By MIKE CORN
NICODEMUS -- To say Gary Alexander has a green thumb would be like saying Kansas farmers grow a bit of wheat.
Alexander, soon to turn 64, is all things gardening.
His heart and soul rests in a quarter-section of ground about a mile west of Nicodemus, where the core -- situated alongside Spring Creek -- has been carved out into one of the best garden spots in an otherwise semi-arid climate.
He grows it all, from corn to watermelons, along with wheat and milo tossed in to augment his garden.
Again this year, he's got his sights set on giant pumpkins.
Giant as in his eyes light up when he talks about how big they will be, how much love and care he's given to create just the right spot for the pumpkins.
He tilled a patch of his little oasis over and over, incorporating oat straw and compost into a slightly raised bed that will be surrounded by corn -- for wind protection.
"I don't know how many times I worked that," he said, pointing to the slightly raised ground, sloping gently to the west. "Up and back, up and back, I'd say in the thousands."
He even placed brightly colored poles and barrels to keep the rows straight.
"If not in the thousands, then in the high hundreds," he said.
Outside the tractor tracks, the soil was powder soft, a single step was enough to sink several inches.
Alexander said he cultivated the seed bed with different implements.
"In between working it, I'd water it," he said.
Although the soil looks perfect, Alexander is a trifle concerned.
He's not sure the organic material has had the opportunity to break down and fully incorporate into the soil.
A rain, he said, would have done the trick.
But it's been dry in the Nicodemus area, much like it has been elsewhere. Other than a few light snows, he's not sure there's been an inch of moisture in months.
He was busy recently digging up a small section of his underground pipe system, allowing him to draw water from Spring Creek up to his garden.
He needed a hydrant nearby to supply all the water the giant pumpkins need this summer.
You see, the pumpkins are a project he and his brother, Robert Alexander, Wichita, are undertaking together.
Robert Alexander has been scouring the Internet for information about pumpkins, and searching for a source of seeds.
He's found them for as much as $50 apiece. That gave them both a double take. Instead, Gary Alexander said, he bought three $20 seeds.
He planted them according to the Farmer's Almanac, and guidance from their mother, who firmly believed in the moon's effect on plants.
"I like to work along with Mother Nature," he said. "She's cheaper than all the artificial stuff."
* Editor's note: Through a series of occasional articles this summer, I'll be out documenting the trials and tribulations about Alexander's garden and pumpkins. Along the way, we'd like to hear about other outstanding gardens, about people who dedicate their summers to growing fresh fruits and vegetables in an otherwise harsh environment. We hope to get out and visit some of those gardens and meet those who tend to them. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me where the garden is and who's behind it.
Mike Corn, HDN