Garden of dreams

By
From the October 2010 edition

Everyone I know will be getting tomato sauce for Christmas. Thanksgiving will be a spaghetti dinner, and I will be giving out canned tomatoes for Halloween.

I have my first garden this year and, suffice to say, I over-tomatoed.

All I knew about growing things before this year was that I wasn’t very good at it. I love gerbera daisies and have killed half a dozen of them, loving them to death. I’ve killed houseplants so routinely you’d think I was an aphid.

A friend once gave me a potted bamboo plant as a housewarming gift. I managed to keep it alive for a couple of years, then eventually caused its end, too. Do you know how hard it is to kill bamboo? I do. Bamboo is supposed to be as easy to care for as a pet rock. I think I could kill a rock.

I killed a Chia Pet once, a tiny clay head that was supposed to grow green “hair,” but in my care ended up with plant pattern baldness.

To sum up: I do not have a green thumb.

But this year, I have a garden. When I recently moved into my new place, I inherited a 6-by-16-foot raised bed that gets pretty decent sun. I felt challenged to try again, and growing things I could eat was a good motivator. Flowers are pretty, but you can’t put cheese on them.

So, optimistically, I planted, hoping to kill only half of what I stuck in the ground.

My plan went awry.

Everything in my garden is stubbornly alive. And thriving.

I did everything wrong. I stalled on staking my tomatoes and they got flattened in torrential thunderstorms that also washed out half of the bed dirt; I barely weeded or pruned; I neglected to feed them and only remembered to water after they started to look limp; I planted the tomatoes so close they’ve turned into a thicket; I even forgot rows so I can’t reach the ones in the middle.

Each of my tomato plants is bearing fruit and lots of it. If they yield what I read they could, I’m looking at more than 600 pounds of tomatoes by the end of summer. This presents a ridiculous problem since I don’t have 12 children and all of my friends stubbornly insisted on also growing tomatoes.

I am tackling my surplus with sauce because I also planted basil, oregano and thyme. (I did manage to kill a cilantro plant, so my record of underachievement remains partially intact.) By the end of June, I’d already harvested enough basil for two batches of pesto to keep me in garlic breath for months.

I know that making tomato sauce requires many steps, but I’m more confident in the kitchen than I am outside of it and have successfully sauced before. Next, I will be forced to branch out into canning; buying a deep freezer just to save my sauce seems a little silly.

And then there’s the salsa. With cayenne and jalapeño peppers, I have spicy options. (The one area I showed wisdom in planting was growing only one of each piquant plant; I know that a little bit goes a long way.)

I’m not sure I’ll ever eat my spazzy-looking lettuce, but it’s the sole thing I grew from seed, so I’m proud of its attempts at leafiness.

And the bell peppers should go well in a stir-fry or two.

I am a little concerned, though, about what to do with my aggressive cucumber plant, growing like Audrey II, the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors.

Perhaps I will give out Christmas pickles.