In a further development in my slow but certain decline into elderlypersonhood, this summer I tended to a garden on my back porch.
It was my wife's idea to buy a bunch of orange painter buckets from Home Depot and line our deck with them. The garden itself was secondary; the primary focus was boxing in our toddler — and to that end, the Great Wall of Home Depot was quite the success (#PorchPrisonIndustrialComplex).
My wife erected the garden with the understanding that I would be its primary caretaker. It was my first time providing life support for plants of any kind, and I'd like to think my wife was only confident in my gardening abilities because I had first proven to her that I could ensure the safety and well-being of a tiny human for more than 12 consecutive months.
(Although, I have come to find, ensuring the survival of a motley crew of plants is quite a bit more difficult than caring for a human. Babies will let you know when they're hungry; plants, stoic to a fault, just shrivel up and die.)
But as the summer draws to its end, I sit now on the back porch in the moonlight, sipping iced tea and rocking myself in a chair I whittled during an episode of "Wheel of Fortune," in between applying Gold Bond medicated foot powder to my bunions, and I am overcome with wistfulness and feel a duty to share with you whipper snappers the lessons I learned from growing my garden.
But only if you get offa my lawn!
1. Let your wife plant everything
It was her idea anyway. Plus, she's planted stuff before so she knows how to pour the soil into the planter and how deep to bury the seeds. And even though they say you can't plant a seed upside down because it will always find its way, that doesn't rule out planting it sideways, cockeyed or backward.
Best leave it to the professionals and concentrate on your own strengths: finishing that tub of cookies and cream in front of a roaring fan.
2. It's not the squirrels you have to watch out for — it's the toddlers
As primary caretaker of the garden, I had to wrestle with the reality that I could not be there to protect it at all times. I would have to work, I would have to shower, I would have to finish the last season of "Breaking Bad." And on those occasions, my plants would be susceptible to predators who might seek to gnaw on their fruits.
But as the summer drew on and the squirrels kept their distance (thanks in part to the impassioned snarling of my dog), a different, and altogether more dangerous, threat emerged: a 2-year-old.
Easily 90 percent of my tomato crop was aborted by my daughter, who employed a fatal mixture of above average hand-eye coordination and poor impulse control.
Weekly, I was awakened to the sight of my kid holding a tiny green tomato in front of my face and smiling devilishly:
"Look, Dada, I picka da bee bee tomatoooo!"
The only viable plan I came up with to stop this menace — an electrified fence — was shot down by my wife, who felt we could more easily obtain tomatoes at the grocery.
3. You gotta give them real talk
A lot of people will tell you that sweet talking your plants is the way to go. ("Oh, you're such a pretty jalapeno, so much prettier than the other jalapenos.")
Nothing could be farther from the truth. You can't tell your jalapeno it can grow up to be anything it wants because it's going to grow up to be a jalapeno. The sooner it deals with it, the better.
Get real with your vegetables, and they will respect you for it. And that respect will taste delicious with some vinaigrette drizzled over the top.
4. Believe the Internet
At the beginning of the summer, I accidentally broke a vine off my tomato plant. The loss was pretty devastating at the time because it was the only vine bearing fruit.
After first trying to tape it back together — men's instinct being what it is, and duct tape being readily available — I searched the Internet and discovered the that if I replanted the broken vine, it would eventually take root.
So I followed Google's advice and watched for the next four weeks as the tomato died a protracted and painful death and the leaves withered into tiny, sad husks. For most of July, the vine poked out of the dirt at a 30-degree angle, resting on the lip of the orange painter bucket like a tragic, dehydrated corpse.
Yet, placing my faith in the computer machine, I continued to water the vine every day. And lo and behold, after nearly two months of hovering around cellular death, the roots took hold and the vine rebounded, producing half a dozen unsuspecting tomato victims whose potential my daughter can now cut short with her merciless serial picking.
5. If I'm ever in a situation where I have to grow my own food to live, I will not survive
I've spent upwards of five minutes watering the plants every day. Days turned into weeks; weeks turned into months. That is like literally hours worth of time. And what did I get for all of my troubles? A handful of tomatoes and peppers that wouldn't even fill up America's Next Top Model.
That is a reality check. I would need a lot of Home Depot buckets to meet my daily caloric needs — and even more buckets if I had no access to an electric fence to keep the ravaging toddlers out.
Here's hoping that if the zombie apocalypse ever commences, someone learns how to turn them into corn dogs or something.
Ryan Jackson is not above a zombie corn dog, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.