Sunday, April 13, 2008

Planting a seed

I grew up in the city, but my parents had a pretty respectable vegetable garden in their large backyard. There's a photo in the family album of me at about 12 months old, a blue plastic hoe in my hands, "helping" my dad get the garden ready for planting. I don't know what they grew in those early days, but by the time I was in elementary school, they planted corn, green beans, and tomatoes. They experimented with other crops, to varying degrees of success. One year, Mom planted a small watermelon patch, and by the end of the summer the things were plotting world domination. Potatoes always seemed to go in too late and come out too early, never getting much large than seed potato size. The yard had be leveled with fill from a dump, so it was full of rocks. When my cousins and I complained that we were bored, my mom would offer us a quarter for every gallon ice cream bucket we filled with rocks from the garden. Suprisingly, all kind of interesting pursuits always came to mind before the bucket was full. I don't honestly know if we ever earned a single quarter.

My mother babysat a girl who was a year younger than me. Her father lived out in the country and kept apple trees. He invited us to collect apples, and so we did. My mom canned jar after jar of apple sauce, some with cinnamon turning the sauce pink. I think the same guy gave my mom a few raspberry and blackberry canes one spring. She planted them in a small plot by the fence, and while the raspberries quickly gave up the ghost, the tame blackberries thrived. They were moved to the back corner of the garden the following spring, and in years to come grew into a thicket four or five feet deep and ten or twelve feet wide. Mom collected the berries all summer, freezing them in buckets and ziploc bags. When berry season was over, she ran all the berries through her food strainer again and again until all the juice and pulp had been extracted. Then she made dozens of jars of blackberry jam. I never learned to like raw blackberries (too many seeds) but I still love blackberry jam. Just writing this down has awakened scent memories long forgotten--the smell of the crushed fruit, of the strained-out seeds, the aroma of the juice and pulp cooking on the stove.

Tomatoes also went through the strainer, and Mom canned tomato juice to use as a base for soup and cooking meat through the year. Ears of corn were sealed in ziplocs, either on the cob or just the sliced-off kernels. Green beans were soaked in the sink, snapped into manageable pieces, and sealed in Ball jars. I can still call up the sound of snapping beans and the way I'd see a sink full of beans behind my eyelids when I went to bed after a long bean snapping stint. I always knew that when I had a yard of my own, I'd have a garden, too.

When we moved into our last apartment, I was initially excited about the tiny yardlet in back, and succumbed to visions of a tiny vegetable patch. But then the reality of neighbors throwing cigarettes and trash over the balcony upstairs, the lack of an outdoor faucet, and the yard man's slash and burn style of lawn grooming all came together and showed me reality. I amassed a pretty huge collection of houseplants, but never put anything much in the ground. Then we found this house, and I knew immediately where I'd put the vegetable patch if we managed to buy the place. Once our offer was accepted and we set a closing date, MB and I started talking about what we'd plant in our garden, how we'd fence it off from the dog we wanted to get. It won't ever be the huge corn / bean / tomato / blackberry extravaganza that my parents pulled off year after year, but I think it'll be pretty fabulous anyway. And since we've never done this before, I'm sure there will be lots of ridiculous missteps, too. I started this blog to document our gardening journey, but I'll still be blogging regular non-gardeny things over at Pardon the Egg Salad.

Happy Spring, everyone!

the garden in its native state

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