Sometimes, it crosses my mind that I’m not supposed to be a vegetable gardener.
I’ve been renewing my allotment contract with the city since 2008. In the very first year, I was so excited. I hadn’t thought that I would ever have a garden in the city. There were eight brand new lots that the city marked and tilled, and I couldn’t wait to set up my rows and start planting. Then, I met my neighbour to the left of me. She was a complete newbie to vegetable gardening, and had spent all winter reading up on all the exciting ways to grow your own food naturally. There were carrots planted in a neat triangle, and squash that was attempting to trellis. Lots of artfully planted flowers. If, by chance, she said, that her cucumbers vined their way onto my lot, I was welcome to pick and eat. She talked to me constantly; about her teenagers that didn’t understand her new-found passion, her hundred-and-one ailments, her lack of income, and her need for everything organic.
The gentleman to the right of me planted potatoes. And said hello.
There was a lot of fighting that year. The lady beside the potato planting gentleman got mad because his potato went onto her lot. She called the police. Everyone else was mad at the newbie gardener for using coyote urine to deter the bunnies.
The next year, the city turned the eight lots into four, declaring that it had been a mistake to make the lots so small. The newbie gardener never came back, and the police calling lady didn’t, either. It was me, the potato man, and two other happy gardeners. Since then, Mr. Jean the potato farmer has been my right hand neighbour. The ditch is on my left. He has been witness to all my gardening exploits. The tomatoes that outgrew their cages and fell over. The snap peas that I never got around to trellising, the corn that stunted from lack of water, the flea beetle infestation on the kale, and the potatoes that I planted so, so deep. The wet, the dry. The ongoing saga of the weeds he witnessed year after year. And year after year, I apologized for the mess, as he offered to mow the quack grass on my three sides, and hoe the side that bordered his.
Last summer was particularly difficult. I had no time. None. It had been a frantic planting. I cringed at the weeds that reached my knees. Whenever I would see Mr. Jean at the garden, I would joke about how the weeds were a decoy so the bunnies and deer couldn’t find the food, and then I would apologize. I was so embarrassed and overwhelmed.
In spite of all this, I love gardening. I plant and I dig in the dirt, I weed and I am so happy. I give all those little sprouts care, and they reward me with gorgeous growth and produce. This summer, I have time to tend it properly, and I am in heaven. Two hours goes by like ten minutes. And this summer, I am not apologizing. Because something unexpected happened this year. (Something that makes me think the gardening gods are laughing at me behind my back.)
Early in the season, I decided to spread straw between the rows, and around the plants. This would be the solution to the weeding, and the watering. This would look tidy, and nothing would get out of hand. What wasn’t supposed to happen, was that the straw was full (FULL!) of wheat seeds. Those wheat seeds germinated. I was now a wheat farmer. No matter how much I ripped out all those little wheat grass sprouts, more came, and more. Instead of weeds, I had wheat. (The gardening gods are now rolling on the floor, howling with laughter. I am sure of it.)
So, no…I am not apologizing any more. I am not feeling guilty, or embarrassed. I am still weeding out the wheat. I will find a way to appease the gardening gods; and in the meantime, we just enjoyed a lovely dinner of fresh green beans, grilled zucchini, snap peas, roasted baby beets and a salad of beet tops.
It’s a good summer to be a gardener. It’s good to be a gardener.