Sunday, March 20, 2011

JOT #4: A vegetable garden

A couple of years ago, my husband and I, eying the beautiful produce of our neighbors across the street, decided to put in a vegetable bed. We scoured salvage shops for redwood and had someone put together a 6 by 4 little box, which we completed with organic potting soil and compost from our backyard.

What went in? Oh, a random mix: three tomato plants, an eggplant seedling, and some bell and spicy peppers. We already had a drip irrigation system in place, thanks to the people who lived here before, so we just watched in awe as blooms appeared and fell, and were replaced by plump green tomatoes, shriveled peppers, and long chilies. Many of them made it to our table long before they reddened (fried green tomatoes were the first - sliced thick, and battered in cornflour and soymilk, dipped in breadcrumbs, and pan-fried until crisp. They were delicious on bread...), and we proudly announced that we had become successful gardeners.

But then, the eggplant never showed up. It bloomed, but the bloom withered and died. Someone told us it lacked calcium, another said it needed a mate, another it was overwatered. Whatever it was, it just stayed there, green and hardy, but never fruiting. We were upset and disappointed - had we been cheated at the nursery? Did we do something wrong? How we hated that plant - taunting us every day from the middle of the bed. Somehow it lasted through the winter, a veteran in the bed when baby tomato plants came and newbies like strawberries and broccoli made it to our yard. Eventually it faded away, never fruitful, and it was replaced by a younger, hardier plant that gave us a few chubby eggplants to saute.

We definitely have among the blacker thumbs, though we've been committed to staying away from fertilizers and additives (aside from compost), and have managed to be content with whatever we do get, whether it's a few succulent strawberries or just one hard-earned carrot. When the morsels of those delicacies make it to our mouths, we savor them, knowing it's our own sweat that we're eating.

We've learned one thing, though: gardening is like taking care of a child. You have to tend and nurture, and it brings you worry and fear, but it's an unconditional kind of love. You pour your blood and sweat and tears into it, never again have clean fingernails, and can't step out into the yard without a quick peek. There - a shoot. Oh look, another leaf, or - gasp! - a bite! a hole! a pest!. You wait and hope your tending brings forth a little something, but you are patient, and you won't hate it anymore if it doesn't bear fruit. But when it does, you cradle it like a baby, take a photo, display it on the counter - until it starts to shrivel and you can't bear to watch. Then you cut it, ripe and fresh, and everyone gets a tiny piece, which they taste like it's fine wine, head thrown back, eyes closed. Divine.

Oh yeah, if you're looking to start a garden, try a lovely, simple book from the library or a website like this. Better yet, ask a neighbor who has one!

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