April 30, 2009

A Farm Girl at Heart

The other morning I went out to dump the watery coffee grounds from my french press into my planters when I discovered that my broccoli plant had sprouted a tiny little florette and the potatoes I planted a month ago were leafing up out of the black dirt. Just the site of my plants spring to life was enough to make my finger tips tingle in excitement.

I love to garden. Well, I love to garden vegetables. I will be the first to tell you that I know almost nothing about flowers. I love them, I long for a beautiful, blousy cottage garden with roses and lilacs and phlox and pinks and every other kind of flower that I love to look at around the neighborhood but don't know the name of. But vegetables, well, I'm pretty good at vegetables.

When I was growing up, my parents divided out yard into three, nearly even parts. One third was for grass and trees and for a time, my rabbit, minx. One third was devoted to the deck and one third was the vegetable garden. i can honestly say that the only flower I remember my house having growing up were some red tulips that I thought smelled of watermelons. I know we had more, I'm sure the front door was surrounded by flowers, I just cant remember them. But I remember almost every inch of the vegetable garden. Against the house was a triangular shaped bed that started out being devoted to potatoes but ended up being overtaken by mint. Along the garage was a narrow bed where the pole beans grew. I used to lie on my back in the grass between the pole beans the the next bed over, usually planted with tomatoes or peas, hidden amongst the green, blowing bubbles up into the air from my dollar store can of bubble mix. I thought that every time a bubble popped, a fairy was born. My own version of the old adage "every time a bell rings..."

Through most of the moves of my childhood I helped my father plant out a garden. In San Antonio we planted a long row of okra which I never learned to like. In Pendleton there were sweet potatoes in big pots on the deck. When I went away to college I craved a garden the way most college students craved jello shots. I cajoled Will into helping me dig up an enormous patch of land in the even more enormous back yard of the first house we rented. I planted the newly tilled soil with winter rye, as recommended by my favorite book and then paid the price when it was almost impossible to till in by hand and ended up borrowing a crappy rototiller from our neighbor and almost vibrating to death trying to make a garden out of it. I discovered that I had a talent for starting tomatoes from seed and could get even the most sorry looking tomato plant from the dying plant table to flourish. The summer that Briton was born my tomatoes were so big that just one could make a huge bowl of salsa.

I continue to plant gardens, both big and small, in homes we've owned and places we've rented. In our flat in Dublin I raised one tiny squash plant from seeds I bought from a street vendor in Rome. In our last house I had four glorious raised beds, two compost bins and a chicken coop in a corner of the yard that was all my own. Here, where our back yard is almost completely shaded, I have a collection of pots on the deck where I hope to get a small but delicious crop of onions, broccoli, tomatoes, and potatoes, not to mention the lettuce we've already been eating for the past two weeks.

I'm not, by any means, the worlds best gardener. I hate being really hot so come July I'll be neglecting to do much beyond watering. I tend to let tomatoes go their own way without much support, which can be messy looking and sometimes hard to harvest. I'm not a big fan of weeding. But I do love the feel of dirt under my fingernails. I never could do the "Scratch a bar of soap" thing, I'm only just getting used to wearing gloves, and only because I'm afraid of spiders and in Virginia, there are lots of spiders. And even though my garden this year is just a clump of pots, I still love it. And someday I'll have my big garden again, where I can use up all the good manure/chicken poop our hens are making right at this moment or the worm castings that the worm bin at Will's office harvests every month and comes home in coffee cans or Tupperware (and as a side note, worm castings do look like leftover brownies when brought home from the office in Tupperware, but sadly, they do not taste like brownies. Lesson learned!)

Until then I'll just keep myself busy with lists of plants I'll have in my dream garden and visions of the chest freezer that I'll get someday and fill with shucked corn and shredded zucchini and tubs of homemade pesto. Bring on the summer, and the harvest, even if it's a tiny one.