By Hallie Bandy
It happens this time every year. Sun. Dirt. Rain. Seeds.
I’m convinced it’s genetic. Maybe I’m descended from Hobbits. From the time I can remember, my calendar has been marked by gardening milestones.
Peas were always planted on St. Patrick’s Day – so our extended family could judge each other around the Easter table based on how high everyone else’s peas were.
Summer was a series of harvests. First the perennials—asparagus, rhubarb and berries. Then, the rest of the garden vegetables. We shelled peas, snipped beans, scraped corn cobs and ground the tomatoes through the Victoria strainer.
The first days of school I fell asleep listening to the jiggle of the pressure canner, sealing beans, tomatoes, peaches, apple sauce.
Every jack-o’-lantern I carved came from my Grandfather’s prized pumpkin patch.
All winter, we dined on the fruits – and vegetables – of our labors. “Straight from our garden,” my parents would say as they filled our plates with wholesome goodness.
I wish I could say I’ve followed in their footsteps. Alas, I can only say, I’ve tried.
My personal gardening efforts began when we lived in South Florida, where I managed to find a tiny plot to grow herbs. When we moved to Ohio, I got serious, tilled up a little plot and showed my young children how to put seeds in the earth. My son planted a “bean teepee” and sat inside on hot days, eating his crop. My daughter planted a sunflower house. We woke up one morning to see a mother deer and her two fawns finish eating the last of the leaves, leaving only four-foot stalks. I really should have taken that as a “time to quit” sign but I didn’t.
We moved to the farmette, and I plowed up half an acre. I mapped the zones and assigned each child a personal plot to manage. I spent more on seeds than shoes that summer. And our water bill was almost as much as our grocery bill.
But we were gardening, dangit. Growing our own food. Except really, we weren’t. The dry weather kept our beans from producing, so we paid to pick beans in someone else’s garden. (Someone with an irrigation system.)
When we drove to Ohio for a visit, we stopped by our favorite place to get corn and brought home enough to freeze 40 quarts. Some sort of worm found our squash. That was when I found the Farmer’s Market. The assigned plots were abandoned by all but one child.
I harvested a bushel of tomatoes, but managed to leave them in the garage for a little too long. And by a little too long, I mean long enough for them to turn into juice without any help from me. It was a mess.
I was in over my head, and I knew it. And yet, I kept on. I poured over the seed catalogues on cold winter nights. I grew seedlings under a light in my mudroom. I tilled and dug and hoed. And, as all great gardeners do, I planned for next year.
Over the years, the half-acre garden became a badminton court. I downsized and planted less. Droughts and bugs and busy-ness still thwarted my efforts.
My determination has dwindled with the size of the garden. Finally last year, I resolved this would be the year I just won’t plant a garden. We have Farmers’ markets and Community Supported Agriculture. I have too much to do.
I told this to a friend a few weeks ago when she asked if I wanted some tomato plants. “Well, the seeds came from Italy,” she said.
So, okay. I have a few tomato plants. While I’m at it, I’ll probably put in a few cucumbers and peppers. And pumpkins are always fun to grow…