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Jeff Wolf, The Bar Gardener

Wolf pawThe potential to be a farmer has always been there. I grew up in a magical area where farmland touches the sea, also known as the eastern shore of Maryland. Here, two things grow in abundance: surfers and rednecks. Several factors shaped which of the two I was to become. To me, going to the beach was an absolute nightmare. It involved loading the car with coolers, blankets, towels, books, magazines, radios and tanning oils, then sitting in traffic in a hot car for what seemed like hours. God forbid we pay for parking or rent an umbrella when we get there. Needless to say, I was not a big fan of a day at the beach.

My gardening experience started out much better. My grandparents had a small victory garden behind their house. Our summer visits were often peppered with strolls through the well-maintained garden. We would pick corn or cucumbers or perhaps a tomato and bring them inside and make lunch. It was so wonderful, so fresh, why didn't we have a garden at our house? Well, be careful for what you wish for. After enough whining and some prodding by the grandparents I got my wish. Sort of. I didn't get the corn or the cucumbers or the half dozen other items I had requested. I got lettuce, parsley, tomatoes and flowers, and flowers, and flowers. Not that there's anything wrong with that but I wanted a food garden and the flower-to-food ratio was way off.

At the age of seven I realized the dark side of gardening on the eastern shore. It seemed that weeds, humidity and bugs all liked to hit our garden at about the same time and in force. I was overwhelmed by maintenance. Sure the flower bed by the door looked good but by the time I'd get to where the veggies were growing, I was hot, tired and bitten. My walk in a well-manicured garden to pick lunch had turned into a creepy reach into a weed patch hoping to find a tomato without a worm hole. My farming days ended as quickly as they began and the incident affected me enough to greatly reduce my desire to do any type of yard work throughout my teen years. Others may try and suggest it was the Atari and the air conditioner but I stand by a poor first garden experience.

For the next six years, the Atari was the wave I rode and the couch was the land I worked. Then one day the air conditioner broke, the Atari was over heating and I was home alone. I hopped on my bike and for the first time made my way the two miles to the beach. Over the fishing bridge, past the docks and straight to the boardwalk. I was at the beach, by myself. I no longer had to go to what ever street we found parking, I could go to where the surf was breaking. Suddenly, the beach was fun. Swim fins, a towel and a bike lock. That�s all I needed. And, later, a friend that lived a block away from the beach so I could store my board there. Thus started the surfing years.

It took far longer for my garden love to return. During my final year of college I moved into a house that a yard, a back porch and a grill. It was a particularly nice spring day and several of us were skipping class and barbequing. Sometime during the end of the evening a bet was made, a hole was dug and a few left-over jalapeno seeds hit the ground.

It was a perfect storm of gardening. It was a beautiful spring, I barbecued often and the plants were only 15 feet from the barbecue. Watching the plants grow was almost magical. It went from nothing to jalapenos right before my eyes. When it came picking time, the flavors were more intense then I remembered the originals to be. I kept it simple and once again gardening was fun.

Seasons change, time moves on and I found myself relocated. Being a creature of habit, I was in another land known for its beaches and its growing season: Southern California. Since I took an apartment at the beach, you would think the surfing days were re-emerging and the farming days behind me -- and you would be right. Well, you would be, that is, if the water wasn't so damn cold. My water time was curtailed to the hottest of summer months and, with no land to grow on, I was getting my hobby fix with house plants -- but that's no food garden.

Then one day an opportunity to garden opened up, literally. The owners of the bar where I work decided to make some improvements that included adding a door to a previously inaccessible back yard and a large window overlooking that yard. I made plans but procrastinated a bit in putting them into action and the day before I went to set up my garden, someone had come in and planted -- you guessed it -- flowers. It was a quick and dirty job done to temporarily spruce up the view from the window and it ran smack through the area I had intended to plant.

Fortunately, it's a big back yard and I was still able to stake my 4 by 6 patch of land. Sure, I am back tending flowers, too, but it will be worth it -- or at least we'll see if it's worth it this year.

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