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Whittling Away: Gardening


By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

After all these years here in “upstate New York,” I have to admit to being ignorant to the monsoon season in this area. 

It has poured all summer. Not the usual Hudson Valley misty drizzle but a downright downpour. 

This constant soaking has resulted in a prolific growth of plant life. The grass in our yard is growing so rapidly that I dare not stop the tractor when I’m mowing for fear that the grass is growing so fast the mower will be lifted too far for the blade to do its job.

The sight of all this growth makes me think back to the spring and the annual temptation to garden. Gardening normally wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that I live in northern Greene County. Other parts of the county have huge pockets of sandy loam soil, rich and productive. They can grow anything with a minimum of labor, lucky people! 

The leading agricultural product in the northern end of our beautiful county has traditionally been rocks.

Rock walls are found everywhere around our area, forming boundaries between adjoining properties, surrounding barn yards, ambling off through the woods. Visitors to our area often remark on how charming they find these stone remnants of our farming past. We who live here know what they really are a sign of — trying to farm in our area. 

These abundant walls are the result of the stones that had to be removed each spring after the fields were plowed — the key word here is “each.” The darn things just keep on coming!

I can’t imagine the joy of trying to guide a horse-drawn plow through the soil in our area, but I reckon this was one of the reasons that few of our farmer ancestors died with all their teeth. This one task must have rattled every bone in their bodies. 

I don’t attempt to farm as such, but we do like growing food for our souls — flowers, shrubs and such. This means gardening.

Gardening in northern Greene County involves girding up your loins (I like that expression! I think it has something to do with a truss), gathering your tools (annuals don’t usually require anything heavier than a jackhammer and an assortment of various miner’s tools, perennials involve dynamite and heavy construction equipment), getting a good night’s sleep, rising early, eating a good breakfast, putting on steel-toed boots and heavy leather gloves, picking up your six-pack of petunias and picking the site for their implantation.

Northern Greene County averages about 3 inches of top soil, followed immediately by bedrock.  Skim the topsoil off the rock ( save it to show to visitors and fellow gardeners) and using a small rock drill and a 5-pound hammer, start chiseling a hole. Make sure the hole is at least twice the size of the root ball on the bottom of the plant in case it wasn’t grown in the area and is used to dirt surrounding it. 

When the hole is finished, use a carbide drill bit and drill two or three deep holes in the bottom of the cavity you have chiseled, this allows drainage during the monsoon season.

Place the plant in the cavity, surround it tightly with rock dust left over from producing the bedding hole and you’re finished. Only five more to go and the six pack is planted. 

When the task is completed, try to stand straight and take time to admire the beautiful sunset. At this time a different kind of six-pack will probably be a welcome sight and your need to garden will be satisfied for another year. 

If the need to plant something large arises, like a tree, call me. We have a gardener’s prayer chain in our hamlet and we will include you.

Thought for the week — If you think crime doesn’t pay, you should try farming!

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well.

Reach columnist Dick Brooks at

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