Meanwhile, in the Back Yard

I step onto the back porch and spot an old Chinese man in my yard. I yell at him, “This is private property. Shove off.”

The old man gives me a snaggle-toothed smile, raises his fist in my direction, and flicks his thumb up. The thumb is dyed black.

I raise my fist and flick my thumb up in the same gesture. My thumb is dyed green. “Green Thumb Gang runs this town. You’d better move along, if you know what’s good for you.”

The old man shouts at me in a rapid-fire Chinese accent, “Black Thumb Gang move in now. This Black Thumb territory now. You go away now.”

I stomp into the yard, but my foot lands on the blade of my hoe, flipping the wooden handle up into my face and giving me a bloody nose. This sends the old man into a laughing fit.

I snatch up the hoe and charge him, slashing at his head. He does a series of back handsprings, and my hoe swishes through empty air with each swing as I chase him. He lands in my garden and grabs a shovel, using it to face off against me.

I charge again, chasing him around an enormous oak tree. Each of my swings is blocked by his shovel with a metallic clang. I press the attack, knowing he’s older than I am, and his shovel is heavier than my hoe. He’ll go down eventually.

The old man breaks the pattern by leaping into the tree, jumping upward from branch to branch. I pursue him, my hoe continuing to clang against his shovel.

I chase him to the end of a branch, which bends under our weight. “Nowhere to go, Black Thumb.”

He gives me the snaggle-toothed smile again, then steps backwards off the branch. It snaps back into place, catapulting me towards the house. I grunt as my back hits flat against the steeply-sloped roof.

I race down the slope and launch myself towards the old man. He leaps into the air to meet me, and hoe clashes against shovel in mid-air.

The opening credits of the Kung-Fu movie roll.


The rest of this post is about gardening, so if that doesn’t interest you, just scroll to the bottom and leave me a comment about the intro story.

If you remember last year’s gardening report, I had some initial success with butternut squash and cucumber, but the plants then succumbed to fungal attack, due to a shady garden location and a wet summer. I produced some pitiful indian corn, I believe due to pollen limitation after squirrels thinned out the seedlings. My Cayenne pepper and cherry tomato plants produced bumper crops.

So, I decided I’d limit myself to peppers and tomatoes this year. I purchased a variety of specialty pepper seeds from the PuckerButt pepper company, as well as some more common varieties from a local home-improvement store. I also bought some heirloom tomato seeds, wanting to try a different tomato cultivar.

As I did last year, I purchased a starter kit, which is a clear plastic box that acts as a greenhouse and contains 72 disks of peat or something to start your seeds in. These are primarily intended for indoor use by gardeners in colder climates, so they can get their garden started early. I just use it out of curiosity, so I can more closely observe the early seedling growth, and even examine root structures.

I don’t have good natural light indoors, and didn’t want the greenhouse to leak onto my furniture or carpet, so I placed it on a table on the back porch. This worked well last year, but this year almost nothing germinated. I replanted all 72 disks 3 or 4 times, but only got two tomato seedlings. There are two possible causes:

We had a series of unusual late-spring cold snaps, separated by a couple of weeks. I’m in the Southern US, so these didn’t quite dip below freezing, but they got close. Maybe my seeds just gave up each time. I know peppers aren’t cold-tolerant at all, having a botanic origin in South American rainforests, and maybe tomatoes are similar.

I threw away the tag attached to the greenhouse, but perhaps it was made in China. Those guys put poison in puppy food and infant formula to save a few bucks — I’m sure they wouldn’t shed any tears about a plant kit contaminated with herbicide.

The two tomato seedlings which did start in the kit appear stunted when compared to some cherry tomato plants which volunteered (just grew on their own without my help, from tomatoes which fell to the ground off last year’s plants), but it’s possible they’re just a slower-growing cultivar.

My garden isn’t a complete loss this year. As mentioned, I’ve got another bumper crop of cherry tomatoes without even trying. When I didn’t have any seedlings to plant in my garden plot, I planted some kernels from last year’s pitiful indian corn, and every single one germinated! Later, I planted a few extra pepper seeds in the garden and in pots, so if we don’t have any fall cold snaps, I may still get a few peppers.

I’ll post a harvest report later this year, and I’m already thinking ahead to next year. I’ve heard that pumpkins are easy to grow, but I’m afraid their leaves might be susceptible to fungus just like my squash and cucumbers.

I searched the internet for shade-tolerant crops, and found quite a few. Potatoes were listed at several sites, but I know they are fungus-susceptible (see Irish Potato Famine). Other shade-tolerant crops I’m considering: carrots, peas, beans, beets, cauliflower, and garlic.

I like the idea of trying new things each year, along with a few that have done well in the past. Maybe someday I’ll move to a more rural location, and work with a larger plot to supply my wife with salad, or even sell the surplus at a farmers’ market.


  1. Currently trying to grow a chocolate habanero pepper from a kit my husband received for his birthday. It’s only been 3 days but I check for that little green sprout 3 times a day.

    1. Mine have always been slow to sprout. At least a week. Maybe as long as two weeks.

      1. Thanks for the tip. 🙂

  2. Love the intro. I enjoy gardening too, but do not have space these days. My fruit trees have to fill that need now.

    1. I’m thinking of putting some walnut trees on family land.

      1. That would be cool. You need two, and they get huge.

  3. Great intro. We haven’t been able to plant anything this year, as the wee one is taking up all of our time, so it’s good to hear from someone with an, erm, greener thumb than ours.

    1. The Green Thumb Gang seems to have the upper hand for now…

  4. I definitely recommend growing garlic if you cook with garlic at all. It’s so easy – just plant the cloves (IN THE FALL), pick off the scapes (flower stalks) if you’re growing that type in late spring, and harvest in early summer.

    1. I’ll consider that. I’ve never done any fall planting before.

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