Friday, June 5, 2009

The Farmer's Daughter Gets Back to Her Roots

Many people are planting vegetables this year, some of whom have never gardened before. I gardened with great passion and little skill before I had children. We had a near-sunless, sodden little yard, but I planted in faith. There were squash: zucchini, yellow crookneck, and patty pans, my favorites. The squash did well, and covered the yard with their odd splintery leaves. I also tried to grow lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and corn.
One year I planted two rows of corn. At harvest each stalk had one perfect luscious ear. That small crop was worth all the effort – there is nothing in the world, that compares to sweet corn on the cob fresh from the garden.
I heard that horse radish was easy to grow, and mail ordered a root. Probably the less said of that experience, the better. Horse radish isn't easy to grow – it's impossible to stop. My husband hunted it down and killed it with a shovel after a year or two, muttering about clogged drain fields and warning me sternly that I'd better not plant any more of that damn stuff.
The lettuce and other greens were clear cut by the slugs, so I put in marigolds to repel the slugs and the slugs ate the marigolds, too. Then I tried putting cups of beer out, and the slugs obligingly crawled in and drowned, but then I had to dispose of the slug-slimed beer, clean the cups, and refill them with fresh beer. I began to feel like the dead slugs were having a lot more fun than I was, and I resented having to pay for all that beer. One organic gardening book advised going out in the morning or evening and picking the slugs up and putting them into a container and then...what? Dispose of them, somehow. One morning I went berserk and starting impaling slugs on a paring knife. “Die, die, you slimy sonsabitches!” I caroled as I wreaked my havoc. Within minutes I was sick to my stomach and sick at heart. I just don't have what it takes to wage a successful war, I guess. It was soon after that I gave up on vegetables. I realized that I enjoyed communing with flowers in my yard a lot more than the losing battle that was vegetables, and decided to buy my produce at the store and grow flowers.
After the babies came I gave up gardening. I would read magazines in which strong young women were pictured, working in their beautifully tilled gardens, smiling broadly, with sturdy compliant infants bundled into packs on their backs. I envied those women, and hated them. I wished I had that kind of energy and organization and will, and that kind of cheery easy child, but I didn't, so I'd sit on the rug on the living room floor with the boys and stack blocks with them and try to keep them from killing each other, and left the yard on its own.
I still had the longing, so I would buy plant starts. I developed a method which I have learned is quite common among gardeners: you bring home a plant, you put it into the yard or pot, you water it and if you really like it you give it a shot of fish emulsion now and then. You say, “OK, pal, you're on your own,” and then you wait to see if it makes it. If not – well, it had its chance, and you've had your learning experience.
This spring I decided to grow some vegetables again, but on a scale I could handle. I bought four wide, shallow pots, filled them with soil, and planted lettuce, spinach, green onions, and radishes. I also got two seed-starter trays in which I tried to start tomatoes. Their little cotyledons came up, their first leaves began to sprout, and then – something ate them. So much for tomatoes.
The lettuce, spinach, and green onions are coming along. Today for lunch I went out and thinned a few sprouts to throw into my turkey wrap. Not bad. I felt the warm glow of the farmer enjoying the fruits, or in this case vegetables, of her labors.
I've got my eye on the first radish that is plumping up in the radish pot. It will be ready soon, and I'm watching closely because I don't want to miss the peak of its perfection. Which is odd, because I've never really liked radishes.

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