It's All About the FoodChristmas Baking with SusieJ

Slide into Spring

Spring has long sprung, and a foodie's mind turns to asparagus and mesclun. For a foodie with a garden, the mind turns to tomatoes, basil and crop rotation.

My gardening success has been limited to herbs in pots and rhubarb. The tomato and pepper plants are leggy, the lettuces bolt shortly after sprouting, and even the mint -- a plant with the motto "we are mint; you will be assimilated" -- died after a few years. Rhubarb's success is due to its liking poor soil and low light, conditions affecting most of our yard.

My grandmother had a beautiful vegetable garden, growing her own cucumbers for the bread and butter pickles she canned, plus green beans, carrots, radishes, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes, of course. My grandfather built her a cold frame (a miniature greenhouse) for lettuces and seedlings. Her rhubarb was three feet wide; my own is barely two feet wide after nearly ten years. In February, she started all her plants from seeds, putting the tiny little pots under special grow lights in the spare bedroom, then transplanting them in mid-May. She weeded daily. She waged psychological war on squirrels and bunnies with a rubber snake. Come fall, she canned, canned, canned.

Every year, I dream of fresh herbs, tomatoes, peppers and lettuces, all grown organically (I'm too lazy for pesticides), fresher than the local farmer's market, available when needed, and not wrinkling in the fridge. Most years I buy seeds, which will languish, unplanted, in their paper envelopes until June, when I throw them haphazardly and guiltily into hastily prepared soil.

This is exactly the losing strategy it seems.

This year I'm getting smarter, and have skipped the seeds altogether; admittedly, I was too distracted in January to even order them. The garden will also move from the shady side yard (good only for rhubarb and asparagus -- hey!) to the front yard, free of overgrown boxwood since 2003!

There will be herbs like basil, thyme, chives, mint and rosemary. There must be tomatoes, both larger slicing tomatoes and small cherry or pear tomatoes. Bell peppers are always yummy in summer. Perhaps a yellow squash or zuchini, which are so good grilled. The garden catalogs offer more varieties of radish than the small globes in the grocery store. Kohlrabi is one of the first vegetables I truly liked, but it's hard to find in a grocery store. Strawberries would be good with the rhubarb! And maybe the lettuces would do well in the front yard with more sun ...

Once again, my eyes are bigger than my garden and my enthusiasm for weeding. Eventually it all gets to the point where you can't tell the tomatoes from the stinkweed. I'll have to whittle the list down to herbs, tomatoes and one other vegetable:

  • Mint, my favorite summer herb
  • Basil, the other favorite summer herb
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Chives, for potato salad
  • Big, red tomatoes
  • Pear tomatoes
  • Bell peppers

Everything else will just have to come from the farmer's markets. Until next year's gardening season ...

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