So now I’m a gardener?
I’ve never been interested in gardening.
To me, gardening sounds a lot like work. Sure, you get some vegetables, but I can buy those fairly easily — at the store, the food co-op in Albany or one of the region’s many farmers markets. Whereas gardening takes real effort. The vegetables don’t just grow. You have to plant them. And water them!
Nevertheless, I can see the appeal of being able to walk outside, retrieve some vegetables from your garden and eat them for dinner. And I’m sure those vegetables taste better, because they’re fresh and you grew them yourself. But how much better do they taste? I bought some asparagus the other night, and it tasted pretty good sautéed with garlic and olive oil, despite being from New Jersey.
So I’m a bit of a gardening cynic, although let me clarify this a bit by saying that my cynicism mainly concerns my ability to maintain a garden. I’m perfectly fine with other people gardening, especially when they give me vegetables. I generally think growing your own food is a good thing because I generally support activities that allow people to avoid going to the store and spending money, and because I think it’s probably better, for both the earth and our bodies, to eat food that wasn’t transported to our dinner plates from 2,000 miles away.
Like many people, I’ve embraced some of the basic principles of the slow food movement, which promotes traditional and regional cuisine and encourages the farming of plants and seeds native to the local ecosystem. And I like to eat.
Perhaps this explains why my gardening cynicism began to melt away when my landlord mentioned that she was thinking of getting a community garden plot.
“It might be fun to have a garden,” I said.
Trust me, I’ve never said anything like this before in my life.
But I soon found myself agreeing to go in on a 600-square-foot community garden plot with my landlord anyway. I mean why not? I have friends who garden. My parents garden. And I don’t mind getting dirty.
My landlord and I are both novice gardeners, and I immediately tapped a good friend to serve as our gardening consultant. She was wildly enthusiastic about my new garden, as was her husband, and they both offered to help us, as did my friend Kim. I briefly wondered whether I could trick my friends into clearing out our overgrown plot while I went to the movies, or caught up on my magazine reading, or simply lazed about the house — a mentality, I suspect, similar to Tom Sawyer’s approach to painting a fence — but abandoned the idea. Now that I had a garden, I was reluctant to shirk my gardening duties.
However, I was willing to make full use of our gardening consultant. Last month, I brought the free seed packets we received through Capital District Community Gardens, the nonprofit organization that runs our community garden, to her, and she divided them into three piles: vegetables that could be planted right away (beans and peas), vegetables that could be planted after May 10 (zucchini and cucumbers) and vegetables that she would start for us in pots and we could transplant later (okra, tomatoes, lettuce). In addition, she gave us garlic and chives, and promises to have basil for us soon.
I was surprised to discover that I like working in the garden. When I initially surveyed our overgrown plot, I groaned. But once I got to work, attacking the various weeds with a rake and a shovel, I became engrossed in my task. I felt like I was accomplishing something and also like I was getting a decent workout. I seldom do manual labor, and I found working outside, as opposed to at a desk, a nice change of pace. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was learning as I worked.
Of course, my ignorance does make me a bit of a menace. At one point, I attacked a plant with gusto, thinking I’d discovered some sort of invasive weed, only to realize it was rhubarb. And I like rhubarb. “I could make a rhubarb pie this summer,” I announced, to my amazement, because I have never in my life expressed interest in making a rhubarb pie. But I really would like to make a rhubarb pie with fresh rhubarb from my garden, and so I stopped whacking the rhubarb plant, which seems likely to survive.
From what I can tell, our plot is in an underachieving community garden (Capital District Community Gardens manages 47 community gardens in Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties).
I’ve wandered by some of Albany’s other community gardens, and they all seem much further along than ours, where many of the plots remain uncleared. Which is fine with me, because my landlord and I look pretty good in a garden full of underachievers. In fact, we almost look like we know what we’re doing.
“Is it too early to plan our harvest feast?” my landlord asked, after we put down a wheelbarrow-full of compost.
We’ve added a third gardener — a friend who needs a place to grow his tomato plants because his yard is too shady.
“I don’t want to take up too much room,” he said.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “There’s plenty of space. We don’t know how we’re going to fill it all.”
Well, I’ve since learned that once you start planting, your garden starts to look a lot smaller.
“Wait until the plants start growing,” my mother said. “Then it will look even smaller.”
All I know is that I’m eager to see some vegetables emerge from the earth.
When that happens, I might start to feel like a real gardener.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.