COLUMN: Grow, baby, grow: a backyard beginning

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, April 24, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Happy Easter!

Grow, baby, grow: a backyard beginning
By Aaron J. Brown

For most of my life I’ve lived on one side of the yet unresolved battle between man and nature. Ever residing within the natural splendor of northern Minnesota, I’ve mostly logged combat time for the cause of despoilment.

I was raised on a junkyard where the puddles sparked with oily rainbows, watching heavy, steaming taconite trains roll south through the swamp. Later I would become a print journalist, a willing participant in the sacrifice of many trees for the purpose of selling cars and reiterating the adorability of local children and/or animals. Then I became a teacher, felling more trees in order to enhance critical thinking. It’s all very important, you know.

My earliest memory of growing something was when I sent away for free seeds in the mail through a magazine promotion. A small packet of marigold seeds arrived and I planted them along the trim at the north end of the trailer house. In a couple weeks they sprouted and bloomed, immediately before inadvertently being weed whacked. I’d like to say that I’ve forgotten about the way I felt but you know, here I am, penning memoir about it.

For the last six years we’ve settled back out in the country. The first few growing seasons were spent figuring out how children work. Having now adopted a more practical “containment” strategy we’ve realized how big the forest is when we turn loose the little maniacs within. And it occurred to us, seeing the boys grow taller each year, that we were finally in a position to grow plants, too.

Last year we started a backyard garden, a little square jobber that produced enough zucchini to make us aware of the concept of too much zucchini, a figure previously unknown. The cold months since, nearly but not quite vanquished, have been filled with a loose, indistinct plan to expand the garden. And now this time has come.

We’re doubling capacity with the addition of another square plot. We’re building a better mechanism to hold up the tomatoes, feeding fewer of them to the worms. We’re going to try planting some kind of lettuce. I don’t know, it’s cold out. We really should have a firmer plan.

One thing’s for certain, after half a decade of fixing up the inside of our house we need to do more to cultivate what happens outside the house. In addition to our vegetable gardening we’re going to expand our landscaping. We need shrubs. We need gnomes or something. Anything to distract from the fact that we have vinyl siding, which is standard now and very efficient, but would put the late Frank Lloyd Wright to sleep. I’m sorry, “send him to a farm.” Maybe one of those ball things, shiny and such.

Who knows what might happen after the lettuce and the landscaping? Flowers, probably. This means I’ll have to learn the names of the flowers, and their parts, things long forgotten from my college botany class. And perhaps then by the end of this process I’ll know the peace of nature, and growth.

I suppose the main idea of a garden to me now goes back to that notion that, in a world of unfettered consumption, rife with wars fought to maintain the consumption, it’s still possible to produce. You don’t have to be good at it; you just have to try hard this year and plan for next. Every sprout brings new hope.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and college instructor from the Iron Range. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Careful, Aaron – it’s addictive! Soon you’ll be stalking the Jung Seed Co website for their $1 daylily sale. My own garden habit started small; a few shrubs, some perennials, a couple of tomato plants. Now I’m growing everything from seed and canning my produce. It’s a sickness.

    In all seriousness, though, I agree 100% on the production element. Nothing brings me out of the winter blues like digging in the garden, smelling the dirt and seeing something you planted flourish.

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