Sunday, February 26, 2012


There are good folks in the Washoe County area of Northern Nevada (for the uninformed this is the county where the cities of Reno and Sparks are conjoined) who annually enter into a ritual of self-induced frustration, which in polite societies is referred to as gardening. To the insiders across back fences and in private exchanges the foiled toilers of the soil use many other adjectives to describe their defeatist inspired hobby.

These back yard gardeners of the Truckee Meadows engage in some very interesting annual cult practices.

They passionately disagree as they watch the snow and frost recede on a local mountain called Peavine on whose meteorological magic they all have differing opinions, arguing as to how to interpret the faithful gauge of snow blanketed sage covered landscape which supposedly dictates when they should once again begin their rites of self-defeating behavior. This gauge is a Sword of Demosthenes which dangles over both the daring and the patient as they watch the last remnants of winter disappear from Peavine’s peak.

Some of the foolhardy will go forth with a flare of bravado and plant while patches of graying slush still adorn some of the shady areas of the mountain. These foolhardy souls will invariably have to, after the first killer frost, re-turn the soil of their gardens and replant with eternal hope driving them forward with every shovel full of earth freshly prepared. With appropriate expletives these impatient planters will soon compare frost blackened leaves of tomato and squash plants whose bright buds will never mature into edible delights.

The less daring and obviously more patient planters wait and wait until the last vestiges of winter’s whiteness have evaporated or melted into the soil of the trusty gauge. Ere long they find that their patience brings them no reward since the staying of their hand has shortened the growing season to such a narrow window that the yield of their efforts is a another bumper crop of unripened tomatoes which are either left on the vines as a sacrifice to King Jack Frost or picked and bottle and added to the ever increasing supply of green tomato relish.

I have to admit that one year on the 24th of July as we were freezing at San Rafael Park while celebrating the Mormon Pioneers entering the Great Salt Lake Basin that I was duly tempted to refrain from ever again entering into that futile backyard planting ritual. While we celebrants shivered and crowded under the minimal sheltered areas, watching the snowflakes fall, my thoughts turned to the bounteous harvest I had bragged about to my neighbor on the 23rd of July and my perfect Peavine Mountain timing,. With frozen thoughts, I knew the morning of July 25th would once again bear testimony of the futility of farming in that fertile soil.

However, the true horticulturist never becomes discouraged to the point of quitting and can always, in spite of the frustration involved, rationalize that gardening is relaxing and does avail one of a pleasant way to get in some much needed summer exercise.

From the unpublished book on ‘Gardening for Fun, and Only for Fun in the Truckee Meadows’ we find creed-worthy words which are meant to encourage and animate frustrated farmers in times of nearly annual failure induced discouragement.

Never analyze your gardening successes based on labor and production costs versus returns.

The frequently repeated practice of balancing nutrients in the soil in order to control weeds while not causing the ground to be barren, in another pursuit would time-wise add up to the equivalency of a Doctorate Degree.

The truly gifted (Master Timers of late springs and early winters) who year after year plow ahead, may (that would be a huge may) someday in the far away future receive a blue ribbon as recognition for their untiring efforts.

After the digging, planting and harvesting of green tomatoes are done the trip to Fallon (a nearby fruitful farming community east of the conjoining cities of Sparks and Reno) to buy some fresh produce isn’t that big of a drive anyway.

As I diligently added my name to the list of devotees who sacrificed greatly to become one with Mother Earth, I have found that all was not in vain and there was more to be gained from the frustrating gardening ritual than a bit of relaxing summer exercise. In spite of the failures, I learned many lessons which would be useful in more farming friendly areas and also have given meaningful understandings to other parts of my life.

In a very practical way I came to understand some gardening practices and their benefits and dangers. For example, corn should be planted in shorter multiple rows rather than one single long row if one expects to have a successful pollination take place; Also, root crops should be planted adjacent to plants which discourage grub worms and other creatures which crawl in the ground. And it takes many seasons for asparagus to yield enough sprigs to make a meal.

I came to understand that if a gardener were to concentrate on the sod alone, season after season tilling greater amounts of fertilizers, compost and chemicals into the ground, he may exhaust his energies and the labors of a life time before the perfect soil is achieved and ready for planting.

If the back yard row cropper decides that weeds are the real enemy of crop development, he possibly could attack them with such vigor and resources that he kills the soil and then many seasons will be needed to restore the barren ground.

On the other hand, if our amateur farmer believes that gardening is nothing more than planting and watering, his garden may soon be overrun with weeds, the nutrients in his soil will be depleted and he will be rewarded with an ever diminishing return for his efforts.



  1. The toil has been long, hard, frustrating.
    The guides, many.
    Their guidance conflicting, even contradictory.
    My fruits meager.
    Such as they were, they once seemed pleasing,
    But now upon more mature examination, questionable.
    Winter approaches.
    Confusion has overwhelmed false clarity.
    Winter is nigh.
    What to do? What to do?

    Paul Maddox

  2. Thanks for the delightful description. I'm surely not much of a gardener, and now I clearly see where my lack of patience shows. I am looking forward ---- with hope --- for the continuation.
    I hope all is going well with you and your loved ones.

    Bonnie Lynn

  3. Chuckling (knowingly) & looking forward to the the coming symbolistic comparison.

    Susan Maestretti

  4. Great message. Having grown up in White Pine counties, several thousand feet in elevation, I can identify with what you were saying. We always said that there were only two seasons in White Pine County, a long winter, and a very short slumber. Summer nights we always had to wear a sweater or a jacket.

    Jack Rushton

  5. Great message. Having grown up in White Pine counties, several thousand feet in elevation, I can identify with what you were saying. We always said that there were only two seasons in White Pine County, a long winter, and a very short slumber. Summer nights we always had to wear a sweater or a jacket.

    Jack Rushton

  6. Dearest Friend Bill,
    This is a beautiful tribute to Reno gardners! I have been there, done that, and I no longer have a large garden but one that is just the right size to try to grow tomatoes! I've been relatively successful for several years but it's because I don't plant until the middle of June! I then hope and pray that we'll enjoy a long summer and mild autumn.

    I do thank you for taking the time to write down your "Thoughts" ~~ you really do have a gift in being able to express yourself in such a way that others want to "see how it ends!". Well done, my Friend, extremely well done! I'll be looking forward to the next e-mail!

    Love, Carla Johnson

  7. Sounds like the same exercise in Evanston, Wyoming! Never did master it there.

    Larry Profitt