Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Victory Garden Redux

Spring. Still cold, gloomy and raining (this is the Pacific Northwest) but at our house, spring means that sometime between the fading of daffodils and the blooming of tulips, the raised beds are gonna get planted.

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?


Melissa Amateis said...

Wish I could plant a garden, but the only thing I could do would be a little "pot" garden since I'm in an apartment now. Last year we had tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers and I loved making the traditional Italian salad with those three veggies (plus vinegar and oil).

Christine Fletcher said...

Mmm, Italian salad--one of my faves. We haven't had much luck growing green peppers--our growing season is a little too short, and our dog likes to pick them and eat them before they're ripe. But we'll try again this year.

Cherry tomatoes are supposed to grow nicely in containers. Worth a try, maybe? :)

Laini Taylor said...

Oh, we really should FINALLY plant a veg garden!! We have the perfect sunny [sadly neglected] backyard for it, but we're so LAZY. And I am a gardener's daughter, no less. We spend such a ridiculous amount of money on fruit and veg, and farmer's markets are SO expensive, we really really should . . . Maybe I'll attempt it. Or maybe this isn't quite the right year for it, with other things going on. Ehh. Still should! My mom would come over and help . . .

By the way, seeing the movie Watchmen, every time I saw Carla Gugino's victory rolls I thought of you :-)

Christine Fletcher said...

Laini, our big mistake when starting out was planting too much. And then we couldn't keep up. Try starting small--maybe just one veggie that you love. Tomatoes are my fave because they're easy, very rewarding, and so versatile in the kitchen. Plus, if you have extra, everyone loves getting homegrown tomatoes (unlike zucchini! Really, how much zucchini bread can people eat?) ;)

Lisa Nowak said...

I generally only grow a few tomato plants because my immense garden is stuffed full of perennials. Another problem is that when the veggies are ready for harvest I'm not always ready to cook them. So much easier to get stuff from the store right when you want it. I love those tomatoes, though, and it's easy enough to freeze the extras to make into soups and sauces during the winter. I hope we have a good tomato season this year. The last two summers the heat sort of fizzled out in August and most of the people I know had a lousy tomato crop.

Christine Fletcher said...

Lisa, we had the same experience with our tomatoes the past 2 years. The plants grew TONS of fruit and then just...stopped. Hardly any ripened--what a disappointment. Oddly glad to hear it wasn't just us. Let's hope for a better season this summer!

Sally Nemeth said...

Well, you know us down here in sunny So Cal - veggie gardening year 'round. Just put the collard greens to bed after they bolted, the sweet peas are climbing, the winter tomatoes coming ripe and the hot chilis and squash almost ready to go in the ground.
By the way - after many (yours truly included) signed a petition, there will be a White House Victory garden. How cool is that?

Christine Fletcher said...

Winter tomatoes! If it wouldn't be such an awful pun, I'd say I was green with envy. Oh, you So Cals.

And yes, I saw the pics of Michelle O. breaking ground on the new WH garden. Fabulous! During WWII, Eleanor Roosevelt put in the original WH victory garden--over the objections of some who thought it wasn't "proper" use of WH grounds. Good old Eleanor steamrolled right over 'em.