I never got a tiller, never was even able to borrow one for an afternoon. A friend of a friend offered to bring his and come cut up the ground for me, but his schedule never coincided with mine or the weather's. The weeks dragged on, but I was already working on planting.
I started hitting the flea market in February, looking for a shovel, a rake and a hoe --these seemed to be the minimum I'd just to plant something.Winter was mild and I was antsy to do something with my hands.
The only patch of ground that looked remotely likely for being something I could work without a tiller was a strange square protected by a rusted and sagging fence.It reminded me of a pet cemetery, forlorn and half forgotten, a place where countless goldfish of another generation had been laid to rest along with a couple of good dogs and maybe a cat.
The soil was dark, but the whole patch was overrun with poke weed. It looked deliberate, like the previous owner had planted the stuff, but nobody does that. In all likelihood, the land had been prepared, but never used. The old man's wife had become ill. The whole house is a living document to her decline, with little changes made to accommodate her growing frailty and immobility.
Birds probably took the land over. They'd brought the seeds and weed the weed had thrived unchecked.
I decided I could make my stand here or at least try.
I got a shovel and a pickaxe from my mother's basement; the same tools my father had used to dig and maintain his garden when I was a boy. I remember watching him and being part of the whole excavation of the lower quarter acre. He'd used the pick axe to pry out rocks, some of which had become part of the low stone wall at the bottom of the yard.
Pieces of that wall still remain, but not many.
The garden patch was worse than I imagined. The poke weed had grown deep. I spent half a day pulling up dessicated stalks and cutting and digging up swollen roots that looked very healthy. I pulled out chunks the size of basketballs and tossed them in a stinking pile on the other side of the fence. I filled something like ten leaf bags full of debris from the plot not much bigger than a couple of parking spaces.
I was a little too pleased with the job and on a whim decided to go ahead and plant a couple of rows of greens, carrots and some beets.
My father suggested I hold off, but he lives about an hour or so from Canada. His winter and growing season are very different than West Virginia.
I'd already started tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in little peat pellets indoors. What would be the harm to go ahead and try to get an early jump on things?
The back of the packages swore they'd grow in the cold, that they loved the cold and I hoped they were right. To be honest, I was kind of counting on them getting a head start on the weeds. The weeds would return. All the books said they would and when the new plants grew, I wouldn't know which was which. I had no idea what spinach or lettuce or beets looked like when they first came out of the ground.
I hoped it would all turn into something I recognized before I yanked them out of the ground.