Grandpa Conover, learning to persevere, and desert gardening

Gardening in the Phoenix area is almost impossible.  Like I don’t have enough on my plate already, right?  But, it’s in my blood.

Yoeme Purple String Beans

My mother was raised on a farm;  her father farmed until a few years before his death.  My Grandpa Conover was a precious man about as wide as he was high — about 5’5″ in both directions.  No matter the occasion, he was sharply dressed in pair of overalls, a plaid long-sleeved shirt, and a seed-supply “trucker” hat, with tufts of hair sticking straight out the back.  He was hard of hearing but blamed everyone else for the fact that he couldn’t hear.  He never called my grandma by her first name — always some term of endearment, usually culled from songs popular in the 1940s, when they were courting.  (They never really stopped courting;  they usually held hands and flirted everywhere they went.)  Grandpa Conover would frequently break into song with his loud and lovely baritone, or, just as often, start quoting whole stanzas of Shakespeare.  I loved him very much.

Pasilla Negro Chiles

Too, I love the land where he was from:  the Mississippi bluff area of west-central Illinois.  Actually, I love all of Illinois.  I feel very much at home there.  Makes me want to cry, just thinking about it.

However, God didn’t see fit to plant me in the Midwest;  I married a native Arizonan who had/has no intentions whatsoever of leaving this great state.  I fought that, more internally than externally, for many years;  my heart longs for green hills, big trees, and slow-moving, peaceful rivers.  I’m now at peace with living in the desert.

Hopi pale-grey squash/pumpkin

Still, there’s more than a bit of farm girl in me, even though I personally never spent more than a couple of months (more often, only a week or two) at a time on the family farm, and then, only once — a few times, twice — yearly.

Farming in the desert, though, takes lots of time, lots of patience, lots of soil amendments, and lots of water.  I usually pine for a garden, but don’t have a convergence of all of those things at once.  I did discover that having a nursing baby AND gardening was just too much for me.  No nursing baby this year…  😦  But, I’ve been working on my compost since late November, and ordered seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH (Southwest Endangered Aridland Clearing House).  NS/S collects both native and heirloom (think Spanish explorers) seeds that have been prospering for a couple of centuries or more.  So, they have the best chance for really thriving in the desert Southwest.

Maricopa Sweet Corn

Now, in an ideal world — which, frankly, doesn’t exist — I would have had my garden in a month ago.  But, my compost wasn’t ready, and I just didn’t have the time to research my seeds, and… I don’t know what else, but I just wasn’t ready.  Because of that fact alone, I kind of am tempted to throw in the towel and not even try.  BUT… I’m not going to do that.  The Karen of five years ago would have, but lately, I’m trying to agree with God in that He wants to bring more persistence and perseverance to me — and less wilting, freaking out, or depression — in the face of difficulties.

Punta Banda Tomato

So!  All that to say that, today, I got about 40% of my 7′ x 21′ raised-bed garden soaked, tilled (with about half of my compost mixed in), raked, and planted.  Woo hoo!!  Forty percent was enough for 15 corn plants, one mound for squash, and 30 bean plants.  I’ll need to start my chile, tomatillo, and tomato plants (for transplant) ASAP;  I should have had those started a couple of months ago!!

I really don’t know if it will prosper.  I half hope and half am shouldering an impending sense of doom.  Seriously.  ONE DAY of neglect in 110° weather can kill the garden.  We do have an irrigation system, but it’s imperfect, and I just can’t trust it completely.

Mt. Pima Tomatillo

But.  I DID IT, in the face of all the less-than-ideal circumstances.  There are a few things going for it:  I have a good patch for the garden — it’s a raised bed, and is mostly shaded from the most intense late-afternoon sun.  I have compost tilled in.  I purchased native seeds.  I have farming in my blood.

Hopefully, that will be enough.


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on April 25, 2011, in Character Development, Cooking/Baking/Food/Recipes, Desert Gardening, Extended Family, Summer Plans. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. It always warms my heart to hear other people who loved their grandparents as much as I did. Mine meant the world to me.

    And for the farming thing…well I always learn something from you Karen. Thanks 🙂 I would love to do a garden of anything someday with my Claire. She loves anything like that. I just have to get their and have the $ to do it.

  2. I hope your gardening experiment works! As it is, the first year of a garden doesn’t usually have a very good yield as the ground is getting used to growing new plants and such, so whatever you are able to get is good, and next year is bound to be better. 🙂

  3. I usually grow tomatoes and the biggest problem I have is the birds. Have to build a cage around the whole patch (well, 4 plants) to keep them from biting big holes in most of the fruit. And then I hang cds on the cage to chase them away– otherwise they just hang out, searching for a way in.

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