Looks yummy, doesn’t it? Let me tell you about a months-in-the-making addition to my list of 50 new things I’m trying this year as part of my 50th birthday celebration. Vegetable gardening.
I eat tons of salad, year-round, so I was happy to support my housemate’s enthusiasm for putting together a small garden in the backyard. I imagined the money I’d save growing my own organic cucumber. I thought about the varieties of lettuce I’d experiment with. And I counted the days until we’d have our own homegrown tomatoes.
(Brilliant American songwriter Guy Clark said/sang it best with a tune called “Homegrown Tomatoes” on his 1983 album, Better Days: “There’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes.”)
She mixed up earthy magic using a recipe developed by Mel Bartholomew (founder of Square Foot Gardening) to get us going and pretty soon, our little patch of heaven boasted seedlings galore.
The sugar snap pea scampered up its trailing string in a mad rush to bloom and fruit. The mint, basil, sage and dill made themselves at home. When we added mums and petunias for natural insect control, our fledgling garden literally blossomed.
Thanks to the magic of Mel’s Mix (and careful watering), I even coaxed lettuce and strawberries to grow in a notoriously inauspicious strawberry pot.
Cucumber and tomatoes were slower to establish themselves. The tomato plants mostly kept getting taller and needing more support. The cuke spent its days climbing and dividing into more vines. And we had a squash plant that made showy blossoms but was stingy with the actual fruit.
The solo gardener
For all my housemate enjoyed planning and setting up the garden, and as much as she and I both loved the hide-and-seek game of looking for fledgling cucumbers, the everyday routine of gardening couldn’t hold her interest.
I might have given up, too, as the Texas spring got hot and we spent more time in the air-conditioned house, but dang it, I wanted my salad goodies.
So I remembered to water every day. I tapped the blooming tomato plants to help ensure pollination. I guided the greedy cucumber vine to things it could hold onto besides the tomato plants. I dead-headed the ‘mums and petunias to keep them blossoming.
The harvest of our first cucumbers and plum tomatoes began a riotous abundance of delicious summer eating. Soon, we were refreshing ourselves with cucumber-mint water from a never-empty pitcher. Snacking on plum- and cherry-tomatoes. And when at last we began getting full-sized tomatoes, we celebrated our homegrown bounty with BLT sandwiches and tomato cucumber salad.
It’s mid-August now. Temperatures here have been in the triple digits for weeks. The vine of plum tomatoes is still producing fruit, though at a sluggish pace appropriate to these dog days of summer. Much of the garden has withered in spite of my ongoing efforts.
Knowing what I know now, will I get caught up in another gardening frenzy around here next spring? Ask me again when temperatures drop back into the 80s. Whisper words to me of love. Like bell pepper and sweet potato and other yumminess we haven’t yet tried to grow. Remind me how drinking cucumber water made me feel wealthy beyond measure.
And promise me homegrown tomatoes.
Photos: Sally Felt