“I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” Billy says. The plants are hungry for nutrients, the beets, and the pumpkins especially. But the garden is broken, and the soil is thin. He’s tried everything from rabbit pellets to sulfur, but his efforts have been slow to show improvement. This year he’s collecting leaves to mix into the soil and trading buckets of carrots for chicken manure, which is rich in nitrogen, but easy to overapply.
“I’ve always said you got to skin your nose a few times to figure it out.” Back at his corroding Chevy S-10, he sits in the passenger seat with the door open and breathes deep through a Pyramid Full Flavor filter. “I don’t like to smoke in the garden,” he says, flicking the lighter with his thumb. He looks down the quiet dirt road and then checks his watch. It’s 2:10. People are late, and Billy is anxious. He looks back at the pumpkin patch and then at his watch. A small dust storm erupts around the bend of the road and Billy arches his neck to identify the vehicle. It’s his wife, Charney, who he affectionately refers to as “The Bride,” and their three-year-old grandson.
Billy fawns over the boy earnestly before releasing him into the pumpkin patch to select a pumpkin for carving. Charney is small, bird-like with a pale complexion. Her long runaway white hair complements Billy’s warlock eyebrows uncannily. Not long after meeting in the late 1990s, Charney and Billy started their life together in Plains, Montana. With Charney’s support, Billy began gardening again. Read More →