My three-year-old daughter sat in the garden with me on a warm spring day as I tried to plant my rows of carrots in as straight of a line as I could. I had tilled up the rich, black dirt earlier in the morning as I anticipated yet another bountiful garden. The soil was naturally fertilized every year by our cattle feedlot which ran along the garden fence, the slow melting snow trickled down into my furrows. My daughter seemed content as I picked her up. It was then I noticed her skin was turning blotchy red all over and she seemed a little bit sleepy. As I looked down at her rumpled up fist, it occurred to me she had helped herself to a rhubarb leaf, which are considered highly toxic. Rhubarb leaves contain dangerously high levels of oxalic acid which can cause serious kidney damage potentially leading to death. Even though a 140-pound person would need to eat about 10 pounds of rhubarb leaves to die, a small amount still has the ability to make a person sick. Even with that thought in mind, my taste buds still yearn for the crisp, tangy taste of rhubarb baked into pies, muffins or a good old-fashioned rhubarb crumble.
My garden grew fantastic plants every year as my family grew up and we reaped the harvests all year long. Most years the fall brought more than enough tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and beans until I was forced to pawn them off on anyone I encountered who looked hungry and needy.
I am without a doubt certain that I took the good earth of eastern South Dakota for granted when I moved west as I thought about trying to raise any kind of vegetation in the red, iron-filled soil that I saw in the Black Hills. Buying soil can be a challenge in itself, as the bags of dirt are labeled with potting mix, topsoil, garden mix, or mulch. Yes, you can even buy dried up weeds and small sticks.
I took a Master Gardeners class this spring with the intention of learning even more about plants, flowers, and soil. Master gardeners are truly Masters at their craft and I left with an armful of information. Surprisingly to me as I considered myself no stranger to the art. I have incorporated a Jr. Master Gardeners 4th-grade curriculum at school where I am teaching students all about growing seeds in this good earth. Many times this is a child's first experience with many types of vegetables. The joy on their faces is priceless.
This time of year, as I browse through the greenhouses and smell the flowers and dream of my huge vegetable garden and the taste of that first “warm, ripe tomato” fresh-picked off of the vine, my mind goes back to all of the hours I have spent in a garden.
We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.