We can always find an excuse to not have a garden!
I'll admit that many of the reasons are much better than others, but here is a story of a Texan serving in Iraq that didn't make excuses...he made a garden!
Gardening in Iraq: Officer's effort lifts spirits
Forty-two miles north of Baghdad, a small contingent of U.S. gardeners has gained some homegrown ground. Their vegetable plot at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, has had its ups and downs. The giant lima and snap beans have been a hit. The 'Clemson Spineless' okra was mostly a no-show.
Gardening there brings a good dose of failures as well as successes, reports Lt. Col. Donal Dunbar, the top gardener and director of operations at the Air Force Theater Hospital on the base. Dunbar, who's due to return home to San Antonio next month, is serving his second, six-month Iraq tour. His 14-member gardening club began planting in February.
Balad lies near the Tigris River and is more suitable for agriculture than other parts of Iraq. Irrigation water from the river helps. But with no rain and high heat during the growing season, the gardeners contend with great odds: Triple-digit temperatures. Soil that clings to shoes like peanut butter when it rains at planting time or is wind-whipped into brown dust as seedlings attempt to grow. Zero humidity. High winds.
When the lack of humidity and wind dealt the okra a one-two blow, Dunbar knew variety selection was key. 'Clemson Spineless,' which does well in the humid Southern United States, didn't fare as well in Iraq as a type grown from local seed.
Dunbar, 46, has gardened since he was 9 years old. The Troy, Ala., native grew a row of onions during his first Iraq tour in 2008. Although he works 12-hour shifts six days a week, his second tour has allowed more gardening time.
The nutritional and psychological values of gardening during wartime are well-documented. Americans planted victory gardens during World War II, when fuel-rationing made food transportation difficult. But gardening can also provide a mental escape and a connection to nature and home.
Growing vegetables has been a morale booster to those living spartan lives in CHUs, or containerized housing units, on the base.
"I knew it would help me, and I guess I was far from alone," Dunbar says. "People heard about it and wanted to jump in and help, so I expanded my original concept. Several people have told me that the work on the weekends (when most have their day off) is like therapy."
One is chief nurse Col. Eleanor Foreman. "Gardening has always been a favorite hobby, but I never thought I'd be enjoying it here, too," she says. "In this demanding environment, even just a short time tending to the garden each day allows me to relax and clear my mind while still remaining productive. Being able to witness this quiet beauty even in a place like this is inspirational."
With few resources and poor soil, these gardeners had to improvise. Digging with shovels and a pick-ax, and using parachute cord and rebar to make straight lines, they created a large plot with three 40-foot rows. The rows are 2- to 3-inch-deep trenches that direct water to thirsty roots and protect young plants from the wind. Raised beds were planted in the hospital courtyard. Carrying water to the plots in gallon buckets, the gardeners are growing summer squash, cantaloupe, peppers, tomatoes and Iraqi eggplants -- all started in small pots on windowsills before being transplanted outdoors.
Weeds, they discovered, can provide wind protection while vegetables establish. Then, it's a good idea to pull them so they won't rob the crops of nutrition.
Two boxes of cigarellos helped battle aphids. Dunbar placed the small cigars in water and let them sit in the sun for a day, brewing a pest-tackling "tea."
Summer squash were transplanted by Feb. 1, and beans and cucumbers were in the ground by mid-February. In March, some plants struggled in the heat and wind, but the red potatoes (shipped from the States) grew vigorously.
The white pumpkin vines were a surprise.
Beans were the great success story. Mid-April, the gardeners enjoyed eating them fresh in SPC Nazha Lakrik's Moroccan lamb-bean stew.
This month, 100-plus degree temperatures and harsh sun rays are bearing down. The lima and snap beans are working hard, and the peas, from local seed, are holding ground. But a rabbit is attacking the potatoes.
"I knew the danger he would pose once the weeds and grass started to dry out, leaving our little patch as the only juicy, green spot on his dinner menu," Dunbar writes in his weekly gazette. "We'll just have to see how this one plays out."
Dunbar will possibly skip that chapter. He's scheduled to rejoin his wife and two daughters next month in Texas, where he'll turn his attention to the family's vegetable garden and enjoy homegrown tomatoes.
A palm tree Dunbar planted in the 'Oasis' in 2008. He said it's doing well. There's another raised bed behind it with the basil growing in it.
Now, if they can do it...we can do it! Right? Right!
Fresh coffee on the patio this morning, if that's OK with you!