My mom and I stand on the edge of her small garden, surveying the warm, tilled earth. “First things first,” she says. “We need good dirt.” Everything I learned about gardening and my appreciation for nature, I learned from my mom. She even taught me the importance of bees! Ever since I can remember she’s always been growing things or talking about growing things. Crazy plant lady if you will. Unfortunately, I don’t exactly share her green thumb skills. She tells me it’s because I don’t give the plants the love they deserve. I won’t lie, that stung a little bit!
After a crazy few years of working my way through college and then the pandemic, I felt I had this disconnect with my mom and her gardening. As a kid, I remember helping her plant rows of corn, tomatoes, peas, pumpkins, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables. I spent a lot of time getting my hands dirty with her in her garden. And those were some of the happiest moments of our lives. For Mother’s Day this year, I decided to get back in the garden to spend some quality time with her. Though we weren’t able to plant everything we wanted to, due to the weather. We had a good time, reminiscing on gardens from the past.
Even though the sun is shining, it’s still a chilly day. The dirt is warm and dry however, it feels coarse in my hands. My mom always makes sure to fertilize her garden with natural fertilizers. Grass clippings, leaves, manure, compost have all been added. She doesn’t like using chemicals. It’s not good for pollinators and the chemicals can run off into the nearby river. As we were planting the potatoes a bumblebee even came to say hi to us.
“There’s dandelions over there little guy,” my mom gestures to the edge of the property.
I ask her if there’s a method to the madness when it comes to how she plants things.
“Sort of,” she chuckles.
Each year she designs her garden differently so that each section of the garden can have a variety of vegetables and later on, nutrients added to the soil.
“Like I said, you need good dirt.”
“Where did you learn all of this?” I ask her. Growing up I was always under the impression that my mom just knew everything. It’s not a wrong assumption, but I was curious.
“Wisconsin Public Radio!” she says. Each Friday they have Garden Talk where Larry Meiller interviews horticulturists and other gardening experts about planting in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin has unique grow zones. Certain crops will grow better in certain areas. Crops closer to Lake Michigan grow better due to the microclimates the lake creates. The cooling effects of the lake in the spring cause crops to bloom or grow later in the season. Therefore, they don’t feel the impact of late-season frosts that can kill crops early. If you live closer to the Devil’s Lake region, the soil is sandier, so you need to be sure you’re adding better soil to your garden so your plants have something to thrive in.
The main thing she taught me is that Wisconsin is unpredictable. So, if you’re a smart gardener and don’t plant too early, you’ll have a better yield.
I’ve been stung by bees and wasps multiple times, but I was never afraid of them. My mom helped me realize not only the importance of bees but the difference between bees and wasps. Bees are good, they won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. They just want to collect nectar, make honey, and pollinate flowers. Wasps, however, are mean and not to be messed with.
Besides an epic garden, my mom also grew a prairie, filled with tons of native Wisconsin flowers. A pollinator paradise. We had purple cone-flowers, black-eyed Susans, and yellow-cone flowers. Wild milkweed grew along with droves of purple clover. I used to watch the bees and the butterflies flying around her prairie when I was a kid and admired how beautiful it all was. So rich and colorful.
This year, she’s planting zinnias, sunflowers, purple-coneflowers, and a variety of other wildflowers to help out the pollinators in the yard and give her garden the best chance to thrive.
Due to the weather, we only plant potatoes, onions, garlic, and peas. But, I help her layout where her tomato plants will go. All 118 starter tomatoes that she accidentally grew this year. We lay out the area for sweet corn and carrots before calling it a day. We talked about the gardens we had from the past and the different kinds of food we used to grow. At the end of the day, I was glad to have gotten my hands dirty with my mom, I learned a lot, and I felt that I had gotten closer to her. Everything, plants, and relationships grow better when you give it enough time and enough love.