Sweet, Sweet Summertime

We ate our first garden-raised tomato ten days ago.  I’m not kidding.  It came from Stephanie’s garden.  We also ate our first strawberries of the year, also from Stephanie’s garden.  Radishes are the only thing we’ve eaten so far from my garden.

It’s not a competition.  Our gardening styles are different, and some of the things we grow are different.  She’s not growing radishes; I am.  We’re both growing tomatoes, but even though we bought some similar plants, not all of the plants were from the same flat.  When you have a mixed marriage like ours (everything’s different – politics, rural v. urban, age, etc.) you have to accept the other’s idiosyncrasies and choices.   

Stephanie bought an Early Girl plant with a tomato about the size of a golf ball on it.  I have purchased plants with blossoms showing, but never with an actual fruit on it.  I’m always cautious.  That one fruit can damn the whole plant, in my nonfactual opinion.   However, this one particular tomato turned out perfect.  As a matter-of-fact, we have eaten the second tomato off that plant and have another sitting on the window sill waiting to ripen.  Ripe tomatoes in June is a rarity.  I guess she showed me.  That’s all right.  My garden will produce bushels of produce once it gets going.  I learned patience from a prayer I made up.  “God, grant me patience, and grant it to me NOW!”

Our garden plots are in different locations.  Stephanie’s garden is in Pleasant Hill (a house we own jointly with her eldest); my garden is in Des Moines.  Because we live close to the Des Moines River, you would think the soil would be black river bottom dirt.  No, it isn’t.  Two inches deep and you run into clay.  Less than a mile from the Des Moines home is a former brick factory, which explains why we have so much clay.  The soil at Pleasant Hill is much better. 

Both gardens are threatened by the usual pests.  I get more deer.  These guys will eat right through the deer repellant.  I have even used hot sauce without having any sort of effect.  The deer in this area must be from a country in which the cuisine is known to be hot.  We do provide water.  Since the back yard here is a “Certified Wildlife Habitat” by the National Wildlife Federation, founded by Iowa’s Pulitzer Prize Cartoonist Ding Darling, we’re going to get critters.  We expect them, and we get them.  It’s not good for the lettuce, cup plants, or lilies, but they don’t seem to bother the radishes or onions, or especially the hemlock plants that grow wild.

Yesterday, I made strawberry salsa for the first time.  I have made tomato salsa and peach salsa, but this strawberry salsa has a separate taste of its own (I leave out cilantro).  It has inspired me to make as many salsas as I can.  Not to sound like Bubba on Jenny (Forest Gump’s shrimp boat), but you can make salsa out of just about anything: cherry salsa; corn salsa; beet salsa; apple salsa; and orange salsa.  Don’t try to make cabbage salsa; but I suppose you could.

I began gardening when I was a young boy.  My garden was one of the best in town, especially because Mom told me she didn’t want weeds.  If it was going to go to weeds, she would plant grass back in the garden plot.  That was enough of an incentive to keep everything that looked like a weed from growing within six inches of the garden.  I was so excited when Howdy Lindberg came up the alley with his little Ford tractor with a plow on the back and plowed up a 15’ x 30’ section of the yard.  Mom wasn’t home.  I’m the one who told Howdy how much land needed to be tilled.  I guess it was too much – at first!  End results were enough to keep it up for years.  My brother Joe took over after I couldn’t take care of it anymore (got a real job during the summer and after school).

That first year I grew radishes, onions, carrots, peas (which didn’t pan out), tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and Zinnias.  Mom said I couldn’t grow corn because it would bring rats to the yard.  I believed her.  No green beans!  I like them now, but despised them as an adolescent.

I was also delivering the Omaha World-Herald evening newspaper about that time.  One of the first customers on my route was the Vail Independent Telephone Company.  I had to walk up about 20 stairs to get to the lobby of the office.  In the lobby there was a door with the top half open and the bottom half closed so that people could pay their telephone bill without mailing it.  It was also where I left the newspaper.

If the switchboard wasn’t too busy, one of the nice ladies would chat with me, unless it was Louise.  Louise, the owner, didn’t chat with anyone.  But Stacia Robinson, Bonita Gallagher, and Marg Adams, the other operators, were charming.

Marg knew I had a garden and often asked how things were growing.  “Pretty good,” I would say.  “Got my first cucumber today.”  “No, Marty,” Marg responded.  “You cannot have a cucumber in June.”  The next day, I brought her a cucumber out of my garden.  If she were still alive, she might still be skeptical.  And I started the cucumbers by seed. 

It may have been one of my sisters (CFR) who told me she couldn’t grow cucumbers because they didn’t have a hill.  Maybe it was someone else who told me that.  I’m not sure.  I shouldn’t pick on my older sister like that.  I hope I don’t have to explain this. 

Growing fruits and vegetables is one of my favorite pastimes.  Actually, it can be a lot of work.  But what other job gives you so much pride and happiness, and something to eat!  The end result is always rewarding. The sad part of gardening today is that climate change may have us rotating our crops to cacti next year.

My garden is growing in raised boxes.  Stephanie’s garden is fenced in to protect it from the bunny living under the deck.  Harvesting veggies is a process in which whatever you’re craving is just about ready.  Whether it comes from Stephanie’s garden or my garden, we enjoy it thoroughly.   

We don’t compete; we eat!

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