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  • John Hershey

I’ve Got That Drip!

How automatic irrigation put the style back in my life

By John Hershey:

Beets are among my favorite vegetables to grow, despite the fact that they once caused me to have an unnecessary colonoscopy.

Like corn and asparagus, beets leave a distinctive forensic trail. But if you haven’t had them for a while and forget about this, and then make a big pot of borscht from the harvest, the evidence can be quite alarming. So I got my periodic screening a few years early.

My favorite part of the colonoscopy is the souvenir photo they give you afterward, like the ones you get after other scary and unpleasant activities like riding a roller coaster. I briefly posted this image as my social media profile picture, until my wife wisely advised me to take it down. I lost a few “friends” that day, but I got some likes too, presumably from people who thought the photo more accurately represented my personality.

The procedure itself isn’t much fun, but the result was fascinating, a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the human body, which I ride around in all day but don’t know that much about how it works.

In many aspects of life, we have a superficial understanding but miss the important stuff happening below. The surface of the ocean is nice, but when you dive with a snorkel, an amazing world of colorful fish and coral is revealed. It’s the same in the garden, where the most interesting things and the richest colors, like the beets and carrots, are hiding underneath.

Plunging your hands into the earth to plant seeds or pull weeds is a powerful sensory experience: the feel of the cool soil, the fresh aroma of humus. Incredible things are happening. Earthworms are building topsoil for us. Mycelium forms a network through which plants communicate and share resources. Bindweed roots are advancing toward the earth’s core.

Connecting with the earth in this direct way is an atavistic pleasure, except that as soon as both my hands are really dirty, I immediately get an intense itch on my face, an overpowering urge to scratch. This seems to happen only when I’m gardening, or carrying something heavy with both hands, or at the beginning of the pandemic when we were warned not to touch our faces under any circumstances.

Another thing we perceive superficially is the food system. On the surface, we see inexpensive and plentiful food in the supermarket. We imagine a bucolic idyll of cows and pigs grazing happily in pastures, but this obscures the reality of a system based on the suffering of billions of sentient animals in cruel confinements. Not to mention that industrial agriculture plays a major role in climate change and increases the danger of zoonotic pandemics. (If you’re wondering when the humorous portion of this article will begin, I’m trying to get there. Thanks for your patience.)

For me and many other gardeners, the desire to opt out of this system, at least in part, is one reason we grow some of our food. And the more we can grow, the individual efforts of many gardeners could ultimately make a difference. Gardeners are obsessive anyway, so we expand our plots to fill all available space. But a bigger garden takes more time to tend unless the chores can be made more efficient. So this year, I installed drip irrigation.

I’ve always been a hand waterer. I enjoy being in the garden, and this way you can spend quality time with your plants, spot any problems, and be an introvert. But as my garden grew, the time required to soak it by hand began to crowd out other activities like family time and gainful employment.

Drip irrigation was intimidating at first. It seemed like you had to design a complex plumbing system with myriad connectors and emitters in a bewildering matrix of tubes. But as with vaccines, sourdough and everything else nowadays, watching a few YouTube videos made me an expert. Like a true Westerner, I was soon brimming with confidence that I could move water wherever I needed it, and my reclamation project was completed just in time for my vacation.

John Hershey selfie in relax mode
John Hershey selfie in relax mode

Not that it was easy. Laying out the tubing, I had to deal with more troublesome kinks than Ray Davies. But now that the chore is automated, I’m amazed how much time I have for other garden tasks and leisure. I wish I had all those hours back that I spent watering over the years. I could have improved myself by doing the things Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day did with his extra time, like learn how to play the piano and how to be nice to people. Instead, I stood in the yard holding a nozzle. But I mustn’t dwell on the past. Being replaced by a robot frees me up to grow more food and still have time for a new laidback lifestyle. I had no idea so much of “gardening” could mean chilling in a hammock with a cold beverage.

This spring, a doe raised her two fawns in our backyard. It was wonderful to watch the cute babies resting, playing and nursing. To provide nutrition for them, the mama deer nibbled down my whole big bed of lettuce. The old me, anxiously patrolling with the hose, might have been upset. But in a large self-watering garden, there’s enough to share. She needed it more than I did. And now that the deer family has moved on, the consistently drip-watered lettuce has regrown to provide plenty of salads for us.

I just need to coax myself out of the hammock and pick some. First let me take a selfie. That will be a profile picture that even better reflects my true nature.

John Hershey ( gardens in Littleton. Please join me on Instagram at johnmhershey where I share more garden humor and dadsplain the pun in the headline of this article.



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