Saturday July 27, 2013

DALTON

One of the tunes from the timeless musical, "The Fantasticks" compares raising children to growing vegetables. "Plant a radish, get a radish, not a Brussels sprout; that’s why I love vegetables, you know what you’re about." While I’m not sure that gardening is always simpler than child-rearing, I am sure that I love vegetables.

This week I especially love tomatoes. I have already harvested three gorgeous red orbs, with the prospect of many more to come. When I picked the first one, a tennis ball-sized fruit, I put it on the windowsill so I could just admire it for a day before I sliced it up and put in on a sandwich along with just-picked leaf lettuce. Joy! Rapture! I never want to eat a store-bought tomato again.

The sugar snap peas were also a great success this year. Planting the seeds in late March is the beginning of the outdoor growing season. It is a sign of hope to place those shriveled gray peas in the cold, damp earth, and in March we need all the hope we can get. Watching the seeds sprout is like waiting for Christmas morning. Once those brave little seedlings develop tendrils, they begin their march up the fence and they are unstoppable.

Pea blossoms are small and unassuming in shades of pink of white -- depending on the variety -- but no bloom is more admired. Keep your fancy, over-priced orchids; I’ll take a bouquet of pea-potential anytime! Yes, those unobtrusive flowers will soon give way to tiny green pods of deliciousness.

I always eat a few pods while I’m picking them; they are crunchy and sweet. We use them in salads and stir-fry mostly. If we had a glut, I suppose we would freeze some; but we love those first greens of the season so much, we gobble them all up.

As mentioned above, the leaf lettuces are also lovely this year. They are so much more delicate and flavorful than store-bought lettuce. I try to keep some going all through the season by sowing later crops on the shady side of the garden. I also keep some in a large flower pot, which I can move into the shade when the need arises.

I’ve always had a garden, so I don’t know what life is like without one; but in these days of complicated food streams, I am happy to have some "safe" food to eat that is steps from my door. I don’t pretend to understand all the issues of pesticides and genetically modified organisms; but I know there are no pesticides on my crops. Bad bugs get picked off and drowned in soapy water, or squished between my fingers. I’ve even used mini-seashell fences to keep the slugs at bay. Part of the fun of gardening is triumphing over evil pests. I guess I should wear my superhero cape when I work in the garden. Wouldn’t that turn heads? I look silly enough with my mismatched gloves, oversize man’s shirt, and sweat-stained garden hat.

Growing food, even a small portion of it, makes me feel connected in a most elemental way to the progression of gardeners and farmers who came before me. I sense that I have joined a line of planters and harvesters stretching back to Ireland and Eastern Europe and to wherever that first garden was begun. Especially when my sons were little, I wanted them to know were food came from. I wanted them to respect the earth and the people who worked the soil. The fact that they each have gardens of their own makes me very pleased. I think I’ll eat another tomato to celebrate.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.