Telling the stories most people would be embarrassed to share.
Friday, May 17, 2013
The Anecdotal Gardener...2013
Every year I struggle with the same garden conundrum - how many of each vegetable to plant? Of course, I struggle with this prior to starting my seeds in mid-March, but end up brushing it off by just starting dozens of seeds and vowing to make the decision later. I thought I had this under control this year by only starting 8 of each, but I complicated matters by putting 2 seeds in each block of soil. And almost all of them came up. I immediately declared, "Off with their heads!" and decided to just discard the excess seedlings, but when the time came for re-planting, wouldn't you know it, I had a change of heart and I attempted to save each and every seedling. And I did!
So for the second year in a row, I've ended up with more plants than any one person can plant in a 6'x12' garden, or consume. I'm faced with the same problem as I was faced with last year. "Are 11 Roma tomato plants too much? Can we consume the bounty from 12 banana pepper plants? What about six eggplant?" And this year, for the first time, a real problem is what do we do with 11 habanero pepper plants? Those suckers are hot! Anytime you plant a crazy amount of anything, you're going to have to come up with a crazy amount of recipe ideas. Last year, we battled the zucchini: sautéed, grilled, stuffed, fried, zucchini bread, zucchini quiche, zucchini and tomato soup. If I'm being honest, I can't think of that many uses for a pepper that hot. The beauty of the zucchini is also that I absolutely adore zucchini. "'Adore' is a strong word to describe your feelings toward a vegetable," you might be thinking to yourself. And for many vegetables, it would be a strong word, but not for the zucchini. I adore zucchini.
Then, year after year, I have this moment: "I don't even like tomatoes!" I mean I do. I can eat a few, but the thought of having to consume nearly two dozen plants' worth of banana peppers or tomatoes is a bit daunting. Without fail, every year, I start having thoughts of giving away plants. "Surely [so-and-so] would love a few plants..." I think to myself. For some reason, these thoughts are quickly met with a feeling like I'm giving away a child. "But these are my plants...I started them. I cared for them; maybe I can make room for them somewhere." But there isn't always room for them. Last year I was able to fit most of them in (I only gave away one banana pepper plant), but the garden looked like something a bunch of people committed to an insane asylum might plant. Several cherry tomato plants squeezed in between 8 different types of tomatoes, and surrounded by banana pepper plants. We struggled to consume those cherry tomatoes too. But in the end, we loved having our go-to cherry tomato dish every week. I mean every week, like religiously. It was a recipe for cherry tomatoes: sautéed with garlic, parmesan, and basil and served over pasta. It was simple and delicious! And we ate it every week, around Monday or Tuesday, after harvesting them on Sundays.
Another thing I struggle with every year is what I'll call the initial-garden-planting-brain-fog-and-feelings-of-inadequacy. As I sat there, earlier this week, attempting to replant several turnip and lettuce seedlings, I was overwhelmed with this "I have no idea what I'm doing," feeling. My husband observed, "I feel like you have this problem every year, but it always turns out fine." He was right. Every year I sit there stumped by the garden arrangement and how to delicately handle the seedlings, even though I've spent months planning the garden lay-out, meticulously drawing garden plans on graph paper. I sit there stumped.
"Where's your garden lay-out that you printed out?" Morgan asked.
"Oh, it's useless, it'll never work," I replied. I ended up sitting down right there in the garden and doing a brand new sketch of the garden. I immediately realized I really could only fit 12 caged plants, which would consist of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, and I would need to narrow these plants down to fit the garden. Not to mention that now I'm worried my garden plan won't have enough room for cherry tomatoes or zucchini because those are the vegetables I really love the most. Oh, and green beans! Last year we made and canned dilly beans and they really turned out to be a favorite of both of ours.
Also, as I start gardening season 2013 in a new community garden - not just new to me, but new to Earth - I see other confused gardeners roaming around the garden. Even more confused than I am. They're like me from 3 years ago; sponges hoping to glean information from anyone or anything. "It might be too soon to put out tomato plants," I casually commented. "You probably can't start tomato seeds in the garden...especially not in mid-May." They marveled at me, "How do you know these things that you know?" I wasn't sure of the answer either. From growing up? From books? From other gardeners? Yes, some of the information I know has been gleaned from these sources, but generally, the answer is: anecdotally. A process of repeated trial and error. Some trials you win and some you lose (and that's not a pun because I'm a lawyer by day). Like with all things in life, you read a few books and try a few attempts and eventually you figure out what works and what doesn't work. You may never know why something works or something else doesn't work, but you learn something and you stick to what works best. For me, some things I remember and repeat year after year, other things I forget and so I repeat the errors year after year. It's all part of the process.