Gardening Benefits Plentiful Despite Challenges

With the coming of summer, lots of North Country folks’ minds turn to gardening. Well, actually, many of those minds turned to gardening as early as January, when the seed catalogs started arriving in the mail and the planning began, on sheets of paper spread across kitchen tables on cold, dark evenings. Hard-core gardeners, it’s said, even began dreaming the moment they finished putting last year’s garden to bed for the winter, pulled the last carrot or dug the last potato through frost-crusted earth and wondered why this crop or that hadn’t come in. “We’ll try again next year….”

    For most of us, gardening may be about the independence of raising our own trustworthy food, the satisfaction of coaxing something edible from the Earth, the pleasure of getting our hands dirty, our latent desire to do something good for a beleaguered planet, or our determination to make the most of the north country’s all-too-short summers: “The growing season is only a few weeks long, and I am GOING to enjoy it, even if it exhausts me!” But for everybody, what’s even more important is that gardening is a super source of family stories.

    For us, these revolve around the expansion and contraction of our gardens as we’ve passed through life’s stages. Growing up in the north country, I got it into my head that everybody had a big garden. A great-aunt, for example, maintained a massive layout, full of flowers and vegetables and plum trees, on hundreds of square feet of river bottom, which she tended religiously into her 90s. A proper lady, she wore pants only when gardening; upon completing her weeding, clipping, hoeing and harvesting for the day, she would repair immediately to her room and emerge in a dress. I naturally assumed that when I grew up I would become a gardener too.

    That proved easier said than done, because for the first few years after college I lived in urban environments, surrounded by asphalt, and then in a boarding school where I taught. We did manage a small (I mean about six-foot by six-foot) plot there, but the grounds superintendent wasn’t thrilled that we wanted to dig up a tiny square of his campus.

    When we moved to the Canton area and bought an old farmhouse with an acre of land, though, it was time for the gardens to take off. We had some fine ones for a few years, and even succeeded in being nearly self-sufficient in veggies one winter. One year we cajoled corn stalks up to a few inches greater than my almost-six-foot height, and we even harvested a couple of palatable (if you define the term liberally) cantaloupes, which our neighbors said couldn’t be raised in the north country – too short a season. Those neighbors were from Birdsfoot Farm, one of the few communal organic operations that survived the idealism of the Back to the Earth fad of the 1970s (and continues to thrive to this day), so we were pretty smug about that. Or maybe just lucky.

    We survived late frosts; one we christened the Great Anniversary Freeze, because it fell on our wedding anniversary, June 29, and devastated not only our garden but also dozens throughout the region. We also endured a cow invasion: one spring day we looked out the window and spotted a dozen Holsteins trampling around in what after a rainy spell was abnormally spongy soil. They’d escaped from another neighbor’s farm, and were having a delightful time trashing our newly-planted spread. A quick call brought the farmer running, issuing heartfelt apologies even before he was within hearing range, and the cows were soon rounded up and headed home, though not before leaving deep holes all over our poor garden; I had not appreciated until then how much a dairy cow weighs, and thus how far into saturated soil it can sink its legs. They also left some fertilizer, though, for which we thanked the chagrined farmer.

    Which reminds me of the prolific rhubarb we cut each spring. We couldn’t imagine how it could get so big and delicious with no work on our part. Then a previous owner of the place told us it had until not many years earlier been a working farm, and the rhubarb had sprouted happily in the former manure pile. Ah, the wonders of nature.

    But the main thing we survived was zucchini. Why we kept planting so darn much of it I could never imagine, except that we knew it would grow no matter what, so there was that smug satisfaction thing again. The problem was that we always went away on vacation in August, and it never had the courtesy to stop growing while we were gone. We’d come home to zucchinis the size of Goodyear blimps. The vines would lose all sense of propriety, insinuating themselves among the bean stalks, climbing the pepper plants for a better view, hauling themselves up the tomato cages and cutting off the tomatoes’ sunlight with fronds as big as truck tires. We prayed for a hard frost.

    Eventually, we moved into town, and the gardens got smaller and smaller as our backs got older and we realized we could patronize the Farmers Market, featuring growers who actually knew what they were doing, for a little cash and a lot less sweat, mosquito repellent, muscle rub and dirt under our fingernails. We’re now down to a fall-bearing raspberry patch, some rhubarb transplanted from that old manure-pile stock, and sporadic asparagus – perennials that require minimal human effort.

    Meanwhile, gardening has evolved a new ethos as a beneficial aspect of the larger environment, partly in response to concerns about global climate change and natural habitat loss. Trees (carbon captors), bees (pollinators), water conservation practices and native species (as opposed to invasives) are the “in” things today.  We’re all for it; we’ll just let the younger generations do the labor while we rock on the deck until the raspberries are ready to pick, sometime in October.

 

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No matter a native, a transplant, a seasonal resident or a year-rounder, there is an endless supply of fun to be found in the north country.
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‘Canton Park Under January Sun’

BY Denny Morrale / Canton

BY Denny Morrale / Canton

Medium: Acrylic on canvas

SIZE: 40-by-60 inches

DATE: March 2013

Artist’s NOTES: “As the title suggests, the painting features Canton Park. The acrylic on canvas is presently on display in “The Parkview” in Canton above Blackbird Café. Café owners Kenneth M. and Katrina G. Hebb approached me last January about doing a series for the space. This piece was one of the first completed. Two others are on display with it, and several more are close to completion. The series will eventually feature about 12 paintings, each focusing on different aspects of the north country.”

Give us your best image. If you have captured a slice of life in Northern New York through your lens or on canvas, email us a high-resolution image to nnyliving@wdt.net.

My NNY: ‘Moving target’

Tom Bruyere/ Ogdensburg

By Tom Bruyere/ Ogdensburg

Medium: Digital photograph

Camera: Nikon D7000, ISO 200, f/8, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 18-55mm lens

Date: May 2013

Photographer’s notes: “I used HDR to capture both the sky and the foreground with exposures of 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 sec at f8. The photo was done in late May from a moving boat while trolling for walleye near Crossover Island on the St. Lawrence River.”

‘Life-sized lighthouse’

Photo by Rebecca Walker/ Felts Mills

Medium: Digital photograph

Camera: Nikon D90, ISO 250, f/18, 1/500, 18mm, no flash

Date: July 30, 2013

Photographer’s Notes: “I took this at Pillar Point one evening a few weeks ago. The way the light was hitting the little lighthouse and the exposure I used almost makes it appear as a distant shot of a full-sized lighthouse.”

‘Whirring Windmills’

Artist: Brianna Siegrist, Lowville

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‘Mush!’

Photographer: Patrick Danforth/Evans Mills
Media
: Digital photograph
Camera: Nikon D7000, ISO 200f/5.6 1/600 145mm
Date: Winter 2012
Photographer’s notes: Here is Max, a German shepherd, and Alyson. Max stayed with us at Click to Zen Canine Behavioral Services for training while his rescue searched for a foster home. He was going to be put to sleep in a shelter in Brooklyn. Here he enjoys pulling Alyson on a sled. He loved pulling people on skis, a kick sled and mountain boards. He eventually found a foster home and was adopted.
Editor’s note: Mr. Danforth’s photo won the 2013 Watertown Daily Times Cabin Fever Photo Contest in the outdoor recreation category.

Give us your best image. If you have captured a snippet of NNY through your lens or on canvas, email it to us at nnyliving@wdt.net.

‘The path forward’

Photographer: Holly Boname, Watertown.
Media:
Digital photograph
Camera:  Apple iPhone
Date: December 2012
Photographer’s notes: I took a trip to Black Pond, just outside of Henderson. The road and path were not plowed and the snow was fresh with no footprints. While walking I was blown away at the brilliant sun shining through the trees and the untouched path in front of me.

Give us your best image. If you have captured a snippet of NNY through your lens or on canvas, email it to us at nnyliving@wdt.net.

‘Ives Park gazebo’

'Ives Park gazebo,' oil on gesso board by Catherine LaPointe, Massena, 2009

ABOUT THE ARTIST: Catherine LaPointe, a 2010 Syracuse University graduate created this oil painting of Ives Park in Potsdam, with its great tree changing into autumnal colors. Ms. LaPointe specializes in book and editorial illustrations but also creates images in a variety of media, including watercolor, of scenes from throughout the north country like Higley Flow State Park, Colton, and the Raquette River in Massena.

Give us your best image. If you have captured a snippet of NNY through your lens or on canvas, email it to us at nnyliving@wdt.net.