Friday, July 11, 2008


Originally uploaded by 3Birds
I don't know if I'll ever get over my amazement when vegetables grow in my garden. Herbs and flowers delight me, but I take them more or less for granted; I expect my patch of thyme and lavender to spread a little more each year and to attract all manner of buzzing, flying things with their fragrance. I know that the few tiny little basil seedlings I pot out in May will season my pasta throughout the summer and well into the fall. I know that the rosemary will come back each year, along with the sage, marjoram, and oregano, and that my scented geraniums will have a growth spurt as soon as the weather is mild enough for them to go back outside. I know that my flower garden, a riotous mix of native perennials, old-fashioned cottage garden flowers, and sundry urban 'weeds' will bloom and fade all season long. I'm glad and grateful for all this, but I experience it as a nice but normal part of the annual cycle.

My vegetables are quite another story. My backyard faces north and is shaded on the east by my neighbor's tall evergreens. A tiny corner on the far end of the yard, effectively the southern exposure of our gardening shed, is the only place I can grow vegetables out back. The space is about 3 ft by 8 ft, and gets the morning sun by 11am, which isn't ideal, but it seems to work. Even if I had an ideal space, I think I'd still be amazed at how incredibly quickly a tiny seedling turns into a great sprawling cucumber, squash, or tomato plant. And the cucumbers and squash! One day bright yellow or orange flowers bloom and then fade. The next day, a tiny green knob begins to swell just behind the spent bloom. By the 4th or 5th day, I note with surprise that the cucumber or zucchini is nearly ready to eat. After this, I try to check each day because a zucchini can assume mammoth proportions faster than you'd think, and cucumbers are nearly as bad/good. And then, the really amazing thing happens: more flowers bloom and fade, more little green knobs begin to swell, and before you know it, you've got yourself a veritable crop!

Two days ago, the children played outside while I tidied the porch and garden. We harvested a couple of zucchini for our lunch. I sliced and sauteed the zucchini in olive oil while the children snipped some marjoram for seasoning. We tossed the zucchini and marjoram over some pasta, squirted a little lemon juice over it all, and devoured it while watching the catbirds fight over the birdbath. We cleaned up the lunch dishes, then sat on the front porch to watch a quick thunderstorm. The baby napped in my arms while Wren read to us from the hobbit. The children played all the rest of the afternoon while I tidied the house and worked on some knitting. Robin ran in to tell me that the cucumbers were huge, so we harvested them and made Mark Bittman's "Quick Pickled Vegetables" with them to go with our supper. After supper, the children caught lightening bugs and we all took a quick walk before settling in for the baths, books, and bed. This was a day to hold onto, to be grateful for, and to remember when I'm tired, frustrated, stressed, angry, or depressed.

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