Monday April 30, 2012

RICHMOND

The garden is so great right now. It has no weeds. It also has no plants, except for the beautiful little lettuces we bought at Country Caretaker in Canaan, N.Y., and the zillion onion plants the other half of this family ordered from a catalog, even though he had only a vague intention of bending in half for an hour or more to plant them.

It was cold and a little rainy when the lettuces were planted, but they don't mind, and as soon as they're ready, we'll stop eating the living room lettuce. Yeah, we did that indoor thing again, and it's worked unbelievably. The drab little plugs were inserted in their spaces, covered with a plastic dome. The machine was filled with water and plugged in.

Some kind of brown nutritional slime was squeezed out of a plastic sleeve, while the pessimists shook their heads, and the optimists smiled. And lo! In just a few days, five kinds of lettuce sprouted and the little domes were removed to give them space to climb toward the light.

It's an expensive gadget in terms of initial cost and the pricey seed pods. But the machine was a gift and not a campaign contribution, so we don't count that. And we've eaten so many salads from that thing this year that we've more than made up for the seed outlay. It was a very successful year for living room harvesting. The directions say to cut only a third of the growth every few days, but our lettuce was leaping upward as soon as we had washed and spun a sizable batch, so we scissored away.

A friend kept the crop going while we were gone for a month, so all is still green, happy and growing, so well that we're going to feel a little bit bad about tearing it all down and graduating to the garden.

But outdoor lettuce tastes even better. We put in plants so we'll have it sooner, and we plant seeds so it will come at proper intervals all summer and into September, if Mother Nature plays nicely. (That's been a very iffy factor lately. She'd have been banned from most normal playgrounds at least a year ago.)

n

In the meantime, the other resident says the potatoes require six-inch holes, and he cut them up so my purchase of 10 seed potatoes will now require 20 holes. It's a distinct possibility that some of them will get lost in the weeds beyond the garden at around the dozen holes mark.

Excavations are tough in that clayey soil.

After the digging there's the hilling -- hoeing or raking a ton of dirt around the plants -- a job to hand off if a handy victim shows up.

After that, potatoes are a dream, pretty when they bloom and a treasure hunt when it's time to dig them out. With the hope that one has turned into at least three, there's great glee when a hill produces four or five or six of eligible size. People around here even consider digging potatoes a sport, but only because it's a short row.

But despite the temptations of space and the joy of watching plants grow and produce, we try to stay out of the wholesale range. The rule, actually, shouldn't be so much "plant what you can eat" as "plant what you can weed." So the onions will be a trial, and the carrot row short.

Neither thrives on the attitude of neglect that may dominate a torrid July day.

Still, we want green beans that haven't wilted and the sweet wax beans that my mother thought were far nicer than the green. We need enough beets for at least one batch of borscht and, to update those who have followed the tomato saga for some years, we need less than 25 tomato plants.

Lots less.

Ruth Bass, a former Eagle Sunday editor, lives in Richmond.