One of my earliest memories is being in the garden with my family, sneaking ripe tomatoes off the vine and into my mouth before my Nanny could see. Nanny and Pawpaw always planted a huge garden, and I can remember watching them go through the huge process every single year. Planting, Harvesting, Canning, Eating. Summertime was great in our house. Sometimes our meals were made of things completely pulled from the garden that same day. Sweet slices of tomato, bright green onions, and chewy new potatoes cooked with fresh green beans. What a feast!
I’ve lost both my Nanny and Pawpaw over the past five years, but their lessons have stuck with me. We hung on to their house in northwest Tennessee for a bit, but in the end the family decided to sale it this spring. The good news is that while the garden may not be there anymore, I’ve kept the traditions alive and well in my own life. Andrew and I made plans in early summer for a “small” garden. In his mind I’m sure he was thinking about a couple of tomato plants and a pepper or two, but I sometimes tend to go overboard without realizing it (okay, sometimes I know good and well what I’m getting myself into, and I still take the plunge!).
A small garden, right?
I’ll be honest: we’re not pros, but we’re learning! Everything has been planted without a tiller this year, and that was a lot harder (and more expensive) than we’d originally thought it would be. I can remember Pawpaw walking behind a huge red Troy-built in the hot sun throughout the summer, lifting the heavy machine up and turning it around at the end of each carefully placed row. Since this is our first year of planting a garden of our own, we weren’t ready to make such a big investment, and we didn’t bother renting one as the transport back and forth was a bit of an issue. Instead, we dug holes for the individual plants, and supplemented the existing dirt with garden soil and compost. Then we added a layer of landscaping fabric and wheat straw to hopefully stifle the grass within the garden bounds. We did the same sort of process for the rows of vegetables we planted from seed, although this did require us to come back once the plants had sprouted with an additional layer of newspaper and wheat straw to keep the grass from taking over. It was determined, but so were we!
So far we’ve had a plethora of zucchini, and more cherry tomatoes than we know what to do with (spoiler alert: I made a tomato pie). The big tomatoes are green and healthy looking on most of our plants and the ones we started from seed are looking the healthiest – we call them our “tomato babies”. I picked our first “mess” of green beans the other night, and found 3 medium cucumbers hiding when I was staking up the vines yesterday. I had just been complaining that I was ready to make some pickles! The corn is short, but there are ears growing, and the okra has little fruit that looks promising. Our watermelon have exploded, and if all the little melons make it to adulthood, we’ll have plenty of sweet treats to last us.
It’s been such a fun adventure! No, everything isn’t growing – the planters full of lettuce, rhubarb, beets and chard hardly sprouted and I replanted the bins with flowers and squash last week. The crooked-neck squash stay small with really hard outer skin, which the internet says means they’ve cross-pollinated with the patty pans, so they’re pretty close to inedible. BUT – the butterfly garden has grown into a butterfly forest, and we love sitting on the porch and watching things grow. I love waking up early and wandering out to the garden with cup of coffee in hand checking out what’s grown overnight while Wally chases rabbits. It’s comforting and makes me feel like I’m back in my grandparents’ backyard.
I think they’d be happy if they saw how far I’ve come in the past five years. Things aren’t perfect, but I’m a long way from where I’ve been. And just like our garden, as the days, months, and years go by, I’ll keep growing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some pickles to make.