Sunday, August 12, 2007

Martha Stewart has a staff, right?

For me, every spring, the Muse of the Green Thumb emerges. It beckons me with the scent of eager soil and fresh foliage, the touch of nurturing sunshine and gentle showers.

"Plant!" it calls. "Plant!"

So I plant.

I turn the earth and add compost that's been brewing all winter. I make artistically staggered seed rows of snap peas and collard greens and rainbow Swiss chard. I scatter mesclun and parsley and mixed looseleaf lettuce in bins. I tuck seedlings of basil and dill, rosemary and oregano, tarragon and chive into the herb garden. I plant tomatoes, regular and cherry and heirloom, and bell peppers of exotic hues. I make mounds of cucumbers and zucchini, crookneck squash and Crenshaw melons. And I always add a touch of whimsy, whether it's gigantic sunflowers or purple string beans or edible nasturtiums.

When the planting's done, I slump back in my lawn chair with a satisfied sigh. This will be great, I think.

I start watering every day. New plants need lots of water.

The second week, I have to skip a day of watering, because I have a booksigning, and there just isn't time to do it before I rush off. But I'm sure the plants will be fine. Then it's two days. Then it's three.

The third week, snails have bitten off some of the seedlings. I make a note to get some of that environmentally-friendly snail killer. Since I'm on deadline, I can't go to the garden store right now.

The fourth week, the garden is overrun with weeds. Hmm. At least it's harder for the snails to make their way to the seedlings. And since I'm only remembering to water twice a week now, the weeds won't be growing too fast, right?

By the fifth week, half of my plants have disappeared. I find a day between edits to pull weeds, buy replacement plants and Sluggo, and water everything deeply for the upcoming L.A. summer heat.

By mid-summer, it's taking a good hour and a half a day to water and weed, mulch and organically keep the pests at bay. Which is why I'm only doing it when I can squeeze it in, say, once every two weeks.

Then I go on vacation...

Okay, I suppose teenagers can't be blamed if watering isn't their first priority when Mom and Dad go away for a week.

Somehow, I manage to whip the crunchy garden back into shape. Yes, my ripe peaches are the size of walnuts, my ivy has become a commune for snails, and my snap peas, though perfect, are hanging from crispy stems. But it's all fixable, and soon the harvest is coming in with a vengeance.

Crookneck squash! Collard greens! Zucchini!

Why in the heck did I plant those? I hate squash. And collard greens are bitter. The kids sure aren't going to eat them. The purple beans are a fun novelty, but they turn green when you cook them. Hmph.

I have two beautiful chocolate brown bell peppers that I've spent $57 watering. The melon vines are gorgeous and healthy–there just aren't any melons on them. And the herbs and lettuce are going to seed faster than I can harvest.

There's an enormous fig tree in my back yard. Figs ripen twice a year, in June and August. I like figs...once in a while. I don't like fig jam or fig cake or figgy pudding. And I really don't like figs on the soles of my shoes. One year I passed out bags of figs to all my neighbors, telling them to come by if they wanted more. No one replied. This year, I'm trying a barbecue sauce with a fig base. If it works, I know what my relatives will be getting for Christmas next year.

By the end of the summer, my fingernails will have dirt tattoos, I'll be sporting a shirt-sleeve tan, and I'll have harvested vegetables I could have bought at the farmer's market for about twenty bucks. What was I thinking? Next year, I'll vow, no squash, no greens, no melons. Maybe tomatoes, since they're easy to grow and we actually eat them. Tomatoes or cactus. I wonder if any weeds are edible.

That's what I tell myself every year. Then spring rolls around. I forget the bitter winter woman with the practical voice, and that April Muse comes by to whisper in my ear again.

"Plant! Plant!"

And I plant.

(I'm wading in figs. Anyone have any good recipes?)

Sarah McKerrigan...
Stories to keep you up all night!
LADY DANGER - Riding to the rescue April 2006
CAPTIVE HEART - Coming for you October 2006
KNIGHT'S PRIZE - Stealing your heart April 2007


Kelley St. John said...

Too funny, Sarah! Personally I LOVE squash (figs too, for that matter). But I take the easy way out and buy them at the local trade day.


Diana Holquist said...


I SO don't have this problem. My daughter is into gardening, and she's freaking out that a groundhog ate all her cabbages. I say, go groundhog! I was terrified about what the heck I was going to do with all those damn cabbages. Yuck!
I took her (my daughter, not the groundhog) out for ice cream, and all was well.

Anyone have any good groundhog recipes...?


Shari Anton said...

No fig recipes. No groundhog recipes. And I'm happy with that! My 'growing all things healthy and need to be watered, weeded, and then Do Something With the Harvest' days are long gone. I gave away all the canning jars and freezer containers. My one nod to gardening is now a strawberry jar that contains a few herbs. Good luck with the figs, Sarah!!