The glories of gardening 

When the tractor-trailer rig pulled into my driveway with 85,000 pounds of mulch this weekend, I knew that this gardening thing was maybe getting out of hand.

It had started reasonably enough 24 years ago with a little six-by-six-foot garden plot with pretty green lettuces coming out of the ground. I remember our first salad. A little extra-virgin olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar and well, it was kind of like chewing sandburs. Only later when I yanked out all the “lettuces” and discovered red and white radishes hanging from their bottoms, did we realize we had been eating radish greens. Not as bad a chewing on blackberry canes but equally as flavorful.

The mulch was to cover about two acres of raspberries, blackberries, lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, peppers, beans, watermelons, cantaloupes, corn, herbs and flowers. The ground-up contents of thousands of North Little Rock garbage bags filled with leaves and yard waste will be spread by hand over 9,000 square feet of raised beds. As the tractor-trailer from American Composting dropped its load in two huge, 16-foot tall piles, I knew I was looking at my weekends until frost.

“Marry in haste, repent at leisure” always comes to mind as I order seeds and lay out new raised beds on a gorgeous Arkansas spring morning. I once read, here in fact, that the four seasons in Arkansas are autumn, ice, spring and hell. All my decisions are made in the hopeful, new green of spring yet I know I will have the slow hell of July and August to repent my folly. Gardens, like college tuition, just get larger. Every October I’m praying for an early frost.

It used to be worse. Fifteen years ago I started playing at truck farming with 700 tomato vines and 250 bell pepper plants. I would get up at 5:30 a.m. to pick tomatoes and peppers so that I could deliver them to restaurants before I went to my day job. In the evening I’d get home and weed until dark:30. I kept track of my hours, expenses and income and at the end of the year I figured I had made about $2.20 an hour. I told a real farmer and he congratulated me. Seriously.

I love the idea of farming, but what my experiences have taught me so far is to really appreciate my day job. Now, like a smoker who could never quite put down that last cigarette, I’m back at it and it feels so good. Right now I have 430 Redfire and Buttercrunch lettuce plants a foot apart in a 100-foot-long raised bed. The Redfire leaves have turned bronze red in the cool weather and soon they will be touching the bright, almost psychedelic green leaves of the Buttercrunch lettuce. In another two weeks they will form a solid mat of red and green plants growing from rich black soil packed with decayed leaves and composted poultry litter. To make such a lovely tapestry is one of the most creative and satisfying tasks that I perform. And then I feed my family and sell the rest to Jody Hardin down at the River Market. In April I think, “what a life” and then come August I think I should get one.

It’s a cliché that hope springs eternal and like many clichés, it applies to gardening. Before the hornworms, stink bugs, blister bugs, drought, deer, disease and armadillos, the season before me is a cornucopia of new possibilities. I’m trying out a new variety of tomato called UGLY, so ugly that the Florida agriculture bureaucrats forbade its export from Florida because it did not meet the state’s cosmetic standards for tomatoes. But it tasted so good, the grower could get $3 a pound in New Jersey so he sued the state and won. Come mid-April, I’ll be planting 60 UGLY vines and as I’m babying them into maturity, I’ll feel like a kid counting down the days ’til Christmas. Every year there’s a new variety or often an old variety that someone’s neighbor’s grandfather from South Arkansas saved the seed. And I get to see what comes of it.

Years ago I was traveling four days a week and at night. Lying in a hotel bed, when I found it hard to turn the day off, I would visualize the garden, the annual hollyhocks, elephant garlic flowers and towers of Kentucky Wonder pole beans. I could feel my breathing change and my spirit slowly grow as peaceful as that garden.

Gardening could not be more different than what I do every day. Gardening is solitary and non-competitive. I love listening to the blues while I’m in the garden. But there is nothing passive about gardening. You spend most of your time killing stuff or wishing you could — weeds, caterpillars, bugs, whole species of things. I employ biological pesticides that freeze up the innards of hornworms. I spread powder from the roots of a South American tree that wipes out whole populations of beetles. I squash, stomp, or dismember anything that doesn’t belong there and then I smother it with 85,000 pounds of mulch. Come Monday morning, you don’t want to mess with me. I’m ready for work.

Alan Leveritt is publisher of the Arkansas Times. Ernest Dumas is on vacation this week.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Thursday's open line and the daily video

    Here's the open line and the daily video.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • UPDATE: Ted Suhl gets seven years, $200,000 fine for bribery

    Ted Suhl was sentenced this morning by federal Judge Billy Roy Wilson on four counts of attempting to bribe a state official to help his mental health business supported by Medicaid money. He received 84 months and a $200,000 fine and is to report to prison in early January. He will appeal.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Question raised on Dallas Cowboy gift to NLR cops

    Blogger Russ Racop raises an interesting question, as he sometimes does, about Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' gift of free tickets for North Little Rock cops to attend a Dallas Cowboy football game.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • More »

More by Alan Leveritt

  • A sweetness worth the stings

    My uncle Elzie kept his bee hives in amongst the wrecked cars and other metal debris behind his house on the High­way 160 out­side of Smack­over.
    • Sep 23, 2015
  • Leveritt: Life on the farm

    In late afternoon, looking over the pasture from my mother's hillside grave, our farm may be the most beautiful place on earth.
    • Oct 3, 2013
  • The Arkansas Times introduces digital membership

    We can’t continue to produce aggressive, trenchant, independent reporting and analysis without increased reader support. A new model for funding, in which readers bear a share of our costs, is vital to the future of the Times.
    • Jul 25, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Cotton ploy result: Iran gets the bomb

    Sen. Tom Cotton's big grandstanding play against President Obama may not produce the war with Iran or some other Muslim country that he seems to want, but it might give us the next worst thing, a nuclear-armed Iran.
    • Mar 10, 2015
  • Religion as excuse upends Constitution

    Tirades over religious liberty since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages nationwide have awakened the ghost of James Madison, the author of the constitutional doctrine on the matter, and it isn't happy that his effort to protect religious inquiry in America is being corrupted.
    • Jul 9, 2015
  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015

Most Shared

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said
  • Ted Suhl loses another bid for new trial; faces stiff sentencing recommendation

    Ted Suhl, the former operator of residential and out-patient mental health services, has lost a second bid to get a new trial on his conviction for paying bribes to influence state Human Services Department policies. Set for sentencing Thursday, Suhl faces a government request for a sentence up to almost 20 years. He argues for no more than 33 months.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Issue 3: blank check

    Who could object to a constitutional amendment "concerning job creation, job expansion and economic development," which is the condensed title for Issue 3 for Arkansas voters on Nov. 8?
    • Oct 26, 2016
  • White House sex

    Illicit sex has invaded the White House since Tom Jefferson's days and sometimes also the public aspects of presidential elections, but Donald Trump threatens to make sex the central issue of a presidential election
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • EpiPen lesson

    Congressional Republicans and Democrats staged a rousing display of rage against the CEO whose company gouged a fortune from families whose kids and sometimes grownups need the lifesaving properties of the drug EpiPen.
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • The politics of opportunity

    Are you sick of the election yet? One thing that seems certain is that our politics remain as hyperpartisan and dysfunctional as ever. I may be naive, but I think Arkansas has an opportunity to help lead the country back toward pragmatic progress on the issues that will make our families and communities stronger.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Confrontation vs. innovation

    • Do you need Personal Loan? Business Cash Loan? Unsecured Loan Fast and Simple Loan? Quick…

    • on October 28, 2016
  • Re: Football and foster kids

    • I think Bart Hester just hates tax dollars being spent anywhere for anything.

    • on October 27, 2016
  • Re: The politics of opportunity

    • Maybe we need to revive a grassroots movement to have (1) nonpartisan redistricting (2)Top two…

    • on October 27, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation