Last summer, after seeing my friend Amy’s backyard garden, I decided that I wanted to try growing vegetables this year. I’ve had a modicum of success with planting perennials and bulbs in my previous home-owning life, but edible things have never been on my radar screen.
But it seemed a noble idea, and as luck would have it our church had started a community garden initiative: renting out garden boxes to interested community members. So I recruited the six year old to be my helper and we talked about our ‘garden box’ all winter long. By early spring he had told anyone and everyone that we were going to have a vegetable garden in the summer.
After consulting with a few experienced gardeners, I learned that it was best to wait until after ‘May long-weekend’ to plant our seeds. So we waited, patiently. Finally, on the eighteenth, I gathered my spawn and we headed out to our wooden box. There was great excitement amongst the little blondies about tilling the earth and planting the seeds. Mostly digging in the dirt with shovels, now that I think of it.
It’s not a huge box, by any means. Maybe 2-3 feet by 7 or 8 feet? And I had no clue about growing times and quantities and what would work well and what would fail miserably. Which is how we ended up with two or three kinds of lettuce. Some peas. Some beans and/or radishes. Basil and parsley. And zucchini.
When we left for the States at the beginning of July, things had started to sprout and it was all very exciting. While we sweltered in the land of heat and humidity, I thought occasionally of the little box; hoping that mother nature and fellow garden-box-neighbors would remember to water it.
We returned from our trip and a couple of days passed before I finally drove out there to see what, if anything, had happened to my box.
Lettuce happened to my box.
There were probably fifteen to twenty heads of lettuce and they had taken ownership of half the box. The parsley I planted? Subsumed by lettuce. The basil? Barely hanging on in the shadow of the leaves of red oak. The radishes were nowhere to be found. And some weird, gargantuan plant with tiny white flowers and bean-like protrusions had grown and multiplied and was sticking up and out. All over the place.
The zucchini plants (I only planted 3 seeds) had grown like crazy-weed and there were lovely yellow flowers hidden among its prickly stalks. Simultaneously pleased and petrified, I cut off one head of lettuce and went home. I returned a couple of days later with the rest of the Johnsons. There were little pea pods on the pea plants. Chunky with peas. More, bigger lettuce.
And a real, live zucchini had sprouted. Huge and green and glossy.
I shouted and pointed as if I’d seen an elephant on a suburban street. I hadn’t been that thrilled about anything, ever: I’d planted a seed, and it worked! But even at the height of my excitement, I suspected that it would be the last time I reveled at the sight of zucchini.
We went home with our bounty and I felt like Barbara Kingsolver. A total organic locavore. I felt instantly healthier and better about myself because I had these heads of lettuce that I had grown. And four peas that the boys had gobbled up, raw. And, of course, the zucchini. The Gort was equally chuffed and waited eagerly while I whipped up some salad dressing for our lettuce lunch. As with the zucchini, I wondered how long I could sustain such excitement over a head of lettuce.
Sure enough. When I returned two days later. I had to cut off two more enormous heads of lettuce. And there were three more enormous zucchinis. Ready to be picked. What was I going to do with all this freaking zucchini and lettuce? A fellow, unknown-to-me, gardener toiled at her box. ‘Would you be at all interested in some zucchini,’ I asked hesitantly, certain she was going to give me an annoyed look and point to her own overabundance.
‘Sure, I love zucchini,’ she surprised me, ‘I didn’t plant any this year.’ So I gave her two fat ones. And sought her advice on what to do with my soon-to-be-excess. And then she gave me two adorable bunches of baby carrots.
Community gardening at its best.
Well, except for the lettuce.