For most of my life, I have felt as though I was born in the wrong era. I mean, how could it be that hats look so good on me if I wasn’t meant to live in a time where they were practically required?
My 'going away' outfit on our wedding day :)
I’ve always been one to shake my head at some of the new fangled ideas that are out there today, and all the little modern touches that make speaking to people face to face increasingly obsolete.
I look at our pre-packaged food and cluck my tongue disapprovingly. I wonder at the good old days when people harvested their own food in quaint little kitchen gardens filled with fragrant herbs and vegetables bursting with flavor. The disconnect between us and our food seems to have widen into an hopelessly wide canyon, so much so that many children have no idea what some foods in their natural forms even look like.
So, last January, I decided that I was going to break that cycle in my own life. I was going to plant a garden. And not just any garden—my garden was going to be the Shangri La of all gardens, the envy of the whole neighborhood. Of course, with my magnificent bounty, I could spread goodwill to my fellow man – a tomato and cucumber for all, I say!
*Cue Little House on the Prairie Music*
Giddy with excitement for the coming project, I sat down at the computer one cold winter night and began to plan. I wanted a completely natural and organic garden, just like my ancestors would have had. Over the next several weeks, I studied, and read, and poured over various websites. What to plant, when to plant, how to plant—absolutely everything I could want to know about gardening.
I would start with organic seeds. In a fit of gardening optimism, I scoured the racks of seed packets at Whole Foods, agonizing over the Japanese or English Cucumbers, Heirloom or Better Boy Tomatoes, even Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake pole beans. So many choices! But I must choose wisely: each packet was $2.50, and they were adding up quick. By the time I made my selection, my wallet was $50 lighter. I wasn’t daunted, however—just think how much I’ll save when I am eating all my own food all summer!
The idea was to have 6 raised beds, each one built of untreated wood rubbed with linseed oil, just as it was done in the old days. No nasty chemically-treated lumber for me, no sir. In between the sturdy beds, I wanted gravel pathways for easy walking and no worry of weed-eating around the precious vegetables.
It was, in a word, magnificent. See for yourself:
Isn’t it glorious? It is, isn’t it? Go ahead – admit it. You’re jealous. *brushing shoulders* Yep, maybe someday you will be like the inspired genius awesomeness that is Erin. Not now, but someday.
Every veggie I could ever want, abundantly planted so that I could can enough food for the whole winter, and even feed some of my envious neighbors (remember the tomatoes and cucumbers for all?). I could just see me strolling down the aisles, lovingly checking the progress of my darling plants, each one exploding with color and fragrance and inspiring a plethora of delicious, healthy meals.
So, come February, I started my seedlings. Tucked in their little starter disks, warm beneath the plastic dome top, I willed them to grow. Each day I watched and waited for the stems and leaves to spring forth from the dirt, and when they finally emerged, I heralded their coming like the birth of a long-awaited king.
For weeks, I gently watered them, nurturing them like the little miracles they were. “Good morning, my darlings. Ready for another day in the sunshine?” They’d smile at me—okay, so not really, but I imagined they did—and carry on about the business of growing strong and healthy for me.
Soon it was March, and we started to plan the making of the planter boxes. My babies needed a home – and soon! My husband was in charge of the actual building, so together we headed to Lowes, measurements in hand, to buy the lumber. After half an hour of looking at prices, I began to feel a little queasy. This wasn’t your granny’s garden—it was turning out to be the King of Sudan’s. Or perhaps Bill Gates’. All I knew was, ain’t no way we were going to drop that kind of dough.
So we sat down with the calculator and began to do a little number crunching. This would save us a whole summer’s worth of veggies, I argued. But not even five years worth of veggies cost this much, Kirk countered. We hemmed, we hawed, we both negotiated and haggled, and in the end, well let’s just say I had to adjust my expectations.
A whole lot.
Gone were the carrots and onions and sage.
No more room for my beans or all the planned greens on my page.
The oregano was out, as were the snap peas,
And not one piece of gravel to keep out the weeds.
The visions of salsa and spaghetti sauces aplenty
Soon vanished like smoke as we downed the ante
Gathering our load of precious few lumber
We headed for home, our moods rather somber
Alright, so, I was bummed. I tried to rally when Kirk built the one beautiful, perfectly-made, infinitely lonely raised bed. It would be okay. I could still raise a few lovely things, and just think how many cucumbers a single plant produced! Not to mention the three tomato plants we had. Yes, we had a reduced variety, but we should be swimming in the veggies we still had.
Or so I thought.
Turns out … not so much. Apparently, no matter how much you will something to be a productive member of your garden, it has the final say. And I am here to tell you, they didn’t say much.
Within a month, we had our very first harvest. It was a very exciting day in my household, as you can imagine. After four months of planning, nurturing the babies every day, building them a (very expensive) home, planting them with love, tending to them once, sometimes even twice a day, we finally reaped the rewards.
Are you ready?
Ahem. Yeah, my husband wasn’t too impressed either. But I knew it was only the beginning. My fantastically genius plans may have been down-sized, but the fruits of our labor would be plentiful, I was sure.
Soon, we had our first hint of tomato:
Next came a baby jalapeno:
Little did we know, that would be our ONLY jalapeno. Sigh.
But at least the tomatoes were on their way. We had the little jellybean tomatoes, plus a better bush and an heirloom plant. The jellybean tomatoes came first. We watched, rapt, as every day they got a liiitle bit bigger. We waited, with baited breath, when they got their first hint of color. Soon, the little fruits were yellow, then a bright orange, then, well, still orange.
Turns out my packet of red and yellow jellybean tomatoes actually meant red or yellow. Who knew?
Kirk was disappointed—apparently he thinks anything but red tomatoes just isn't right—but we still had 2 more tomato plants. So we waited and waited and waited until one day, we got a little cluster of heirlooms. Hooray! Everyday I checked their progress, waiting for the moment they could be harvested. Alas, it stayed stubbornly, mockingly green. Just a little longer, I knew, and it would have to ripen. FINALLY, almost three months after we planted the seedlings, we saw the first blush of red. The red slowly started pushing out the green. Almost there. We waited….
And waited… until one day…
THEY WERE ALL EATEN BY SQUIRRELS!!!
And they didn’t even eat the whole thing – each tomato was eaten about a third of the way before they tossed it aside like so much rabble and went on to the next. Oh, the carnage! Red, gnawed flesh, littering the un-graveled ground, mocking all of the hard work I had done over the past 6 months just to get to the is point. *shaking fist to the heavens* DARN YOU SQUIRRELS!!
The worst of it was, that was it. The heirloom plant never gave us a single other tomato. While the jellybean tomato plant continued to cough up a handful of its yellow fruits a day, the better bush mocked us utterly, giving up one single fruit … while we were on vacation. At least my neighbor sent us a picture…
Sigh. Of the three cucumber plants we planted, we harvested a total of 5 or 6 decent cucumbers … and one dreadfully rotten one. Just this week, almost 9 months after we started the project, we also started getting a handful of tiny, underdeveloped green peppers. Yay.
So, was the garden a success? Ha-yal no. Did I enjoy it? In the beginning—back when I still had hope—yes. We’re not going to speak on the time after the tomato massacre. Will I do it again next year? You bet I will ;) Hope springs eternal, afterall. Guess I better ask for that canning stuff for Christmas, ‘cause I have a feeling next year is going to be a bumper crop!
Books on Gardening: $45
Organic Seeds and potting soil: $85
Lumber and supplies for special raised beds: $150
The realization that I was born in exactly the right era: Priceless
Have you ever given gardening a try? Did it work for you? Are you glad to be a modern girl, or do you wish you were born in a different era?
For todays recipe, I thought I would provide a super simple, garden fave – one of the only meals to actually come from my garden… sort of :)
In a small saucepan, heat balsamic over medium low heat. Simmer until reduced to desired thickness, set aside to cool (Keep in mind that it continues to thicken as it cools). Stack the basil and tomato atop the mozzarella, drizzle with balsamic reduction and a bit of olive oil. Enjoy!