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Column: Gardening offers plenty of welcoming surprises

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February and March are challenging times for my wife and me. We want to get out in the garden and get busy, but with the temperature and weather restrictions Mother Nature imposes at that time of year there is only so much we can do. Last March, Becky and I went to the Morgan County Garden Fest hoping to quell a little of our gardening angst. It was entertaining and informative and helped somewhat to ease our anxious state.

Freebies are often handed out during these events so we took a few seed packets. We were offered corn, radishes, cucumber and the usual garden choices, but what really captured our attention were some seeds with which we were less familiar — cow peas and cotton, to be specific.

When it comes to trying new plants, my wife is the adventurous one so even though the packages included little information about planting, average size, days to maturity, etc., we decided to take a chance and see what happened.

Eventually the time came, as it always does, when conditions were such that we could start working the soil. The cow peas pictured on the package looked similar to beans, so I planted them together in one box. Becky planted the cotton seeds right next to the artichokes she had purchased from one of the many seed catalogs we had browsed through back in February and March.

We had never grown artichokes either, but Becky thought it might be fun to try, and wouldn’t it be great if we had a huge crop of artichokes at the end of the summer?

You would think a person who has been around gardens his whole life, who has taken the Master Gardener course, would make the effort to learn a little about the seeds he was putting in the ground — you would think. I guess I got busy or distracted, but I never thought to find out much about any of the new plants we were trying to grow. I figured they would either grow or they wouldn’t. I try to keep a laissez-faire attitude toward the garden which is evident to anyone who visits the place.

As time passed the green beans developed the way I expected. The cow peas, however, just kept getting bigger and wilder and more dense with vines until the tendrils had escaped their space and were making it difficult to walk the path between the garden boxes. No cow pea pods, however. Trellises would make sense, we thought, so we rigged some up. Eventually, some pods appeared looking to me like long, thin space alien fingers.

I figured it was time to learn about cow peas, so I checked with Mr. Google who informed me that cow peas are most often grown in warmer sub-tropical climates. They are associated with southern cooking where they are called black-eyed peas, crowder peas or field peas.

I have enjoyed eating black-eyed peas since I was a kid, so I was excited to find out I was growing them. I learned they are an important food crop in much of the hot, arid areas of the world such as Africa, which is where they probably originated. As for the alien-finger pods, I can let them dry on the vine and harvest the seeds. Gosh, the things one can learn if one makes the effort.

The artichokes are growing but we learned that they won’t produce anything edible at least for the first year. Also the fact that our garden is not in California with its Mediterranean-like climate might be a problem. Oh, well.

The cotton plants had delicate pink flowers last week which have become tiny buds that when gently squeezed feel like elf pillows. I just hope Becky doesn’t have plans to comb and spin the cotton and then weave something. It wouldn’t surprise me, though.

Surprises in life are a given. Sometimes they are unpleasant, but sometimes they are a joyful thing. The variety of surprises our garden has offered this year has been a joyful thing.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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