Serendipity Among the Corn

Serendipity. A wonderful word, to be sure. But what does it mean, and how does it relate to gardening? Have patience, young grasshopper, and I will enlighten you.

Merriam-Webster defines serendipity as, “luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.” A lucky accident, in other words. The word comes from the three princes of Serendip, who were known for having lucky accidents and having the brains to realize their value. The classic example of serendipity is Charles Goodyear, who accidentally allowed a mixture of sulfur, India rubber, and white lead to come in contact with a hot stove. He saw this mixture melt and form the stable rubber product that he’d been trying unsuccessfully to make for years.

Charles Goodyear
So, what does, all this have to do with gardening? Plenty. Last summer, I had my own lucky accident within my garden. For the past several years, I’ve had the misfortune of having all my corn stolen by squirrels. Nothing kept them away — repellent sprays, fences — they defied it all. And the empty cobs and destroyed stalks were the squirrel’s way of giving me the middle finger. Putting it another way, they took the corn and gave me the bird.

In all of my gardening classes, I’ve been teaching my students that one way to keep squirrels from destroying your garden was to feed (a.k.a. bribe) them. Provide squirrel corn or something else to fill their bellies, and they would be less likely to feast on your garden vegetables. I based this on the words of former Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, who once stated, “A dog with a bone in its mouth neither kills nor steals.” Diaz kept his political enemies at bay by making sure that they all had important positions within his government. Likewise, I figured that I could keep my enemies (the squirrels) at bay from my garden by making sure they all had food to fill their bellies.

That was my hypothesis. However, I had no real proof that this would work. Until last year, that is. In my garden, I had planted some Hopi Blue flint corn, along with some sunflowers. I noticed that the sunflowers were being eaten, but the corn remained intact. Although I hadn’t planned on using the sunflowers as bones for the squirrels mouths, it appeared that I may have accidentally proven my hypothesis correct. And that’s where the serendipity comes in.

Of course, hand-pollinating the ears and covering them with paper bags and rubber-banding the bags to the ears may have also helped. But that still doesn’t change the fact that, by accident, I may have finally discovered a way to protect my corn from the squirrels.

Now, I will not go on record as stating this as a foolproof sure-fire method. Before going out on such a limb, I would have to be able to repeat the experiment and yield the same results year after year. And even then, I still wouldn’t call it a sure thing. Because, one of these years, the squirrels may get wise. But if, like me, you’ve had problems with marauding squirrels making your garden their personal grocery, then may I humbly invite you to try what I’ve described above? It appears to work, costs little or nothing to implement, and may very well improve things next year.

So gardeners of the world, rise up, bag up, and feed the invaders! You have nothing to lose but your vegetables — which you’re already losing, so it certainly can’t get any worse!


Song of the Gardener

Singing in the Garden

Throughout history, people have written songs about their work. Coal miners have songs such as Dark As a Dungeon and Nine Pound Hammer. Railroad construction workers had songs like Drill Ye Tarriers. And, of course, lumberjacks, railroad engineers, and sailors have an abundance of songs about them and their work.

But what about us gardeners? Are their any songs for us? Well, not really. After all, coal mining, railroad building, lumberjacking, railroad engineering, and sailing are major industries that helped build this nation as well as many other nations. These professions also involved hard, dangerous, back breaking labor that on many occasions severely injured or killed the laborers. The feelings of horror, sadness, and despair generated by these tragic deaths and injuries has moved many a man and woman to put their feelings into poetry or song.

Since very few have ever been severely maimed or killed from gardening (aside from a drummer in the movie This is Spinal Tap), any feelings gardening may have generated probably haven’t been strong enough to produce a lot of memorable songs that have woven themselves into the fabric of our history. Still, that’s not to say that absolutely no songs about gardening exist whatsoever. They are out there; you just have to find them. Allow me to help.

One of the first ones that come to mind is The Garden Song by David Mallet.

Inch by inch
Row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and a hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch
Row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
Til the rain comes tumbling down

For the unsuccessful gardeners, there is a parody called The Anti Garden Song by Eric Kilburn

Slug by slug
Weed by weed
My garden’s really got me teed
All the insects love to feed
On my tomato plants
Sunburned face
Skinned-up knees
My kitchen’s choked with zucchinis
I’m shopping at the A&P next time I get the chance


One of my personal favorites is Gardening by Dillon Bustin, from off of his Almanac album (sorry, no video for that one.).

Oh my friends, it’s springtime again
Buds are swelling on every limb
The peepers do call; small birds do sing
And my thoughts return to gardening

Do you grow your own tomatoes? Then especially for you, there’s Home Grown Tomatoes by Guy Clark

Ain’t nothin’ in the world that I like better
Than bacon & lettuce & homegrown tomatoes
Up in the mornin’ out in the garden
Get you a ripe one don’t get a hard one
Plant ’em in the spring eat ’em in the summer
All winter with out ’em’s a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin’ & diggin’
Every time I go out & pick me a big one

The above is a small sampling of songs about gardening. Since it’s only natural to hum, whistle, or sing while you work, why not learn a song or two about gardening that you can sing to while away the hours while you’re digging, planting, watering, and weeding? And if you don’t like the selection that’s out there, then I encourage you to get creative and write your own. Who knows — you may create a hit. Then you can use the royalties to pay for your seeds and supplies.


Do you have any favorite songs about gardening that you like to sing? Please share; I’d love to know about them.

Happy New Year to All! Now What?


Welcome everyone to 2016! I hope that everyone had a wonderful celebration last night, however you chose to ring in the New Year, and that any hangovers you are nursing won’t be too painful.

Now that the celebration is over and the noisemakers and party hats have been put away, we now have to face three long months of winter without much going on until St. Patrick’s Day. So how do we get through this prolonged period of down time? In a 1981 Chicago Sun-Times column, columnist Mike Royko had a number of suggestions — drinking, brooding, writing hate letters, holding someone hostage, etc. But I’d like to suggest a few things that are more productive and won’t harm anyone.

Grow something. Yes, it is possible. There are some wonderfully tasty vegetables you can grow indoors. You can buy a sprouter, some sprouting seeds, and grow large quantities of sprouts. Sprouts are easy to grow, add a tasty crunch to your sandwich or salad, and provide lots of beneficial micronutrients. You can also grow microgreens, another easy to grow vegetable that produces tasty and nutritious plant material to nourish your body. Lastly, you can purchase a mushroom growing kit and grow your own mushrooms. If you’ve never done it before, it is a lot of fun. And there are a wide variety of mushrooms you can grow indoors — Portabella, Shitake, Lion’s Mane, and oyster to mention a few.

Clean house. Why wait for spring? Why not start the new year with a sparkling, organized, clean-enough-to-eat-off-the-floor-and-lick-up-the-crumbs house?If it’s too cold, snowy, and miserable to go outdoors, why not put all that excess energy to use, and throw away all of the clutter you accumulated last year? Best of all, nothing says you have to do it all in one day, one week, or even in one month. There will be plenty of cold miserable days not fit for man nor beast over these next three months that will give you lots of opportunities to swab your dwelling.

Clean House
Write letters. No not the hateful kind that Mike Royko suggested. I’m talking about real honest to goodness pen and ink correspondence where you share your life’s happenings with friends and family and ask them about theirs. So few people write real letters anymore, that I can almost guarantee that they will be treasured and appreciated by their recipients. And I don’t care how pervasive and efficient electronic communication is. Nothing, but nothing, will ever replace a true pen and ink letter. Letters have heart and mingle souls. Can you honestly say that about a tweet?

Man writing on the paper in the office
Start a hobby. It doesn’t matter whether it’s stamp collecting, coin collecting, photography, jigsaw puzzles, or anything else. When you’re thoroughly engrossed in the activities that please you, you won’t have time to notice how cold or how snowy it is. And then one day you’ll look up from your stamps, coins, pictures, puzzles, or whatever else you’ve chosen and you’ll realize that it’s just a little bit warmer and a little bit sunnier outside.

Plan out this year’s garden. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Nothing chases away the winter blues faster than dreaming about and planning out all the crunchy, sweet, and juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and everything else you plan to grow. By now, you’ve had lots of gardening catalogs fill your mailbox. Why wait until spring? Why not start right now? The winter blues will be a bit less bluer, and you’ll have a head start on your garden by the time spring eventually rolls around.

Plan Garden
The three months of winter can be chilly and miserable, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By finding enjoyable activities to occupy your time, you can ease winter’s frosty sting and make these three blah moths pass by a little quicker.