"It was too little to turn my riding mower in," says Ruby, who attributes her green thumb to being one of 11 children and needing to garden to survive.
With the help of her son, Jeff, who is married to Judy, the small area in front of Ruby's storeside apartment received a load of dirt, some fertilizer and Ruby was in business.
"We get a lot of teasing about planting my garden on the front porch," Ruby says.
The Sparkses have made several landscaping touches since moving in. Across the road from the market in Forkland, several birdhouses were hung to create a feeding station.
"We're bird lovers," says Ruby, who wears a constant smile.
As an owner of a rural grocery, Ruby also sees her share of stray cats. One of her neighbors on Minors Branch is their caregiver.
"He feeds all the cats. I've never bought cat food," Ruby says.
One of the aspects of country store ownership Judy enjoys is the many people who stop in.
"I like the friendliness - people who come in just to sit down and chat with you. Everybody feels like family," says Judy, who baby-sits Katie Jo for her son, Jeff, and daughter-in-law, Amy.
Unfortunately, the Sparkses are ready to uproot. Ruby, who became disabled about four years after lightning struck a tractor trailer she and her husband drove, is ready to move.
Ruby says the "for sale" signs she posted in her yard drew the ire of her neighbors.
"They're ready to picket," she says.
Garden as amusement
In the meantime, the front yard-turned-garden, continues to produce and provide amusement for Katie Jo. She transformed a huge sunflower into her hideout.
"I've got a back door on my sunflowers," she says, only too happy to demonstrate her fort's amenities.
Ruby says seeing her descendants enjoy the giant sunflowers tickles her.
"I planted them for my grandchildren when they were her age and they loved them," she says.
Eggplant also strikes Katie Jo's fancy, but it is her uncle Josh who creates something really fancy. The 25-year-old University of Kentucky student likes to make Eggplant Parmesan. After a long day at the store, Judy says she sometimes arrives home to find one of Josh's special suppers.
Ruby hopes to continue to raise a garden in her new home, wherever that may be.
"I thought about renting an apartment in Danville, but I'm not sure I'll like that the way I like to dig in the dirt."
Roasted Eggplant Spread
1 medium eggplant (or equivalent amount of zucchini)
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the eggplant, bell pepper, and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss with the garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking.
Allow to cool slightly.
Place the vegetables in a food processor, add the tomato paste, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Add salt and pepper according to suit your taste.
Serve with pita chips or crackers. Also makes an excellent mayo substitute for chicken sandwiches.
3 bell peppers, seeded and halved
3 yellow squash, sliced into 1/2-inch coins
3 zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch coins
3 eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
12 whole mushrooms
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes.
Heat grill to medium/medium-high
Place smaller veggie pieces on skewers. Brush the vegetables with 1/4 cup of the oil to coat lightly. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper. Working in batches, grill the vegetables until tender and lightly charred all over, about 8 to 10 minutes for the bell peppers; 7 minutes for the yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant and mushrooms.
Also can be diced and tossed in salads or rice.
Excellent side dish as is or can be served with the following dressing.
Dressing for Grilled Veggies
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced