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Monday, April 11, 2011

Protecting tender plants

My neighbor had a garden until she was 92. She prided herself on having beans in the ground before the men and having the first beans to harvest BEFORE THE MEN. She was very competitive with men and women. She took chances. Most of the time, she put things in the ground too early, but had a solution.

She cut the tops off milk jugs and used them as mini-greenhouses for the cold snaps that threatened to freeze out her seedlings. Her garden was full of milk jugs some mornings after a frost or a cold snap.

One day, I stopped by all dressed up. I had freshly done, expensive nail tips, white dress, white dress shoes...looking nice. "Oh, honey. Help me!" She was in panic mode, very distressed and feverishly working wielding a knife that frightened me. So, I traipsed into her garden, white shoes and all, knowing this was the right thing to do.

When I arrived that day, she had a knife with a blade over a foot long, furiously sawing off tops of milk jugs she had saved all winter long. She cut them just where the milk jug starts to have straight sides. I just knew she was going to kill herself on that knife.

After you sort of screw and shove the jugs into the loose soil, you have to scoop dirt with your hands and press it against the outside of the jug so the wind won't blow it off. Yes, I ruined my nails, cuticles, and hands! You know that dirt-roughness that comes with working in soil, unprotected?  And, the tips came loose. But, she had thanked me and hugged me. Yes, now the bodice of the dress is dirty. That was sort of okay since the full skirt of the dress-to-the-ankles had been dipping regularly into the dirt during our work. Squatting is best not done in a long skirt.

I was very dirt-averse back then. At this time in my life, I had severe allergies. I still have bad allergies, but can at least go outdoors without suffering most of the time. Just standing in her garden was a problem. I was ill for three days, allergies, sinus, ear, and throat problems. AAACK! Plants and dirt were so foreign to me. I never told her how I suffered.

After I was thoroughly medicated for days and scrubbed, I was almost fine. But, my day's ordeal with milk jugs left me with a lesson I learned: jugs make mini-greenhouses. These must be removed from the plants by sunrise. If left on for even a little bit, the plants will suffer. I did not volunteer for removal duty.

About the competitive nature of my elderly neighbor: She owned the first pressure cooker canner in northern Alabama. The county extension service sent her to Auburn University to learn how to use it for canning. When she came back, she gave lessons all over several counties. You should have seen the pride on her face as she regaled me with this story.

She prided herself in the fact that her sister was the first woman in the area to own and drive a car! Imagine, in all of the northern half of the state, Birmingham northward,  only one woman was driving. AND, my neighbor did not have to have a date or depend on a man to be able to go anywhere she wanted. She only had to ask her sister! She, herself, drove until she was 92. When she made me go with her, I was terrified. Believe me, I always offered to drive!

Your turn
Have you ever implemented milk jugs to save your tender plants from the weather? Or, do you cover with cloth or plastic? Aren't old people amazing? I hope to be amazing some day!


  1. Last year, we were given "hot kaps" by our Amish friends. These are made of wax paper and taped together. They were making them for their melon seedlings. We were told to keep them on for a week. I don't think that they create the same intensity as the milk jugs so didn't have to be removed at night. But we also don't live in a very hot climate so maybe that is why they could be kept on indefinitely. But you showed a milk jug not long ago and I figured we would just use that instead of wasting wax paper (they eventually fly away we found out).
    I want to be amazing when I'm old too!

  2. LimdaM, Well, the wax paper "hot kaps" is certainly an idea if a person ran out of milk jugs. That is something I would never have thought of. I'm with you--not wanting to waste the wax paper. Okay, we will be amazing!

  3. What a nice goal...I want that too! A friend says that doing such things for others earns us stars in heaven...if such be the case, you swapped your lovely nails for stars in heaven that day!

  4. Dmarie, We can have an "amazing club." I hope those stars are the same lovely shade of pink as the nails were.


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