Sunday, July 8, 2012

Crying uncle in the back 40

Okay, so the rabbits ate the peas again this year, all the cilantro bolted in the heat and the Genovese basil is going to flower already! Plus can we talk about the weeds? The beets are losing the battle to the crabgrass that’ just exploded in the last week or so and it’s hot out there. Who wants to weed? The kitchen garden is one of those things I feel compelled to do every year, and every year at about this time, I want to rip it all up and plant dahlias instead.

Let’s be serious, we live in a place where you can’t go 50 feet without tripping over a farm stand or farmers market and all those folks do it light years better then I do. And although just recently I stood at a farm stand and watched an employee empty plastic containers of Driscoll raspberries and blueberries into little green cardboard boxes, there are still a lot of good straightforward folk, with honest, homegrown produce out there. Besides, my raspberries were demolished by the deer that got into my garden just as their first crop was all ripening, so I have to buy Driscoll raspberries anyway. Oh and have I mentioned that my potatoes are all collapsing into liquid puddles of nastiness? And that there’s already way too much squash?

Now granted, there’s isn’t anything as good as picking, steaming and eating your own artichokes, and adventure I experienced for the first time this year thanks to local starts that come to flower faster than the traditional varieties being available. And my blackberry bush is just loaded with berries, so all is not lost, but I confess I’m not a bad veggie grower.

I think it’s the maintenance that’s required. I’m not a big weeder. I believe if there’s an empty hole you can fill it with a plant, or spread a little mulch, a theory that doesn’t really work when you’re trying to grow carrots. Ha, what carrots? I tried a fabulous new arugula called Wasabi from Renee’s Seeds that really tasted like the Japanese horseradish, but it bolted very early thanks to the ridiculous heat this spring. The thirty leaves we ate were amazing, but really? Thirty leaves? Not such a good return on my time and energy.

The one crop I excel at turns out to be garlic, which is good since my husband, the cook in this home, adores the bulb. I put in ten pounds of garlic and presently have hundreds of heads curing in the garage as we speak. And this year I planted a late blight resistant strain of yellow cherry tomatoes that are going gangbusters already. But the spinach was just okay, not fabulous, sort of tough and not so tasty, and why grow kale if you don’t really do a great job cooking it?

So I’m here to tell you it’s okay to NOT have a veggie garden. When I first started out gardening out here, just doing it on weekends, I started with a vegetable garden and after the first year said, “This is for the birds.” I dug it all up (except for the foxgloves that had reseeded – loved them) and turned the whole patch into a flower garden. This realization not only led to my being employed in the gardening trade now, years later, but it was also much more rewarding to cut armfuls of flowers to bring back to my loft in the city each Sunday then to drive back in with piles and piles of zucchini no one really wanted.

I tried an heirloom zucchini this year, but I don’t love it so now what do I do? Feed them to the chickens? They’re not that keen on them either. I love strawberries, but I know myself well enough to know I will never maintain a strawberry patch perfectly, and why should I when the farm stand on Wainscot Main Street has such excellent berries right when they’re truly ready. And did anyone else enjoy the incredible asparagus they had this spring? It put my poor little pathetic patch to shame. I already gave up on lettuce, as all I have to do is look at the stuff for it to bolt, and again there’s that daily weeding issue. Perhaps if I’d put down straw as mulch as I’d been told to do by Ashley at Marders (who has an organic farm stand on Butter Lane with the best lettuce) I would have stayed ahead of them, but that wasn’t the vision of a vegetable garden I had. Of course neither is my critter chewed, weed infested, bolting veggie patch.

Yes, nothing tastes as good as a freshly picked, warm from the sun, cherry tomato, but do you know how many tomatillo seedlings I have invading the place from last year? And can I tell you that although the eggplant are doing okay, I really only got a handful of beans and the edamame were also enjoyed in leaf form by the rabbits right at the same time that something ravenous caterpillar destroyed every single frond of dill. So I’m not going to beat myself up about it anymore. I’m a bad veggie gardener and that’s okay. And although I might be disappointing Alice Waters, I imagine if she saw the pathetic radishes I raised this year she’d forgive me for giving up. Especially if I handed her a huge bouquet of dahlias instead.

Paige Patterson chickens have laid a total of one egg so far this year, so she’s also failing as a livestock keeper.

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