Every year I put in a garden. I plant tomatoes, cabbages, rutabagas and of course weeds…lots of weeds. I don’t actually plant the weeds, but they always show up. I think the guy who lives next door comes over at night and plants them. He doesn’t have a garden and he’s jealous of mine. It’s either him or aliens. Usually the weeds do pretty well. My tomatoes are very sensitive. I have to pamper and cover them if it’s going to frost—even if it’s going to frost in Anchorage, Alaska. The weeds on the other hand grow like crazy. It doesn’t matter what happens–a heavy frost, snow storm, a rip in the space/time continuum, the end of the universe… The weeds just keep growing. Some years the only things that do well in my garden are the weeds.
I’ve never seen a purpose for the weeds in nature’s great scheme. Nothing eats them. The bugs will chew my cabbage and bean plants down to where the leaves look like sick little skeletons of some miniature nuclear blast, but not the weeds. The weeds are healthy and untouched. It’s the same way with the deer and the rabbits. I live in Iowa where there are acres and acres of corn and soybeans. You would think that the deer and the rabbits could get their fill in fifteen minutes out in any field. Somehow the attraction of a five inch cabbage plant is just too much for them to resist. Don’t get me wrong, I would be willing to sacrifice a few cabbage and pepper plants so the deer and rabbits could see what that stuff tastes like. The problem is: they don’t eat one whole plant. They have to take a bite out of every plant. As if one plant might taste better than the others. Something like a little kid going through a potluck line, or my wife at any dessert buffet. Rabbits and deer don’t eat weeds either. I’ve tried putting signs up by the weeds that said: FREE SAMPLES. It didn’t work. I don’t grow sweet corn anymore. I tried and in four years I got six ears of corn. People ask me how you can tell when sweet corn is ready to eat. It’s easy: it’s ready the day after the raccoons eat it.
Gardening takes away from the time I should spend writing. Pulling weeds and replanting all the stuff the deer, rabbits and bugs have eaten takes time. I’m always amazed at the people who say, “I don’t have time for a garden.” As if somehow I’m lazy because I spend evenings and weekends hoeing and fighting bugs and animals.
So I keep gardening because I wouldn’t want the bugs and rabbits to starve to death. I like having fresh vegetables and tomatoes that taste like tomatoes instead of the round red things you buy at the store that taste like round red things you buy at the store. I make a lot of sauerkraut, too—if the deer and the rabbits happen to get full and leave me a few cabbage plants.
Read and excerpt from my new novel GRAVES OF HIS PERSONAL LIKING