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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsSummer In A Garden, And Calvin, A Study Of Character - Sixteenth Week
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Summer In A Garden, And Calvin, A Study Of Character - Sixteenth Week Post by :freebie Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :3065

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Summer In A Garden, And Calvin, A Study Of Character - Sixteenth Week

I do not hold myself bound to answer the question, Does gardening pay? It is so difficult to define what is meant by paying. There is a popular notion that, unless a thing pays, you had better let it alone; and I may say that there is a public opinion that will not let a man or woman continue in the indulgence of a fancy that does not pay. And public opinion is stronger than the legislature, and nearly as strong as the ten commandments: I therefore yield to popular clamor when I discuss the profit of my garden.

As I look at it, you might as well ask, Does a sunset pay? I know that a sunset is commonly looked on as a cheap entertainment; but it is really one of the most expensive. It is true that we can all have front seats, and we do not exactly need to dress for it as we do for the opera; but the conditions under which it is to be enjoyed are rather dear. Among them I should name a good suit of clothes, including some trifling ornament,--not including back hair for one sex, or the parting of it in the middle for the other. I should add also a good dinner, well cooked and digestible; and the cost of a fair education, extended, perhaps, through generations in which sensibility and love of beauty grew. What I mean is, that if a man is hungry and naked, and half a savage, or with the love of beauty undeveloped in him, a sunset is thrown away on him: so that it appears that the conditions of the enjoyment of a sunset are as costly as anything in our civilization.

Of course there is no such thing as absolute value in this world. You can only estimate what a thing is worth to you. Does gardening in a city pay? You might as well ask if it pays to keep hens, or a trotting-horse, or to wear a gold ring, or to keep your lawn cut, or your hair cut. It is as you like it. In a certain sense, it is a sort of profanation to consider if my garden pays, or to set a money-value upon my delight in it. I fear that you could not put it in money. Job had the right idea in his mind when he asked, "Is there any taste in the white of an egg?" Suppose there is not! What! shall I set a price upon the tender asparagus or the crisp lettuce, which made the sweet spring a reality? Shall I turn into merchandise the red strawberry, the pale green pea, the high-flavored raspberry, the sanguinary beet, that love-plant the tomato, and the corn which did not waste its sweetness on the desert air, but, after flowing in a sweet rill through all our summer life, mingled at last with the engaging bean in a pool of succotash? Shall I compute in figures what daily freshness and health and delight the garden yields, let alone the large crop of anticipation I gathered as soon as the first seeds got above ground? I appeal to any gardening man of sound mind, if that which pays him best in gardening is not that which he cannot show in his trial-balance. Yet I yield to public opinion, when I proceed to make such a balance; and I do it with the utmost confidence in figures.

I select as a representative vegetable, in order to estimate the cost of gardening, the potato. In my statement, I shall not include the interest on the value of the land. I throw in the land, because it would otherwise have stood idle: the thing generally raised on city land is taxes. I therefore make the following statement of the cost and income of my potato-crop, a part of it estimated in connection with other garden labor. I have tried to make it so as to satisfy the income-tax collector:--


Plowing.......................................$0.50
Seed..........................................$1.50
Manure........................................ 8.00
Assistance in planting and digging, 3 days.... 6.75
Labor of self in planting, hoeing, digging,
picking up, 5 days at 17 cents........... 0.85
------
Total Cost................$17.60


Two thousand five hundred mealy potatoes,
at 2 cents..............................$50.00
Small potatoes given to neighbor's pig........ .50

Total return..............$50.50

Balance, profit in cellar......$32.90

Some of these items need explanation. I have charged nothing for my own time waiting for the potatoes to grow. My time in hoeing, fighting weeds, etc., is put in at five days: it may have been a little more. Nor have I put in anything for cooling drinks while hoeing. I leave this out from principle, because I always recommend water to others. I had some difficulty in fixing the rate of my own wages. It was the first time I had an opportunity of paying what I thought labor was worth; and I determined to make a good thing of it for once. I figured it right down to European prices,--seventeen cents a day for unskilled labor. Of course, I boarded myself. I ought to say that I fixed the wages after the work was done, or I might have been tempted to do as some masons did who worked for me at four dollars a day. They lay in the shade and slept the sleep of honest toil full half the time, at least all the time I was away. I have reason to believe that when the wages of mechanics are raised to eight and ten dollars a day, the workmen will not come at all: they will merely send their cards.

I do not see any possible fault in the above figures. I ought to say that I deferred putting a value on the potatoes until I had footed up the debit column. This is always the safest way to do. I had twenty-five bushels. I roughly estimated that there are one hundred good ones to the bushel. Making my own market price, I asked two cents apiece for them. This I should have considered dirt cheap last June, when I was going down the rows with the hoe. If any one thinks that two cents each is high, let him try to raise them.

Nature is "awful smart." I intend to be complimentary in saying so. She shows it in little things. I have mentioned my attempt to put in a few modest turnips, near the close of the season. I sowed the seeds, by the way, in the most liberal manner. Into three or four short rows I presume I put enough to sow an acre; and they all came up,--came up as thick as grass, as crowded and useless as babies in a Chinese village. Of course, they had to be thinned out; that is, pretty much all pulled up; and it took me a long time; for it takes a conscientious man some time to decide which are the best and healthiest plants to spare. After all, I spared too many. That is the great danger everywhere in this world (it may not be in the next): things are too thick; we lose all in grasping for too much. The Scotch say, that no man ought to thin out his own turnips, because he will not sacrifice enough to leave room for the remainder to grow: he should get his neighbor, who does not care for the plants, to do it. But this is mere talk, and aside from the point: if there is anything I desire to avoid in these agricultural papers, it is digression. I did think that putting in these turnips so late in the season, when general activity has ceased, and in a remote part of the garden, they would pass unnoticed. But Nature never even winks, as I can see. The tender blades were scarcely out of the ground when she sent a small black fly, which seemed to have been born and held in reserve for this purpose,--to cut the leaves. They speedily made lace-work of the whole bed. Thus everything appears to have its special enemy,--except, perhaps, p----y: nothing ever troubles that.

Did the Concord Grape ever come to more luscious perfection than this year? or yield so abundantly? The golden sunshine has passed into them, and distended their purple skins almost to bursting. Such heavy clusters! such bloom! such sweetness! such meat and drink in their round globes! What a fine fellow Bacchus would have been, if he had only signed the pledge when he was a young man! I have taken off clusters that were as compact and almost as large as the Black Hamburgs. It is slow work picking them. I do not see how the gatherers for the vintage ever get off enough. It takes so long to disentangle the bunches from the leaves and the interlacing vines and the supporting tendrils; and then I like to hold up each bunch and look at it in the sunlight, and get the fragrance and the bloom of it, and show it to Polly, who is making herself useful, as taster and companion, at the foot of the ladder, before dropping it into the basket. But we have other company. The robin, the most knowing and greedy bird out of paradise (I trust he will always be kept out), has discovered that the grape-crop is uncommonly good, and has come back, with his whole tribe and family, larger than it was in pea-time. He knows the ripest bunches as well as anybody, and tries them all. If he would take a whole bunch here and there, say half the number, and be off with it, I should not so much care. But he will not. He pecks away at all the bunches, and spoils as many as he can. It is time he went south.

There is no prettier sight, to my eye, than a gardener on a ladder in his grape-arbor, in these golden days, selecting the heaviest clusters of grapes, and handing them down to one and another of a group of neighbors and friends, who stand under the shade of the leaves, flecked with the sunlight, and cry, "How sweet!" "What nice ones!" and the like,--remarks encouraging to the man on the ladder. It is great pleasure to see people eat grapes.

Moral Truth.--I have no doubt that grapes taste best in other people's mouths. It is an old notion that it is easier to be generous than to be stingy. I am convinced that the majority of people would be generous from selfish motives, if they had the opportunity.

Philosophical Observation.--Nothing shows one who his friends are like prosperity and ripe fruit. I had a good friend in the country, whom I almost never visited except in cherry-time. By your fruits you shall know them.

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