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I guess I first became enchanted with horticulture as a kid, leaning my water-soaked body out of the pool to watch sunflower seeds, dropped from a feeder by careless backyard birds, sprout and grow into thick-stalked flowers that towered above my head. And when I reached up and plucked a black-and-white shell from the massive yellow head and realized we’d inadvertently grown food … that was a momentous day.
I’ve sown a number of gardens since those early days of seed-watching, my own attempts at coaxing food out of the ground, and though the results have been anything but consistent, one thing remains the same — I prep each bed and sink every seed with one hope planted firmly in my thoughts: the expectation of a bountiful Thanksgiving harvest.
In the real world, I shovel composted horse poo and screw together splinter-shaggy boards for raised beds, but my mind’s eye sees only plates piled high with roasted beets and squash, salads brimming with bright spinach and juicy tomatoes, heaping helpings of a casserole made from our very own Kentucky Wonder pole beans.
Once November rolls around, reality looks a lot different. Take this year for example: First, Colorado Potato Beetles sauntered in and removed homegrown mashed potatoes from my family’s Turkey Day menu. A fresh-baked pie stuffed full with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries sounds delicious and probably was for the birds that ate all our fruit. Plump ears of roasted corn, nestled beneath crisped silk inside grill-blackened husks? The stalks drought-dried and died back in July. Our green peppers timed out at the size of my infant son’s fist (maybe we could stuff them with a tablespoon of rice?) and the biggest beet was smaller than that ... way smaller. Vine borers took out our zucchini plants, and it’s a good thing pickles aren’t a Thanksgiving tradition because cucumber beetles destroyed every last vine in our garden.
But our Thanksgiving table won’t be without victories, however small. After months of battling tenacious squash bugs, four plants rewarded our efforts with basketfuls of gorgeous, golden summer squash. The heirloom Kentucky Wonder green beans actually did yield enough for a modest casserole (if we double-down on the fried onion rings). We’ll roast a few homegrown garlic bulbs with herbs from the herb garden, and we have enough peas to give each of my three kids a child’s serving. I’ll stack sliced Roma tomatoes high for extra color, a bet hedged back in the spring when we sunk 41 plants into the ground.
And when our dinner table is packed full with family, perched on chairs borrowed from various rooms in the house, I won’t bemoan the store-bought potatoes we were forced to mash. My conversation won’t center on beets that should have been there, right there, plated beautifully beside the turkey, and I won’t think twice about berries pilfered by bird burglars. What I will do is point to the squash, tomatoes, green beans and garlic and announce to my family, “We grew that!” Then I’ll probably compare myself to a pilgrim and dig in to our harvest.
/ Rodney Wilson, the descendant of a long line of Kentucky farmers, wishes green thumbs were as hereditary as male pattern baldness and an uncomfortably prominent nose. He lives in Kent with his wife, three kids, an epileptic dog, neurotic cats and a she-rabbit named Kenny Rogers.