It’s time to get the garden ready for the spring plantings

It’s time to think garden again.

For several years, my wife and I have been experimenting with our backyard garden.

We always grow tomatoes and cucumbers because they are fun to grow and delicious to eat (try a slice of homegrown tomato on a piece of soft, fresh mozzarella – it’s great).

In the past, we have tried green beans, cabbage, black-eyed peas, corn, onions, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, herbs, blackberries, strawberries, lettuce and broccoli – all with varying levels of success.

Susan grows roses and a host of other flowers, too. I used to discount flowers until I realized that flowers attract bees and bees are vital to pollination in a typical garden.

We have battled through drought, bugs, frost and squirrels. We slowed down (but didn’t stop) the squirrels from eating our tomatoes by building a tomato cage from pvc pipe and mesh. We are going to have to reinforce the cage this spring after squirrels starting chewing through the mesh and stealing tomatoes.

This year, we are going to slow down a bit and give the garden a rest. The plan is to only plant about half of the given space.

We will grow tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins – that’s about it. We have ongoing strawberries and blackberries.

That will be fine.

Through this process, we have learned a lot about cultivation, about seeds and soil and about dealing with pests.

We bought a pressure cooker (a really nice one) and we are slowly learning about canning. We also got a dehydrator and a food saver that seals food in plastic while removing the air.

All these revolve around skills that were common to my parents and their generation. I didn’t pick it up as a child and sadly, neither did my children.

Oklahoma doesn’t grow all of the food that we consume. That is an amazing fact. We grow a lot of cattle and wheat but we have to import a lot of our food even though agriculture is the second largest industry in the state (behind energy).

Some of the pests we will have to deal with this summer are vandals. In March, someone got into our backyard shed and stole some equipment. They went into at least two of our neighbors’ yards, too.

In 19 years at our house, I had never locked our shed. Now I keep it locked.

I filed a police report online but a policeman never came to my door or called. I got an e-mail saying the report had been filed. I guess they get too many backyard burglaries to follow up on each one.

And a week or so later, someone (maybe the same people) stole a garden hose out of our front yard and sliced the end off of a bigger hose in the backyard.

I think I will increase the number of security lights, especially in the backyard, to discourage further thefts.

I don’t think we will ever get our stuff back, but you never know.

Our country is in a bad way. I think a lot of the burglaries in Tulsa can be traced to drugs and gambling.

If someone is on drugs, they sometimes will do anything to get a fix.

And gamblers who lose all their cash as at a tribal casino still have to buy gas for their trucks, pay the rent and buy groceries. That can lead to desperation and to crime.

(By the way, everything I own doesn’t belong to me – it belongs to God.)

So, this will be a light year for our produce, mostly to give us a break and to give the soil a rest.

It’s a lot of work to prepare the soil, plant the seeds, to water when needed and to get rid of weeds and bad insects.

I love having a vegetable garden. It’s great to walk out there on a warm summer morning and pick some produce.

A key to having success is getting good advice. We go to Stringer’s Nursery on 41st Street (between Sheridan Road and Memorial Drive) to buy seeds, plants and other gardening stuff. Stan Bunnell and his employees are experts on helping you solve common problems with gardens, flowers and lawns.

Every American should learn how to grow food. There may come a time when we will all need to have a garden to supplement our diet. That’s true for many places in the world and it was true for the United States during World War II, when families planted and harvested “victory gardens.”

When I visited Russia in 1997, every apartment seemed to grow vegetables on the balcony and many apartment complexes had a co-op garden for the residents.

Learn to grow food and preserve. It may come in handy some day.