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Sow your wild oats

Gardening is an all-ages hobby

Gardening is an all-ages hobby

April 15, 2003|by JULIA COPLEY

Teens are known for loud music, low jeans and being as lazy as a mayfly on its day off (i.e., dead). Gardening is regarded as a time-consuming, deliberate art practiced by adults in straw hats. The two don't seem to mesh, to say the least. However, as in everything, there will be individuals who stand out as daringly unique: teens, who enjoy a long-term, slow to fruition project, involving long hours in hot sun, dirt, bugs and manure.

Daveeda Land, a homeschooled 16-year-old, uses gardening for part of her curriculum. The Washington County 4-H Extension Office keeps record books of her gardening, and she can use those in her home economics category.

She sounds like a perfectly normal, bubbly teenager over the phone, not at all the sort you'd expect to find involved in the shady business of gardening. But she says she's grown up with the garden, and now it's kind of ingrained.

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She does her garden completely organically, with no sprays. She doesn't have much of a problem with pests, luckily, although last year there was a need to put up a rabbit fence to keep out those pesky critters.

Daveeda has a small, family-sized garden, a 9-by-9 patch, but it grows plenty of veggies. She was overrun with cucumbers last year, and she gave her spoils away to friends. The cucumbers really like her soil, apparently, even though it's full of clay and rocks.

Last year's crop of watermelons, however, didn't respond so well - she took a sample of the soil to the 4-H office, and tests revealed that the soil might have a melon-specific disease. She's not planting any more of them.

This year she's planning cherry tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and, of course, more cucumbers. Behind the house, in the woods, she's thinking about planting strawberry and raspberry bushes, and a grapevine, out where they can sprawl uninhibited.

She's allergic to raw red tomatoes, so last year she tried an experiment - Mr. Stripey, a red-and-yellow streaked breed. They worked all right, although they weren't quite show quality.

"They had all sorts of blemishes, and they were different sizes," she says, "but they tasted wonderful."

Daveeda's advice for beginning gardeners is to experiment. "Starting a garden's hard," she says, "but try new stuff and find your niche. Research things in the library and definitely call the exension office with questions."

Water morning or evening but not during the heat of the day because that can actually burn plants. By working the garden steadily, not just now and then, it's actually pretty easy to tend, she says. "You see a weed, you pull it out."

Of course, it takes hard work in the beginning, to be able to have that casual care later. Tilling the soil, or getting it ready for planting, takes a long time if you do it properly. Using a rake and a shovel and trying to get every last root and stone out of her fiendishly rocky soil takes some doing.

So put on a tank top and old jeans and find a holey old straw hat. Find a little square of back yard to dig up or use a couple five-gallon buckets half full of dirt. Now get yourself some seed packets or baby plants and get planting. It may not be crazily exhilarating, but, for anybody who wants to say they sowed some wild oats, this is the time.




Julia Copley, a student at Hagerstown Community College, is an intern with The Herald-Mail.

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