Category Archives: Food

The Garden, Summer 2013: Finis

I don’t know anybody who has had good luck with their tomatoes this year. We’ve had too much rain and too little sun. I’ve purchased some good (but expensive) heirloom tomatoes at the Athens Farmer’s Market, but even those skilled and friendly farmers have had a tough time this year. All the rain encourages various “wilts” and other nasty diseases.

And it turns out that rabbits like tomato seedlings, though not as much as they seem to like sunflower seedlings.

It’s all been very disappointing.

But I’m going to set out some cruciferous vegetables in the raised beds this fall, some broccoli and cabbage and maybe a few Brussels sprouts stalks because Jonah will get a kick out of how weird they look. I’ll have to read up on winter gardening, having never done that sort of thing before. And I do wonder if all this daily rain is going to continue into the cold season.

I’ve never seen so much rain in the summertime. But I guess we were told this is how it would be…


I run.

No, not away from anything. And certainly not in place.

I run because it makes me feel good. Really good.

Somebody I know once said that running is like washing your brain.

Endorphins are a really nice high. Your body releases them into your bloodstream to reward you for doing something to make yourself healthier. It’s a good deal, and one I advise you to take. There are no sure bets when it comes to physical health. But there are ways to gain clear, clean advantages.

It’s a game of numbers, of percentages. In Vegas, you count cards and remain expressionless. In life, you eat right, exercise, try to get enough sleep, and attempt to maintain a positive attitude.

All of which, of course, is easier said than done.

But I heartily embrace my daily opportunity to increase my odds of living better and longer and happier. It only takes 2 or 3 miles a day, maybe 30-40 minutes at a slow jog. I do it every morning, whatever the time of year.

And not just for the way it makes me feel: I do it for the people I love. I don’t want to get sick in ways I can prevent. I don’t want to grow old the hard way if, instead, I can do it with some semblance of vigor and style and grace. I don’t want to make my family worry and cry about things over which I have some control. I don’t want to die before I have to. I can’t buy myself any guarantees, but I can powerfully increase my odds. Who the hell wouldn’t want to do that?

Then there’s the fact that I don’t want to set a shoddy example for my son. I don’t want to teach him bad habits. I don’t want him thinking that it’s normal to lay on the couch watching TV while there are so many things to see and do. He loves to go outside. He loves to run around and explore and laugh and fall down and get back up and run around some more.

So do I.


Jonah says: “Come on outside. There’s lots of nice sticks to play with. It’s real nice.”

Memorial Day in Farmington

Several things are growing around here.

We had a wonderful Memorial Day together, playing in Jonah’s little kiddie pool, tending the garden and taking long walks. We didn’t hang a flag or say anything solemn about those who served our country, but we did spend our first day together as a family without sickness and study and stress and work since Jonah was born, just laughing and playing and feeling lucky to be alive. Heck, we even cooked up some hamburgers for lunch.

I figure there’s a lot of American soldiers who would have smiled to see us smile so much…


baby sunflower


Happy Memorial Day


the sky above the Farmington community center


The Garden, Phase 2 (cont.)


expanded garden

Wednesday I devoted to finishing the garden and working on some technical stuff before summer semester starts. Once school is back in session I’ll have little time for anything but work, sleep and study. Though our garden is not big, it is important to us. And we’ll continue to expand it over the next few seasons.

I planted oregano, thyme, chives and flat leaf parsley next to the basil, along with a bunch of heirloom Sunspot Sunflowers that grow to about 1.5 feet, the perfect size for Jonah and not so tall that they block out the sun on the tomatoes. Then I repaired and extended the irrigation system.


My wife and I have been together for a number of years, but we held off on reproducing until we felt good and ready.

And so: Jonah McRay Johnson was born in the early morning hours of April 5, 2012.

Jonah is something else. He’s mostly a happy little man, though he isn’t a stranger to the usual childish protestations and remonstrances.

We adore him.

Here are a few snapshots from along his timeline so far:


5 months old


I put an empty box on his head, which he found hilarious.


1st trip to the toy store.


Eating bananas with his new teeth. Good times.


Little man loves his momma.


Checking out the horses on one of our many walks down the country road where we live.


Just waking up from a nap.


Always in motion…

The Garden – Phase 2 (ctd.)

This time, I decided to mix my own growing medium. It’s far cheaper than buying ready-mixed bags of container soil, and of course it’s a great opportunity for obsessive types to get all creative with their choices and mix-ratios of the various available ingredients. I’m not obsessive, exactly, so I took the advice of the good folks at Cofer’s Home and Garden and mixed 16 cubic feet of soil conditioner (partly-composted pine bark, I think), 2 cubic feet of mushroom compost, 2 cubic feet of cow manure, 1 cubic feet of worm castings and 4 lbs. of Tomato-tone organic fertilizer. It’s a nice mix, I think, but the proof is in the tomatoes. That’ll take a few months.

In the meantime, here’s a shot of Jonah looking out our back door a few months ago:


He loves being outside, but that was a cold, rainy day, so he was stuck inside and rather sad about it.

The Garden – Phase 2

We’ve been gardening here for several years now, with varying degrees of success. The Phase 1 garden consisted of two 8′ X 4′ raised beds built with 1″ X 10″ pressure-treated boards, filled with potting soil amended with Plant-tone organic fertilizer. We surrounded the whole affair with wire fencing to keep out the deer and rabbits.

That worked great for a few years, but then we decided to introduce nematodes into the soil to control the cutworms that were eating our heirloom tomato plants. Turns out, heirloom tomato plants don’t like nematodes, not at all. Then the pressure-treated boards rotted away, leaving us with raised mounds of dirt instead of raised beds. Plus, it was really hard to keep the grass and weeds under control in that tight space between the fencing and the beds.

So this year I moved the garden to a new spot, and we invested in some ready-made cedar raised bed kits. I had a few hours to spare between semesters, so I spent an afternoon putting the whole thing in place. I reused the irrigation system we bought from Lee Valley a few years back (good company, btw).

new raised beds

irrigation system

new raised beds

new raised beds

So we’ve got four heirloom tomato plants in the near field, and three hybrids plus a basil plant in the far field. I’ll be adding another square bed onto the side in a few days; we’ll plant some wildflowers and herbs in there. It’s not as big a garden as I’d like, but it’s a start. As any gardener knows, establishing a new garden is expensive, so that’s reason enough to wait till next year to expand it. Plus I’ve got two challenging classes this summer semester, and we’re a family perpetually out of time & energy these days, so I didn’t want to overwhelm us.

But it comes down to this: I want my son to grow up with a well-tended garden in his back yard. Eating fresh vegetables straight from the garden was one of the most mind-blowing things I ever did as a child, and I want Jonah to know that feeling, too. Dear old Papa Johnson would approve.