The beds were here when we moved in. Four big rectangles set in a corner of the yard. We replaced sagging boards, shored up the sides, and amended the daylights out of the clay topsoil they were filled with. (We still occasionally have to take a pickax to particularly stubborn deposits.) The beds have grown everything from corn to catnip, eggplant to peppers, basil to zucchini. Every spring I look forward to planting them, and I say this not as a chlorophyll-addled health nut but as a lifelong vegetable hater. Yes, you heard me: I hate vegetables. On the other hand, I love anything deep fried, high in nitrites, or full of saturated fat. Preferably all three. As far as I’m concerned, the perfect food is bacon. Fried crisp, hot, and lots of it. Mmmm.
And yet I also love the raised beds. It’s primeval magic: plant a seed or shoot, water, watch grow and bear fruit. All in one season’s time, which also satisfies my need for instant gratification, and why I don’t plant asparagus, because it takes two years until harvest which is one year and nine months longer than my gardening attention span.
There have been lots of media stories in the past year about how more and more people are raising their own backyard vegetables. Which warms my vintage heart no end, because it’s like the victory gardens of WWII all over again. Only back then, it was the government urging Americans to get busy with shovels and seeds. Canned fruits and veggies were needed for the military, so the idea was to get citizens to raise and preserve their own food. It worked: during the course of the war, 20 million backyard gardens produced 8 million tons of food…almost half the fruits and vegetables consumed nationwide. Even city dwellers with no land of their own got in the act. Neighbors banded together, cleaned up vacant lots and planted their own community gardens. Grow More in `44!
I love the idea of the modern, grassroots-driven victory garden. Some people are getting into it to save money on groceries; some, because they’re inspired by the local/fresh/seasonal food movement. Here we have organizations like the Portland Fruit Tree Project, which helps people harvest fruit from their trees and also teaches them the arts of canning and preserving—skills that most of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers knew, and hardly any of us today do. (We once helped friends harvest apples from their half-dozen trees and make hard cider from them. Pressing, fermenting, and months of aging later, we held the ceremonial tasting. As hard cider, it was awful. But if you closed your eyes and pretended it was a strange, dry sort of Chardonnay—possibly from another planet—it almost worked. Hey, at least we tried).
So in the midst of all this newfangled victory gardening, what about the vegetable-haters, like me? Is it possible to turn us to the light side of the Force?
I’ll admit it: I have learned to adore a homegrown tomato. My favorites are the little yellow pear tomatoes, just picked, cute as buttons and still warm from the sun. And have you ever noticed how good a tomato plant smells? Like summer itself: green and fresh and delicious. And artichokes! Have I mentioned artichokes? Yummy in their own right but really—simply to do them justice, you understand—much better eaten with loads of melted butter. Mmmmm.
Baby steps. That's all I'm sayin'.
And what about you? Anything you're planning to plant this spring?