and watched it head for Utah at more than sixty mph last year. It was last year that a dust devil lifted the horses’ weather stalls right out of the ground and set them back down in splinters.

No, a green house in western Nevada is not the answer, unless it’s made of brick and iron, which of course defeats the purpose. Some might ask, ‘why garden?’ Because of such things as fresh corn, tomatoes, green beans, squash, cucumbers, peas, melons, and chili peppers. We eat them fresh all late summer and early fall, can the rest, therefore, eat fresh from the garden food all winter, too.

It’s grand to light the BBQ on a summer’s eve, with two beautiful USDA Prime rib-eye steaks ready for the hot coals, and stroll out to the corn patch, rip a pair of ears from a stalk, and roast them, all the while toasting the gods of summer with either cold beer or fine wine.

Or, at the other end of the spectrum, enjoying the aroma of a leg of lamb in the oven, watching the blizzard bring next summer’s irrigation water to us, feeling the warmth of a roaring blaze in the fireplace, and waiting for a bowl full of green beans, swimming in butter, garlic, and crispy bacon, that you grew, picked, and canned.

So, this period, between the middle of April and the middle of May is true hell. Three days of warm weather and you are champing at the bit, and then it snows. And then, another two or three days of warmth, but no, don’t do it. The big box stores sell thousands of tomato plants to the newcomers the second week of April. Another several thousand a couple of weeks later, and then, damn me, another several thousand a couple of weeks after that. It takes a couple or three seasons before the newcomers catch on.

There’s a mountain peak called Peavine, just northwest of Reno, that stands as the gardeners’ beacon, and those that have lived in the area for many years swear by it. “Don’t plant your tomatoes until the snow is gone from Peavine.”

So, what does a frustrated old farmer do in these long weeks before one can plant? There’s a fridge full of cold beer. A rack full of fine wine. And a library full of good books. I believe I’m in heaven.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Member, International Thriller Writers
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You can find my novels, short stories and anthologies at
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