FOOD: Veggie Gardens

It was my first real foray into vegetable gardening at home this summer. Hopes were high, seed packets were cheap and spring temperatures were mild. I liked where this was going. Besides, it was just dirt and seeds, how hard could it be? After all, my husband and I had successfully landscaped our three homes and transformed each barren suburban lot into our own little outdoor escape. We’d built patios together, attracted songbirds with just the right feeders and grown tomato plants and little lemon trees. It seemed a natural transition to now try our hand at serious vegetable gardening.

Laura's home gardenEnrapt with the organic food movement and the thrill of self-sustainability, we built two 4’x8’ plots of foodie paradise. Granted, I didn’t hammer together the wood, haul in the dirt or dig the holes, but I did help choose the seeds and put on my pretty pink garden gloves, pull weeds, move rocks and plant flowers in a nearby garden. I also provided constant servings of ice water and snacks as we toiled, so technically, I helped.

Beets, okra, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes and green onions—the lineup read like a favorite summer dinner. It was such an empowering moment when we plopped those little seeds and plants into our carefully crafted garden. Like a farmer who knows something about working the land could feed a family for months, I was overcome with visions of never having to push a grocery cart around a frigid grocery store again. My fabulous little earthen plot of nourishment seemed invincible. And then the rain came, and came.

Finally, after the rain subsided, the sun shone and my tender green plants were able to lift their weary stalks out of their muddy abode. Every sun-drenched day brought hope and growth. Like eager kids waiting for a science experiment to come to fruition, we paced about the garden beds each evening searching for abundance, for dinner ingredients.

At long last, my first tomatoes ripened and there was a yellow squash ready for picking. Success! Nothing can compare to a home-grown tomato with low-fat cottage cheese topped with a sprinkle of green onions, alongside a serving of fresh, pan-fried squash. I thought we’d turned the corner, mastered veggie gardening and were on our way to a healthy new diet and lifestyle. A couple of hours later, I was dipping Fritos in ranch dip like it was my last supper. My healthy new lifestyle had taken a serious hit.

VegetablesGrateful for each handful of okra we pick, even though it takes a week to gather enough for one night’s serving, we continue to hope for a harvest. The cucumbers are small but delicious. The beets still look like crusty, swollen acorns, but I will pick and eat one before the season ends, just because I must.

I’ve consoled myself with the excuse that it has been an unseasonably wet and mild summer. Maybe veggies don’t like that. But a co-worker has repeatedly brought in surplus tomatoes from her garden because she can’t eat them all. Jealous, but unashamed, I snatch one up every time I can.

On a recent trip to my mom’s house in Tulsa, we toured her veggie gardens. I stood aghast in front of massive, flourishing asparagus plants and picked one so perfect that I ate it right off the plant and took home a yellow squash so big it was an entire meal. Guess I can’t blame the rain forever.

My little garden still yields modest pickings but as the season wanes, so do my hopes of a harvest. I’m giving in and going to the grocery store. Besides, I’m out of bath soap and butter. No garden is going to resolve that. And fall is coming. It will be chili season soon. Football games and crock pot soups will be my comfort. I’ll have all winter to Google and research and dream of next spring’s brilliant crop. In the meantime, Fritos and ranch dip are abundant enough.

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