Sunday, June 19, 2016

My Imperfect Plot: A Time to Grow

Today I picked.  Rather I cut the first of the fruits of our labor from the little garden plot here in our yard.  I love gardening!  Well, in theory anyway.
In my utopia, it’s a family thing, a way to spend time together, to work together; it’s a way to teach the girls (our 4 crazy children) how to care for things, how to nurture a plant, and to appreciate nature.  What I tell them though is that it helps us eat healthier.  We know what is in our food if we grow and can it ourselves; we are not poisoning the earth with unnecessary chemicals.
If I am to be honest though, my garden is a dichotomy of sorts.  It does provide some quality family time.  It does provide a bounty of wonderful fresh healthy foods.  However, it also induces or at least prompts a great deal of stress and arguing.

Strawberries in bloom
 First, we have to get the stuff.  I go on a little adventure in search of the plants and seeds.  I always go too late in the season to make it a one stop shop.  If the girls go I let them pick out something different that they’d like to try.  Due to extra-curricular activities this year, for the first time in a very long time, I went alone.  I did ask before flying out the door on a hunt that was supposed to be quick—and ended up not!  The only requests I got were: butternut squash (which we do not have enough space for) and brussel sprouts.  Writing this makes me smile: what twelve-year-old requests brussel sprouts for her backyard garden??  Mine did!
Then there’s the planting—that’s usually the fun part.  Craig digs the holes, I place the plants or seeds, the girls water and cover, until they get bored that is.  This year, my middle child, the one who doesn’t like to do anything even remotely like work, helped.  She willingly pitched in and did it with a smile on her face.
Then comes the waiting, the maintenance and the weeding—that’s where it gets ugly.  Occasionally, a child will go out to the green space and claim to be weeding or checking the plants.  It is usually short lived and void of results.  Sometimes, we demand assistance and drag them, two at a time, out to help us weed.  We have to switch off when we do this because there really isn’t room in there for all six of us.  On rare occasions it works, they take turns and clear a few of the budding growths from the unwanted but always stronger species we collectively call weeds.  More often, it turns into a power struggle, an argument over who did more work—clearly Mom is the correct answer on that, followed closely by Dad, but that doesn’t even cross their minds.  

Sometimes though, the process of maintaining our plot becomes therapeutic.  Either alone, or with Craig, I escape the madness of daily life to hide in my not so perfect space.  I pull weeds, loosen dirt on those tiny roots, and check the progress on those beautiful blossoms--the ones that mean soon we will have more fresh produce. In the warm sun, I get lost in my thoughts, or choose not to think entirely, just existing.  Until the war cry “MOM” comes bursting through, insisting on dragging me back to reality.
Fresh strawberries dipped in white chocolate. What a treat!
I realize now that I forgot the very first part of the gardening process—readying the land.  Out of necessity, we use the same space every year.  Every few years, we bring in some compost or garden mix from a local company.  Generally we just need to rototill and remove, yes more weeds.  I know there are better methods, but…..we do what we can with what we have.  The tilling is never an issue.  Except that we both like to do it.  I had mixed emotions when I came home from work one day this spring and found the freshly turned darkness popping out beside the garage.  He had done it, all of it.  Part of me was thrilled it was done, ready for the next step.  But part of me was sad; I like to do that job too.  It’s like mowing the lawn: we both like the brief isolation it provides, the hum of the motor that drowns out the word around us, the immediate results obviously visible, and the physical exertion as good for the body as it is for the sole.
Oh my! See how our garden grows!
Last but certainly not least comes the picking and eating (and the canning).  The one we call twin #1 loves to pick in the garden.  We rarely have to even ask.  She also likes to share.  Usually this is a good thing, but sometimes she gives it away to the neighbors before we even get any to the dinner table.  This is most often the case with the strawberries.  What doesn’t go into her own mouth she wants to put in a bowl for this one, or put on a cake for that one.  She’s a giver for sure.  That’s part of the fun with a garden too. We like to share.
So what did I actually pick?  The strawberries have been there for nibbling for about a week.  Last Wednesday we had enough for shortcake—a personal favorite.  Yesterday, the girls and some of their friends covered some with chocolate—small and messy but oh so good!  I also clipped the scapes off of the garlic yesterday.  I’m not sure yet what I will do with them.  I may try a pesto I read about last fall, or simply sauté them with some other veggies to put on pasta—the problem is, the zucchini and squash will be a few weeks yet.  I’ll have to let you know what I decide.

Wendy Bacon wishes she could grow more thyme during the day, since there never seems to be enough to get it all done.