Garden of eating


Terry and I have a garden this year. First one in about five summers, and we’re pretty happy with it.

For the most part.

Ok, ok, that was kind of a strange twist. One of those writing tricks to suggest that some flip of perspective is on the way, and to a degree, yeah. A flip of perspective is on the way. But having revealed that, honestly, we are really happy about the garden. Actually, we’re thrilled with it.

This year we attempted some things we haven’t tried in years or had much success with, such as carrots and beets. New efforts include onions and butternut squash. Old favorites like eggplant and varieties of peppers have a place. It’s pretty cool.

But there are problems.

For instance, I always have difficulty with the growing cycles. We have never planted seeds ahead of time, and usually end up like most home gardeners… buying an assortment of plants and perhaps a few seed packets, then rushing get things in the ground before Memorial Day. And that means most of the plants are still at least a month—and more likely 45 to 60 days—away from providing anything to pick.

This brings about an early sensation where it always seems like the entire garden is moving and developing in a way where everything will be ready to pick on the exact same day. We’re now two months separated from the major planting week. While showing progress, the eggplants won’t be ready until August and the tomatoes are all over the place on the vines but none are turning red.

As you are likely quite aware though, that theory isn’t quite right. At all. Cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash have all been arriving (and arriving in plentiful numbers). Peppers—green bell, jalapeno and banana—have been enjoyed and continue to grow. Items like parsley and basil are flourishing.

So even though some items still seem like distant dreams, what I’ve arrived at is that it might be the mixture of results that proves the most frustrating.

When the first zucchini is ready, you get a bit giddy. “Hey, look, first veggies have arrived!” is the thought. You slice it up, maybe place it on the grill, and savor the delicious treat. And then, a day or two later…

You make some zucchini bread. Delicious. Great stuff. More zucchini arriving though, so you prepare it and add it to a dish with some pasta… bring some in to work… make more zucchini bread… get mad when a couple grow larger than you expected because you left them an extra day or two while you used the zucchini still in the kitchen… leave a basket at a neighbor’s front door… roast it, grill it, fry it, add it to salads and dips… freeze some zucchini bread… and, with your limits of recipes and freezer space exhausted, the zucchini is STILL coming.

By the time the tomatoes arrive, you’re excited just to be picking something other than five zucchinis and countless cucumbers every day. Ahh, but the tomatoes…

Has anyone ever comes close to a perfect harvest of tomatoes? Because for me, when they are ready it seems like the chipmunks find them before I do. And the ground of my garden is decorated by tomatoes that fell off the branches… though they sure looked a day or two (at least) away from ready when I saw them last night.

Then, somewhat suddenly, I find myself facing the realization that I’m complaining about an abundance of fresh vegetables. And let’s face it… there are few culinary experiences as rewarding as having something on a plate and served within minutes of having picked it. (I often debate setting up my grill next to the garden. Knife, bowl, just a touch of olive oil and pepper and salt… pick, slice, grill, serve, pretty much in a single motion.)

I should point out, I’m one of those crazy people that enjoys watering the garden each night. (Yes, I have been known to talk to the plants on occasion.) It’s a strange thing, the peace and satisfaction that comes from some time walking around and checking things out while watering.

There’s a theory that states the beginnings of true civilization are defined by the ability of a community to feed itself. And, more specifically, the idea is based on when only a portion of the group is needed to produce the food that feeds the whole. When everyone doesn’t have to be a hunter or gatherer, it means they can focus on other occupations and specialties. Let’s move away from the theory and history, stretch that idea a bit, and use it to look specifically at our garden…

We’ve been trying new recipes this year and have been enjoying and learning new ways to create meals out of our garden. (Tonight’s effort includes a beet salad with balsamic vinegar and blue cheese involved that we’ve been excited about trying for weeks.) Terry has been baking zucchini bread not only for us, but for our friends as well. Bags have been filled with veggies and handed off, picked that morning in our garden and served up at multiple tables that evening.

Terry and I have been exploring, enjoying and sharing the results of our garden. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to thing that we’ve been doing that all on levels we’ve never attempted before.

Friend of mine and I love to swap stories about breaking bread. While we both love bread, it’s actually the sharing of a meal that creates the excitement and pulls on the heartstrings. In ways I never really considered in previous seasons, our garden takes that thought to more places than I really could anticipate.

Terry and I have a weird sense of humor about the garden. Goes like this: spend a thousand dollars or more to plant it, harvest and enjoy $27.75 worth of produce. It’s part of that everything arriving on August 10th mentality, where the first four weeks of watering and care resulting in nothing picked leads you to begin wondering what you could possibly do when it’s all ready over a handful of days.

In a few moments though, I’m going to head outside. I’ve got some yardwork to do, and that will take me into the garden. Terry brought two bags of vegetables into work with her… zucchini, summer squash, peppers and cucumbers. Later tonight, Terry and I will be using some items out of the garden for our dinner. And I’ll close out the day checking on the plants and offering up some water for the entire group.

Truth be told, it’s a pretty sweet deal. (Anyone need some zucchini bread?)


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at