The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

February 9, 2013

If ground hog’s right, time to start planning garden

POINTS EAST — At this writing, it is just past 4 p.m. on Groundhog Day, 2013, and already nearly dark.   Unless he was sitting under the booger light at the end of my driveway, the celebrated whistle pig did not see his shadow in central Kentucky on Feb. 2. 

The sky, in fact, became so overcast and filled with restless, wandering snow that our security light came on for nearly an hour in the early afternoon. I’m told that weather conditions were about the same in Puxatony and that Phil had declared his shadow a no-show and retreated to his hole sometime around mid-morning. 

So, if the lore holds true, winter should be all but over for those of us residing east of “The Muddy Mississip.” We should commence sharpening up our gardening tools while global warming paranoia gets set to have a field day.

Since 1887, it says here, Puxatony Phil has failed to see his shadow only 16 times, including 2013. He’s seen it 101 times and during that time, nine years of Philocrastination are un- recorded.

I’m reading this straight off the Internet so you know it has to be true! And the math does seem to work.  

In the meantime, I’m sitting here remembering the snowy February Saturdays of my youth when I turned such days into profitable enterprise by selling garden seeds, door- to-door, along Highway 7 and the L&N railroad that run between the Jeremiah and Isom, Kentucky, post offices. 

Over the course of some dozen years, from the springs of 1956 through 1967, individually or working together, my three younger brothers and I were the garden seed barons of that 5 mile section of Letcher County’s Rock House Creek. We also served the gardeners of its tributaries, including Spring Branch, Doty Creek, Adams Branch and Stamper’s Branch along the way. 

American Seed Company (ASC) in Lancaster, Pa., was our wholesaler. We placed our orders, by mail, early in January. In 1956, the year, with Mom’s help and counsel, that I started the business.

ASC would front its sales crew 60 packets of seed, risk free. If you sold all those and paid for them, they’d front you another 120. Promptly pay for those and the company would front you whatever you thought you could sell and even let you send back what you were unable to sell.

Just one year after start-up, I could have ordered 2,000 packets and ASC would have shipped them out, no questions asked.

Retail price was 15 cents a packet. We sales-people could take a nickel per pack cash profit or a merchandise prize. And believe it or not, we were usually way better off taking merchandise if they had something we really needed or wanted. I once took a Schwinn English Racing Bicycle that retailed for over $100 instead of the $30 cash money I could have pocketed. The bike had almost no utility on unpaved and coal-truck-rutted Blair Branch, but it sure was a pretty thing to look at. 

But I’m off the point here because the point is that I could sell twice or three times as many seeds to snowed-in customers as I could have if the weather had been fine and the soil dry enough to till. 

Brother Keeter and I discovered, early on, that folks were far more inclined to purchase seed when all they had to do was sit around the stove and dream of gardening than they were when the process involved hard labor.

In other words, that daydream of having neat plant beds containing four different varieties and colors of lettuce along with an equal number and variety of radishes required the purchase of eight seed packets while a customer was kicked back in front of the fire.

But when it came time to put rake and hoe to good use, that same customer would decide that a pack each of black-seeded Simpson lettuce and scarlet globe radishes were all they really needed and had time to fool with. 

And so we bided our time, did we enterprising Adams Brothers. Our seeds might arrive from Quaker Land, ready for market, on a sunny day in late January but we knew that the very best of gardens are planted only in the mind. 

And the very best of those take shape when little boys, dressed in heavy overcoats and winter caps with the earflaps down, come stomping snow off their boots on your front porch and knocking at your door in the middle of a wintry February  storm to see if you’d like to buy some seed.

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