My thumb turned green this summer. I don't know why.
Not that my thumb was ever totally dead-grass brown, more of a wilted greenish color with brown edges. This year my small garden is flourishing, with tomato plants the size of small shrubs and basil that has taken over the spot it shared with oregano and dill.
Over the years, I’ve had some horticultural success, but that was limited and sporadic. A few years back I really got into garlic after reading a story about a local garlic farm in Doylestown. I ordered several different varieties of bulbs from them and talked my father into letting me take up a small space in his vast garden. With garlic, you plant the cloves in October and harvest in summer.
One of the things I don’t like about gardening is weeding. I did plenty of that as a kid. That and mowing grass are the two suburban duties for which my childhood of weeding my father’s big garden and mowing almost an acre of grass by hand ruined. By spring, the garlic plants and the weeds that grew in their shadow took over one whole side of my father’s neatly maintained garden. He wasn’t happy, but the garlic flourished, and I repaid him with a large basket of my favorite vegetable. (Is garlic a vegetable?)
This Fresh Food issue comes at an ideal time when we are harvesting the fruits (and vegetables) of our summer labor; or we are eating that which others have labored over, and the abundance is shared by all. (By the way, someone surreptitiously left a half-dozen zucchini on my front porch, apparently running out of friends and family to foist them upon.)
My first garden was at the back of our very tiny lot in Kent when I was about 10. I love cantaloupe, and the thought of growing my own meant I could get them for free. The two or three vines that I planted did well almost all summer until the melons were about the size of softballs.
Unfortunately, I had planted them on a bank just behind our tiny lot. As the melons grew bigger, they gained weight, and the natural law of gravity took over. I awoke one morning to find my crop of half-developed melons broken loose from their vines, lying at the bottom of the hill. I managed to salvage a couple, but I came to understand the feeling farmers must be experiencing during this year’s drought.
We did live on a farm (six acres with a barn, chicken coop and corn crib) in Mogadore for almost 10 years. I attempted gardens there, but my distaste for weeding, Japanese beetles and assorted critters doomed most of them to only middling success. The previous owner had planted Jerusalem artichoke and had tried to get rid of them when they began to spread all over the garden. Unfortunately, he had roto-tilled them, and being much like a potato, they only increased their dominance to the point that nothing short of a backhoe would eviscerate them. I left them alone and let the next owner deal with them.
So my decision this summer to plant a small garden at our new home was met by some eyebrow raising by my wife and kids as if to ask, “Haven’t you had enough?” I decided to buy plants instead of starting from seed, as I had done in the past. By the time I wanted to plant, however, the ground was as hard as cement due to the lack of rain. As I puzzled over how I was going to break into my concrete yard, the plants remained in the containers in which I had bought them. I watered them every day and added a dose of Miracle-Gro on Sunday. Before I knew it, the tomatoes, beans, peppers and herbs were outgrowing these small containers. That’s when I got the brilliant idea of replanting everything into large containers. (Now, I know this is called “container gardening” by some, but to me it was strictly a desperate measure to save these overflowing plants.)
The fact that I don’t like weeding didn’t really come into play, but in hindsight, containers don’t grow many weeds. So far I have harvested (if you can really call it that) several green, yellow and pinot noir peppers, a few green beans and a couple of half-eaten tomatoes, which my local chipmunk enjoyed before I could. I love the idea of fresh food and, even more, the vague concept of free food. I hope you too have had a bountiful summer, filled with fresh food but devoid of weeds.