Monday, July 14, 2008

Why I plant a garden - So Much Depends Upon a Red Wheelbarrow

I guess this is my Garden Manifesto.

We always had a garden up until my freshman year in high school when my family moved to the house at the corner of 16th and 7th where they wasn't space. After we moved, for a while, my mother rented a "community garden" plot at the edge of town, but South Dakota being what it is we needed to carry water to the garden, but the yield was not equivalent to the the effort required.

Those first gardens were amazing. I can picture two. One at the big pink house in Hoven where we had dahlias the size of salad plates and fresh peas that were so sweet you would eat them right there in the garden. My friend lived next door and she had rhubarb that was enormous! We sat under the bushes with mayonnaise jar lids full of sugar, dipping the sour ends of the stalks into the sugar, crunching down on their juicy tartness, and sucking the sweetness in.

At the white house on 9th Avenue where we first lived in Brookings, we had a garden the size of a full lot. After we moved the owners actually put an apartment building where the garden had been - that's how big it was. Peonies, daisies, hosta, hollyhocks, and vegetables! Grandma and Mom planted the vegetables in rows and let the flowers tend to themselves. Rows of beans and tomatoes are what I remember. One year we planted some blue corn that my friend Joan (now a federal judge) and her father gave me along with some potatoes that they had left after planting. At the far end of the garden we had five hill/rows of strawberries. Beyond the berries was a 50 gallon oil drum used for burning refuse and beyond that, the alley.
It was a chore to weed the garden, but we had the space so we hoed and weeded, set the sprinkler, and harvested. All the produce typically came in at once, and we would freeze beans and corn and can tomatoes for the winter. Mom had (until last year) an International Harvester chest freezer that she bought third hand in 1956. We would fill it with produce - double bags for holiday meals and the skinny beans (what Grandma called "company beans") all in a bag. Other produce came from friends - chokecherries, sweet corn, and tomatoes from the Wheelers especially. If we could get green apples they were peeled and frozen as well.

What else do you do with your summer and that space in the yard? I don't know. I plant a garden.

So, why now?
I plant a garden because:

It is magical when the children and their friends head out with a large bowl or basket and return with it overflowing with sugar snap peas and strawberries. We wash the peas (I use no pesticides or chemical fertilizer but the city sprays for mosquitoes) and they go on the table, green and crisp. The strawberries have not made it past the sink before being popped into hungry mouths. Shortly thereafter, the peas are gone as well.

It is a real pleasure to eat food that we have grown. The peppery arugula, with a bit of good olive oil and salt, is amazing. Add a bit of feta, and it's perfect.

It is important that my children know that food does not come from the store. We can not grow all our own food, but we can grow some and we can meet the farmers at the market on Saturdays and Wednesdays and know who grows more of the food we eat.

We live more sustainably because we garden. Because we garden, we have a compost pile that receives not only garden and yard clippings but all the vegetable waste from our table (cores, peels, stems and spoilage).

I like having fruit trees. They are my offerings to the squirrel and raccoon gods, and once in a while they let us have some, too. Peaches and pears mostly. The apples they seem to keep for themselves.

I can get away by myself. It's funny how I can work in the garden for an hour and nobody bothers me. Especially when it is wet or cold and muddy. Planting peas around St Patrick's day is usually a solo proposition.

I get to have tools that would make Buffy the Vampire Slayer proud. Wooden stakes and a pair of Japanese shears that look positively medieval.

We get to share. We ALWAYS plant too many tomato plants. The cucumbers go MAD. We plant the basil forest.

My daughters are learning the lessons that I learned. We grow our own food. It tastes better. We know which wild plants (aka weeds) we can eat and which ones will hurt us. It's fun.
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So What Are We? Chewish? by Kate Tabor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.