"Casual Gardening" is a how-to, experienced based book packed with fun tidbits and surprises. Tom's version of simple and effective gardening is a no-fuss version of doing things the right way. This wise guy's tried and true methods are a little bit research and the rest self-taught. His efficient, 'don't hesitate, just get it in the ground' approach will get your garden loving you back with treasures in no time. Remember, it's an on-the-go read and meant to get a little dirty, so take it along and watch your garden grow.
I’m writing this book because my friend Krispian and my grandsons, Nick and Tommy, asked me to put down some of my ideas on gardening. It all started with me and my Dad’s Victory Garden a’ways back in the early 1940s. You see, I’m old, but not too old to get out in the garden and putz around. The Nation was engaged in WWII and all food resources were going overseas to feed our troops. We were busy saving France and Europe for the second time against Germany. Every able family was encouraged to grow whatever they could in whatever space the could. People grew what they could on any and every plot of dirt, even if it was in the front yard or on the roofs in the cities. Our family turned a ½ acre into a Victory Garden, growing multiple crops: corn, beans, potatoes, carrots, radish, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, okra, greens, turnips, beets, tomatoes, peppers, onions, squash, zucchini, asparagus, rhubarb, to name a bunch. We cultivated our side lot, seeded, watered, tended, debugged, harvested, cooked, canned and stored, and shared vegetables with friends and neighbors. We also raised chickens for eggs and meat and rabbits and bees. It was good times. It was a time for pulling together against a common enemy. It was a time of patriotism. It was a time for families and the time I learned to love gardening. I have planted a Victory Garden every year since, nye on 75 years now.
‘Bear” with me a moment before we get into gardening per se. Someone once asked me do I carry in my garden? Does a bear . . . In the woods? I live way out up a mountain, sort of off the grid somewhere in Western North Carolina. We are a tad self-sufficient, except for yoga classes at the Y in town, gas for the vehicles and “Brisket Day” at Moe’s Original Barbecue. I see wildlife every day. Well, I should carry cause while bears don’t bother people for the most part, cougars do. Not the middle-aged married type. I mean wild cougars, I mean the cantankerous mountain lion type. You see bobcats don’t growl. A cougar will. Although pretty much invisible most of the time, they get bolder when hunting. A bear will give you a couple a territorial huffs. Those kitty critters can sneak up on you. Hungry, they can get feisty wit my dog, I swing a mean rake at the pesky rabbits and know some Tea-kwon-Hoe, enough, that is to beat a mean path to the back door. Been false charged before by a big male black bear once up on Rocky Top - messed my pants! So’s just in case, I carry, to ward off the pussycat. Momma bear knows me.
I’ll cover it later but there are so many tricks to keep the critters large and small outta your garden. I don’t fence my garden. Believe it or not a small chunk of Irish Spring placed at each corner of my garden boxes, staves off most everything (even deer) but not the good insects, the birds and the bees and butterfly’s. I free range a lot of my fruits and veggies and I’ll introduce you to my secret garden idea below. Bottom line is you gotta share. If a momma deer nips off every young zucchini start, well, just plant some more.
So let’s garden together. Using my rules of (green) thumb, you can grow a few choice fresh veggies or sustain your family off the grid. Same techniques work for either or both. I like to think that gardening is a lost skill, easily recovered and really kind of fun. My philosophy is to keep it simple and natural - Put a seed in the ground and it will grow! That-a-way, you can spend as much time as you like gardening. It’s healthy, mentally, physically and spiritually. It’s like in the olden days when the mentally ill were in hospitals, only we called it occupational therapy gardening back then, sixty years back or so. Or check out that new Clint Eastwood movie, “The Mule,”where he ends up gardening and doesn’t “let the old man in.” That’s me.
Well, by no means are my ideas that original, they are garnered from my dad, old timers, from personal experience and preserved here for you to carry-on forward. That’s why I put pen to paper, so as to give Tanya, Special K, Ester, and the grandkids a little guidance in the ways I’ve found work best for me. Like my friend, JD, used to sing, “Thar ain’t nuttin’ like fried green tomatoes” right outta thu garden. God love you, John, I wish you’d a-left flying experimental planes to the test pilots. Even my plants like “Whispering Jessie.”
Anyways, let’s talk gardening by saying you can grow anything, anywhere, in any type garden; so do what you want - Casual Gardening. I’ve done both flat gardening, long straight Victory Garden rows, patches and pots and raised boxes, towers and straw bales and such. I like ‘em all, but tend to favor gardening in 4x12x8’ raised beds - I call them “postage stamp gardens”. Six 4x8x12 raised boxes crammed full-a goodies will feed a couple and a couple o’ neighbors and then some. I am leaning toward Rick Austin’s “Secret Garden” technique, where he plants stuff like they are used to growing – not in rows but spread about, bunched together here and there. Kinda like they grew in the wild. I was raised a bit OCD, and rows suit me and probably you and most folks. But people who shouldn’t, sure as heck couldn’t find Rick’s garden, even if they were walking right through it. And stealth gardening can come in mighty handy in a pinch of times. So I say spread a few choice veggies around in your flower gardens, folks. Hide them here and yonder in plain sight. And think of a greenhouse, attached to your house, heating your house in winter and providing hot water and food all year round. That of course ain’t so casual.
There is little rhyme nor reason to Rick’s Secret Garden, just plant all over and anywhere, and turn your ducks loose in it to scarf up the bugs and beetles. But for now let’s concentrate on how to grow things in boxes and up trellis and poles and towers in a small place with mulch to keep the weeds down and the moisture in, and compost to keep the soil rich without chemical fertilizers. Pick off them bug varmints and feed ‘em to the chickens.