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My First Garden

By Paul James

Carrie and I bought our first home in 1979, and before we’d unpacked all the moving boxes I was busy preparing my first vegetable garden. Step one involved removing (by hand) roughly 400 square feet of Bermuda grass, which took two weekends. Step two involved rototilling the entire area. Problem was, I didn’t own a rototiller. Nor did I have a way to transport one.

But fortunately, my father-in-law had a pickup, and a friend’s dad had a rototiller — a huge, fire-engine red Troy-Bilt with all the bells and whistles, including electric start.

So early one Saturday morning, more excited than a gopher in soft dirt, I borrowed the pickup and drove to my friend’s dad’s house to get the tiller. The two of us struggled to get it into the bed of the truck, but we finally got it loaded and secured, and off I went. Driving home, I realized that I hadn’t arranged for any help unloading the tiller, but I convinced myself that I could go it alone.

I was wrong. While attempting to unload the tiller, I lost my balance. I hit the driveway hard, and the tiller came crashing down on me. Thankfully, it fell upside down, which is to say tines side up. Otherwise I probably would have been cut up pretty badly. Instead, I only suffered a broken arm, wrist, thumb, and index finger.

Four or five hours later, back from the hospital with a giant elbow-to-fingertips cast and the calming effects of pain medication, I decided to finish the job I’d started, despite the warning on the pill bottle about operating heavy machinery, which to me at the time sounded more like a tractor than a rototiller.

One of Troy-Bilt’s claims to fame back in the day was that their tillers were so easy to use you could operate them with one hand. I found that to be the case. Within a couple of hours, I’d tilled my new garden and was ready to plant.

The next day I planted peas, potatoes, onions, broccoli and cauliflower, plus a dozen or so different salad greens and some spinach. As the weeks went by I proudly watched my patch of veggies grow and grow, and when it came time to harvest my first batch of spinach, I was just plain giddy. I’d harvested spinach before – in my father’s and grandfather’s gardens – but this was my spinach, and it was the best tasting spinach I’d ever eaten.

This weekend – 38 years after establishing my first garden, and in what will likely be my last garden — I’m going to plant peas, potatoes, onions, broccoli and cauliflower, plus a dozen or so salad greens and some spinach. And you know what? It’ll be the best tasting spinach I’ve ever eaten.

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Why will this be your last garden?


Great story! I need to do step 1. Remove the burmuda grass. Any tips?