For the record, I've killed mint. Unintentionally. I'm an absolute shit gardener. Though I have Barbara Kingsolver's ambition and ideals, I've none of her experience and luck with the dirt. If it weren't for the farmers' markets and the generosity of my all-knowing gardener friends, I'd have nothing to feast on come growing season.
Backyard plots, community gardens, containers plants and window sills -- woe to any plot that comes under my surveillance. May all those past roots, sprouts and starters rest their dried out, fried out, over-neglected and under-neglected souls and next live a life of a seed that makes it into the packet that makes it into the hands of someone entirely more capable.
It's not a black thumb. More like a stunting cocktail of a latch-key kid upbringing (sunshine? what's that?) and a champion case of laziness. Early morning gardening is concept completely lost on a night owl like me. You're more likely to get a vegetarian to eat bacon. Mmm. Bacon.
Still, I try. Being stubborn and a big dreamer helps. Even after starters don't really start to do anything. Pests beat me to the fruits of my sweaty labor. I don't water enough. Or too much. It's never quite right. "Maybe you should try succulents," a green-thumbed friend nicely suggested after I showed her my corpse of a house plant. It was the one the lady at the nursery said would never die. Yes, even genetically modified plants can't get past me. My friend didn't really have a suggestion after my succulents died in the intense heat of Utah summers and my influence.
It didn't look any better after I'd sowed my chard, spinach, carrots, radishes, kale, corn, beans and peas between my rows of eggplant, tomato and fennel starters. I reach for the stars, yes. I have yet to reach that bloody, proverbial, verdant moon.
The soil was always in danger of a weed coup. And after a couple of days, I'd forgotten which seeds I'd planted where. So I let everything grow. It's not all bad. The tomatoes are heavy and tall. The corn, slowly spiking up toward the sky, tier by tier. The beans like it here. Arugula is just starting to look like arugula. Everything else looks like it refused to live as if the other seeds remembers their past existence with me and told them slyly, "hey, you see that one over there, loading her cart up? She's no good. You've got two weeks, at most." Can artichoke have a death wish?
Mine did. The lady at the nursery said to me "you just plant it watch it grow. It's that simple."For whom?" I wondered. I'm afraid to go back and ask for another starter.
As in pets, the hands-off variety works well with me. We had some overgrown onions in the kitchen. Instead of chucking the, the lovely Amber had the great idea to actually plant them in a big pot. And then this summer we got a big thick patch of these:
From ordinary kitchen onions, these ain't bad at all.
I have discovered that evening gardening, just as the sun starts to go down, suits me just fine. The dogs like to run around and chase the hens. It sounds like I live in an ark. I do. My roommates are animal lovers. Two dogs (one sweet and retarded, the other sweet and terrifying), three cats (two rather normal, one diabetic, blind and slightly brain damaged) and six hens (they like to gossip in the mornings.) I always have fresh eggs and hair on my cloths. I don't mind. The dogs like to keep me company as I dig in the garden. The sweet and terrifying one likes to dig her own hole or try to catch the weeds and stones I throw out of the garden as if it were her beloved tennis ball. The chickens chatter somewhere in the yard.
The ritual of it is sinking into my bones. I like the watering with the fierce spray of the hose. there are gardening tools, but for whatever reason, I like to use my fingers to dig. As I type this, there's an outline of soil on my fingertips. My friends say this tactile lover affair won't last and I'll reach for a hoe soon enough. But for now, I prefer bare hands to gloves and implements. I consider it in the same vein as using my hands to cook. Maybe if I used my hands for most of it instead of the arsenal, I'd be able to coax more life. Or at least pass on the anecdote of strangling and artichoke to death ...
High in the trees the birds watch me scratch at my patch of dirt. Robins, blue jays, sparrows and chickadees have turf wars as vocal as West Side Story above me. Other time they just yammer on and on in their whistling tongues. No doubt, they're telling each other that the chard is in the left corner And all the peas are planted north. Ooh, she's planting amaranth seeds. And yes, she totally won't miss the carrots, so let's feast on the seeds as soon as she goes inside, fellas. It's gonna be good eatin' tonight!
Still, I dig. In the end it's just you and the dirt. It's not hot and the light is just gorgeous; even on my sad, sad looking fennel plants. No one else is really around to hear me curse when I don't see spinach anywhere or discover what I thought were chard are really weeds. Gardening is one of those intensely personal things where you have no problem talking to the dog as if you two were 80-year old gal pals or farting out loud with the gassy dog. And if the neighbors happen to hear it, they deserve it for blasting bad R&B at 2 a.m. My chili plants would obviously grow taller from The Roots and Jill Scott. No wonder they're so stunted with crap, poppy loops. Even strangers get the blame for my failures. Whoever said success is lonely never really tried tending a garden herself and failing miserably.
Then suddenly, through the thin green and dark brown, I see a strip of pink. The radish leaves are healthy looking. You have to realize that at this point I have no idea when radishes are ready to harvest. And this pink sighting is making me impatient. So I pull it out.
No where near as bulbous as the "Easter Egg Radishes" on the illustrated seed jacket. But still, something. I let the sweet and terrifying one check out my fruitful garden attempt:
She didn't try to kill it, so it had to be good. I take it back to the kitchen and held it up to be sunlight. The outline was glowing a hot pink. Like fire as I wash it under the tap, down to the little root tail.
The only way I knew how to eat young radishes was fresh, as is. Cold, snappy and crunchy, swaddled with the best butter I could afford (high-butterfat, people. High butterfat).
RECIPE: Victory Radish, Simply
1 fresh radish, root and stems intact * a bit of good unsalted butter, softened * coarse sea salt
Take your lone victory and dip it greedily into the softened butter. sprinkle with as much coarse sea salt as it'll fill. Two large Maldon crystals was all I could muster and bite in one go.
Radishes are known for their bite. When I get them from a store, I think of them as those crunchy things too hot to enjoy. When I grow them and pull a measley thing from my garden, I marvel at how something from such a little seed, precociously fighting feeds and crap soil could emerge, tiny and full of fire. Feisty. My crunchy little victory.
It's something indeed.