Hmmm . . . I started writing this last night. It was late. I was exhausted. And when the first cool breeze finally wafted through the window, I fell asleep in moments. Funny thing, late night breezes.
Now, it’s hot again — perhaps even hotter than it was last night — but I’ve wised up a bit. I’ve parked myself in a chair on the side porch with a cool can of beer and a witchy sliver of moon to keep me company, and I’m not going in until the house cools off or the mosquitoes drive me insane (whichever comes first). Dad says that the inside and the outside of our house are both 86 degrees. I think he’s a little off in those numbers. It can’t be more than 84 out here on the porch.
So here I am, porchbound, at post #2 in my miniseries of posts about old-to-me old fashioned adventures. As you may remember, the general point of this blog is, of course, to try out new old fashioned adventures. However, in my extreme laziness, I’m devoting some time during these dog days of summer to timeless activities that are already deeply ingrained in my daily life.
I love, love, LOVE gardening.
When I was a child, I remember fondly my dad spreading chicken manure around the tomatoes in our garden in Papua New Guinea. I have no memory of what those tomatoes tasted like, but I clearly remember hearing the satisfaction in his voice as he bragged about their size and deliciousness later. (He still enjoys talking about that garden, nearly three decades later.)
I remember my mom, covered in dirt and glowing with health (physical and emotional) after digging up flowers and shrubs to transplant whenever we moved into a new house in need of landscaping. I remember in particular the boxy, overgrown bushes she pruned back to nearly nothing — only to watch them come back months later, refreshed and invigorated from their near-death experience.
I remember going out with my Grandma Mac to discover the first shoots of asparagus in the spring, and I remember the way she would bend over nearly in half to wage hand-to-hand combat in the dewy morning hours with her mortal enemies: the weeds. I remember how she always grew flowers as well as food — just because they were pretty. I remember how she always grew cherry tomatoes — just because she had lots of grandchildren. Endless supplies of u-pick cherry tomatoes are one of the finest gifts anyone can give to grandchildren.
I remember how Grandpa Mac — content to leave the serious food gardening to Grandma — more than once grew a garden with only two crops: peanuts and watermelon. Gardening was play for him — as were roasting peanuts in the oven and eating fresh cut watermelon with a giant butcher knife while his grandchildren looked on admiringly.
I remember going out with Grandpa Wesche to plant potatoes, as he showed us how to dig the earth — just so — stick the piece of potato in, eyes downcast, and cover it up again, marveling all the while that this barrel of dried out tubers could yield an edible crop come fall.
I remember how Grandma Wesche would always bring out her square Tupperware containers of homegrown, homemade applesauce and strawberry rhubarb sauce from the old chest freezer when we came to visit — and how far beyond awesome it was to me to know that this sweet, tangy applesauce didn’t come from a store but from the little orchard beside the house instead.
I remember walking for the first time through the tiny city garden of my then-future grandparents-in-law Grandpa Ken and Grandma Dottie, amazed that this small, lush, green space could produce the bountiful harvest of jars and bottles they still send us every Christmas: fruit jams and pickled peppers, relish and salsa, honey from a backyard hive, and even the occasional bottle of homemade wine.
Given all this, I suppose it was inevitable that I would grow up to love gardening — and I do.
I love dreaming about my future garden in the middle of winter, in the cold, bleak months when store-bought tomatoes taste no better than pink cardboard.
I love digging up the dirt as soon as it thaws and dries out a little in the spring, purging months of cabin fever in one warm afternoon of shoveling, hoeing, and raking.
I love picking out the seed packets and the nursery plants and tucking them neatly into their new homes.
I even love weeding and watering, protecting my baby plants from the twin perils of drought and choking.
I especially love harvesting — and even more especially, I love eating what I harvest.
Although I’ve kept a garden of some sort or another for as long as I’ve had a “bit of earth” to call my own, this year has taken me to new levels of gardening delight.
My old garden was two ten-by-five foot beds, with one additional borrowed flower bed for sweet peas and a few herbs tucked in at the back of the yard where they wouldn’t be a nuisance.
My new garden — which I share with Dad-the-tomato-lover — is roughly the size of a city lot.
It’s home to eggplant, watermelon, canteloupe, yellow squash, zucchini, three kinds of cucumber, onions, green beans, sweet peas, green and red cabbage, cauliflower, sweet and hot peppers, beets, pumpkins, marigolds (because we like marigolds), and dozens of tomato plants. (The memory of those February pink cardboard tomatoes can make a person do crazy things in May.)
The only trouble with a gorgeous jungle of a garden like this? Abundance! Despite eating what feels like tons of fresh produce at every meal, we still can’t keep up — and all those beautiful rows of tomatoes are only just now beginning to come ripe.
As I see it, I have three options:
1. Learn to pickle and can. (This is not going to happen while it’s so hot — though I certainly won’t rule out the possibility of canning pickles as a future old fashioned adventure in a cooler summer.)
2. Get a chest freezer. (This can’t happen until we get unpacked all the way and can clear some room in the garage or the basement.)
3. Give it away.
It’s the last idea that we like best, at least for now. Although we haven’t yet stooped to sneaking zucchini into unlocked cars, we have been offering extra produce to anyone who will take it.
The roofing guys took some. The guys who emptied the dumpster for the roofing guys took some. We took a basket to church a couple Sundays ago — and what was left over after everyone took what they wanted went to a local food bank. I intend to take another basket this week . I also plan to take some veggies to work with me tomorrow and leave them in the break room.
It feels nice to have such a wealth of good food that we can share enthusiastically with anyone who will take it. It feels even nicer to have more than enough left over (no matter how much we give away) for meals like the ones we’ve enjoyed over the last few days: grilled zucchini, sauteed sweet peas, fresh cut watermelon, sliced tomatoes and peppers, fried squash, cucumber salad, coleslaw, steamed green beans — and a pork/veggie stir fry over rice that inspired me to go back for a second giant helping just this evening.
I have just one more thought to share before I close: gardening is (as I see it, at least) the most old fashioned of all old fashioned adventures. When God created Adam and Eve, He didn’t give them a clothesline or an oven, a book or a Christmas tree. He gave them a garden to tend.
I am so glad He did.
Do you like to garden? What (or who) inspired you to become a gardener? What do you grow? How is your garden growing this year? What, oh what, do you do with the excess? And would you like a few zucchini? We have plenty! Let me know in the comments.