life in bedlam
When we bought our house in 2001, we admired the apple tree in our new backyard. We imagined apple pies, apple sauce, apple butter! In the end, though, that old tree did little more than attract bees to its inferior fruit that seemed to always fall to the ground before ripening.
Oh, it did do one more thing — it cast shade over most of the rest of the yard. So, on a spring evening in 2009, when I arrived home from work to find half of it gently resting on our neighbor’s (unharmed) roof after a storm, I gave thanks to Thor, called the tree removal company, and began plotting out my very first vegetable garden.
Of course, I had no experience with vegetable gardening. And judging by the horrendous mess we made of the previous owner’s very tidy and precious flower- herb-historically-appropriate-to-the-circa-1860s-house garden beds, there was no reason to believe I would have any success. But Michelle Obama was planting a garden at the White House! A victory garden! I was inspired!
I decided to start humbly. One bed, about 4 x 6 feet. Tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, lettuce, zucchini — all from well-established plants purchased at a conventional garden center. A few carrot seeds thrown in for good measure so Miles could help out.
I learned so much that year. I learned nothing tasted better than my own veggies. I learned that I’m GOOD at veggie gardening, so I didn’t care anymore that I couldn’t keep a manicured landscape looking just so. But perhaps the greatest gardening lesson I learned was that I needed more space!
So, the following year, I added another, smaller bed. And another exciting development took place when we were lucky enough to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll event.
The First Lady’s garden hadn’t yet been planted that spring, but Miles brought home a cup with a bean that he planted at one of the activity tables on the South Lawn:
Despite Miles’s best efforts to resist Michelle Obama’s nanny state diabolical Let’s Move effort to get kids to eat healthier and understand where their food comes from, he succumbed. (just kidding, people, we are big fans of POTUS and FLOTUS in this house!) He started snapping beans right off the vine and popping them in his mouth. Even Eli, who really, let’s face it, hates vegetables, wanted to get in on the act and pull carrots.
Is there anything cooler than growing and eating your own food? I felt like a rock star. I felt like Laura Ingalls. My G-d, I grew POTATOES! Okay, those were all the potatoes I got, admittedly, and I have not planted them again. But they were creamy and magnificent.
The next spring, guess what? We got to go to the White House Easter Egg Roll, again! This time, the First Lady’s garden was already fully installed and I was overcome with awe. Isn’t it gorgeous?
This year, we didn’t go to the White House, but I undertook the biggest expansion of my vegetable garden yet. Despite ridiculous amounts of rain, low finances, a bout of upper respiratory infection that required antibiotics, and general after-work entropy, I more than quadrupled the original footprint of the space where I started gardening in 2009. I ripped out the old makeshift beds and started from scratch.
My kids helped me build the new raised beds from kits. My husband hauled organic compost from the Rodale Institute with me, built brick paths between the beds (we repurposed these from elsewhere in the yard), and helped me fill the beds with the compost, peat moss and vermiculite that has worked so well for me the past three years. Then, seeing that we hadn’t procured enough compost on our tight budget, he headed off to the Bethlehem Municipal Compost Center and filled the car twice with the free stuff. He’s a keeper! (And he loves my tomatoes)
We were filthy, sweaty and exhausted every day of the Memorial Day holiday, but our garden was finished, complete with a chicken wire fence and a new name.
Now that the garden is in, it’s the only place I want to be. I came home at lunch yesterday, just so I could see if my arugula had sprouted yet (it had!).
I wanted to share my passion for growing my own food with you as my first 90/90 post, because, as the Punk Rock Gardener herself, Laura Mathews, said recently, “Gardening food is a revolutionary act.” Like Laura, I use no petro-chemicals or pesticides, and I now purchase my plants directly from organic farmers and find my seeds from heirloom and non-GMO sources as well.
And I’m not alone. An increasing number of my friends are posting veggie garden porn right along with me on Facebook. We all thrill over each other’s pictures of ripening cucumbers and dazzling rainbow chard. None of us has a huge backyard. Most of us have jobs outside of raising our families. But we’re all concerned about the quality of the food our families eat. So we’re doing what we Gen Xers seems to do best when faced with an overwhelming problem like the domination of Big Agriculture – we’re breaking it down into little chunks of personal responsibility and doing it our own way.
So, while I promise not to bore you too much with the daily developments of my garden, it will be a feature of my 90 days of posts. By the end of these three months, I hope this feast of words and images will have inspired a few more folks to get down and dirty in their own yards.