This summer I was excited to grow a small garden at my new home in Montana. But as things often happen, life whipped me around and sent me off on a totally different path.
I spent my summer in Indiana with my family, trying to do all I can to help my mom through cancer surgery and treatments. There is no place I’d rather be right now.
“Might as well just grow that garden while I’m here in the hot and humid farm belt,” I thought to myself as I filled my shopping cart with seed packets, tomato baskets, and plants.
“I hope the garden isn’t too close to the black walnut tree,” Mom said, after I surprised her with all of the starts in the ground.
“I read somewhere that black walnuts can poison the soil, making it hard to grow things nearby,” she added. “But I might be wrong...”
I looked it up online, and of course she was right.
“We’re just gonna wing it,” I told Mom.
“Best way,” she agreed. “They might just surprise us and grow.”
And the tomato plants did surprise us.
They grew wide and tall and lush, blooming and then producing tiny green fruits. Several times a day, Mom and I walked out to admire our emerging mini-farm. According to the online gardening sites, my romas and beefmasters and cherries were beating the black walnut-odds.
Next, the tomatoes even turned red.
Yes, turning red was the logical next step, but still I’m amazed. I could grow tomatoes every summer for the rest of my life and still be surprised when, like magic, there they are - all red and smooth and glorious.
Our garden sits at the back end of an expansive yard, yet we can count the red spots - one tomato, two tomato, three tomato - while we’re inside doing the dishes, looking out the kitchen window.
Little did we know, Mom and I weren’t the only ones making a mental tally of the red and juicy bounty.
About a month ago, I opened the back door of the house and there stood Borage, my 10-year old Alaskan Husky, with a mud-crusted snout. His normally snow-white legs, from his paws up to the elbows, were stained a solid brown.
Borage likes to dig holes in the cool dirt. Often times during the heat of the day, just his pointy ears can be spotted sticking up out of his naturally air-conditioned man-cave.
Borage must have been working on a new snoozing pad, I thought to myself as I let my other two dogs out to join him in the yard.
When Borage saw Jigs and Chloe, he went nuts, barking and growling at his buddies as he shuffled backwards. Finally, he plopped his body down, draping himself across a large mound of fresh, black earth.
Borage is a silent, mellow dog. He rarely - just a few times a year at most - barks.
“Borage, what’s your problem?” I asked, dragging his body - now plastered flat to the mound of dirt - off into the grass.
I dug with my hands until I uncovered it - the grand one.
Borage had stepped over the garden fence, picked our prize-tomato, walked across the yard with it in his mouth, and buried it. There were only four tiny holes in the tomato - one for each fang.
“Bad, bad boy!” I told Borage, shaking the tomato in front of his nose. He play-jumped in front of me and then took off running laps around the perimeter of the yard.
Dirt piles continue to pop up here, there, everywhere. The daily red tomato tally from the kitchen window dropped to zero.
Now, Borage can’t wait to be released into the back yard all by his lonesome. He stands right next to the garden, staring up at the windows of the house until he thinks no one is watching. Then he tip toes over the garden fence and makes his selection.
Often times, Mom catches him, yelling out the window, “Borage Land, you get out of there!”
Borage leaps over the fence and races around the yard. He’s made a game out of our garden.
Now, we can’t even say the word “tomato” in front of him. If he hears the golden word, he perks right up, looking this way and that way as if I’d just announced, “Squirrel!”
So Mom and I developed a code word for “tomato.”
“Would you like some goobers on your salad?” I ask Mom, knowing it’ll just be a short time before he catches on.
I’ve thought about a higher fence, but after doing some research at the hardware, I realize my homegrown crops are becoming pretty pricey her pound.
And, to be honest, the best produce from this summer’s garden isn’t those fresh tomatoes - no, I mean goobers - but the great laughs.
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