Knee High By the Fourth of July
by Valerie Sliker

Mark Twain once said, "Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." Mae Busbee learned the hard way that training is, indeed, everything. Mae has been training in her garden for over 45 years. Mae's husband, Jim, claims she "did it (gardening) as self-defense, to keep from starving to death."

Where I grew up, in the hills of upstate New York, we considered ourselves blessed if our corn was knee-high by the fourth of July. Here in the sunny south, your corn better be knee-high by the end of May or you're in big trouble. And the south this year was much too sunny for corn. The high temperatures in early June combined with our lack of rainfall greatly affected our corn.

Mae's corn survived OK as you can see in the picture, she had seven or eight rows of it, staggered. Her mammoth tomato plants, 6-7 feet high, and her beans are surviving all right, too; she's canned 118 quarts of beans as this goes to print. To those of you who know Mae, this comes as no surprise. Perhaps you have a few quarts in your pantry.

I was privileged to be given a tour of Mae's garden in mid-July via the Busbee golf cart; Mae at the controls, I in the passenger seat, Chief (her German Shepherd) at my feet and Jim Busbee somewhere on the back.

In the early wee hours of Spring, Jim Busbee plowed the ground for his beloved. He then took a three month siesta as Mae whipped out her Briggs & Stratton 5 horse power tiller to lay the rows, downsizing to her 3.5 horse power for hoeing. Mae rotates her garden each year, planting crops in different areas to prevent the roots from doing something they probably shouldn't do.

As Jim started to stir from his siesta, Mae got busy harvesting and canning her strawberries, broccoli and asparagus. Her 25 year old blueberry orchard didn't produce well this year. Her potato plants presently are blooming well and she rooted some branches into another area of the garden. In a moment of wild abandon, Mae planted potato plants in between her cornstalks this year, hoping to conserve garden space. She hopes the potatoes will be growing strong about the time the cornstalks are being bushhogged. You'll have to check in with her in a month or two to see if this panned out according to plan.

Jim Busbee came back out to the field around June for his annual pesticide treatment. "I'm the sprayer," he firmly announces, "She's the backbone, I'm the flunky." There's no doubt where his allegiance lies. Jim sprays. harvests, and delivers. He has built a fancy drying rack for the tomatoes to finish ripening on and he has donated the former Busbee Cow Barn for the storage of garden tools. Of course, Jim will also take credit for the fancy cucumber rack which enables the cukes to grow up instead of out

As we finished the tour of Mae's garden, she pointed out all the fruit and vegies she'll have come Fall. Figs, muscadines, sweet potatoes, kiwi and something else this Yankee girl is unfamiliar with. Mae pulled the golf cart right cozy-like up to my automobile and indicated that this tour was officially over. Chief licked my face and nudged me out while Jim fell off the rear. They loaded me up with fresh tomatoes, corn, peppers, squash and cantaloupes. As I drove off singing "Jimmy Cracked Corn," Mae and Jim drove off on the golf cart. I could hear Jim yelling above the golf cart motor, "Give her a little more speed, Mae, a little more speed!"

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This page is produced and maintained by Tom Sliker of Sliker Office Solutions, Wagener, SC.