Saturday, June 14, 2008

A long row to hoe

Before he left for a week-long conference last weekend, the resident gardener showed me how to hoe. I realize that it's a little pathetic to have reached this advanced age without ever having learned the most effective way to wield a hoe, but that's just further evidence of my misspent youth.

Now my role in gardening has generally been more on the produce-processing side, but the weeds needed to be discouraged from sucking all the essential nutrients out of the soil and all the people proficient in hoeing were away: the husband at a conference, the Kentucky kid working at a camp in Michigan for the summer, and the Texas kid still flying in Texas. So the only one left to take hoe in hand was the utter novice.

"You don't need to swing the hoe," said the gardening expert. "You just want to gently shave the weeds off the surface." (He says this to someone to can't shave her legs without slicing off big chunks of skin.) "Let the tool do the work," he said. (Okay, I'll just sit over here in the shade and watch!) "The hoe should feel like a part of you. Be the hoe!" (This from the man who says the best way to slice fresh-baked bread is to "imagine the knife is a feather gently sliding through the bread." Every tried to slice bread with a feather?)

"Don't beat at the earth--the earth will always win," he said, reminding me of a certain relative whose stubborn insistence on beating at the earth resulted in any number of broken hoes. In a week of diligent hoeing, I never broke the hoe. I didn't chop down any tomato plants either. I may have squashed a squash plant, but we've planted enough squash to feed the Russian army so I'm not too worried about running out.

The worst thing about hoeing is pain: sore muscles, blisters, sunburn. I go out and hoe at the crack of dawn to beat the heat and humidity, but I still sweat so much I can't keep my glasses from sliding down my face.

The best thing about hoeing is being close enough to the creek to hear the water flowing and the kingfishers chattering. No, wait: the best thing about hoeing is looking back over what I've done and seeing healthy tomato plants standing tall where weeds once flourished. No, the very best thing about hoeing is the prospect of fresh tomatoes. Let them come!

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