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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

adventures in urban gardening

I grew up in the countryside of Wisconsin. We always had a giant-ass garden. I mean truly huge. Rows and rows of corn that you could almost get lost in. Towering brussel sprout plants. Bushy beans. Cabbages. Carrots. Giant green peppers that I would eat like apples on a summer day. One would think that my mother just threw seeds at the soil and they grew into beautiful crops for our family to enjoy year round (because of course my mother was also the expert canner/preserver of food). She hardly watered. Never really weeded, owing to the great square foot gardening technique.

So. One would think that I could channel a little of this into my tiny backyard plot, right? Build a few boxes, buy some good soil, plunk in some seeds – with the help of dada and my adorable little twosome who gladly watch the miracle of growing things in their own backyard.


Not quite.

This is our first year with an actual yard so we were quite gung ho to achieve this backyard utopia of greenery around mid-May. We planned. My husband built some boxes. We bought bag after bag of quality top soil and then lots of seeds, corn, peas, beans and salad greens. My sister brought me some plants she had been growing from seed in her house all spring. Kale and broccoli and tomato and pepper plants. I cut up some old potatoes that had been sitting in the basement cold room too long (already sprouting out of the eyes!) and planted them in mounds underneath the big oak tree.

And then we waited.

And waited.

And watered.

And waited some more.

Our little plants grow. The peas wind up the back fence as we had hoped. The beans get big and leafy. The corn, however, never shows up. Nothing. The ants maybe? Or rabbits? We have a family of rabbits living in the side hedge. We used to think they were cute. “oh, kids! Look! A rabbit!” Overnight they became The Enemy. “Mom! It’s a rabbit! It will eat our plants!!”

We pick a few peas. A few beans. (I think they are still sitting in the back of my fridge in a paper cup, come to think of it.)

And then we buy more at the farmers market. (Two dollars for a giant bag, which I freeze for later. Trying not to think about how that is as much as we paid for the seed packet…)

The tomatoes never even blossom. Just spindly little things with a few forlorn leaves. The broccoli and kale become the rabbits next victim. Then the tiny shoots of spinach and lettuce.

I inquire to my mother what could possibly be wrong.

Apparently most plants need full sunlight.

Oh. Mine are in “occasional sunlight.”

Sometime around mid-July I stop watering the garden. Except when the kids need an outdoor activity on a hot day. “Here. Here is the hose. Here are some containers. Go. Go water the garden. No. NO. DO NOT SPRAY ME. THAT ISN’T FUNNY!” (Of course it’s hysterical though.)

So I think. Eh. At least the potatoes are still going strong. When my mom digs up her potato plants in her giant-ass garden she gets like half a dozen huge tubers with each plant. I have five plants growing. This is great, right?

Yesterday I notice that they are looking a little dry around the tops (maybe I should’ve kept watering?) So I decide. What the heck. Let’s dig em up. Little man is ecstatic and grabs a shovel. Baby girl gets a trowel. Away we go.

The first, most promising looking plant results in TWO potatoes, slightly smaller than a golf ball.


Three others produce one marble size potato each. The last has nothing. Little sister drops one potato on the ground as I dig for more. It is so small I can't find it.

Four potatoes.

Good thing we live less than a mile from the best farmers market in the city. Or, we can go to grandma’s farm, with her blasted green thumb that I apparently did NOT inherit.

And, there is always next year, I guess.


  1. Well, that's just it--the idea of gardening is so alluring! Especially to someone who loves organic produce but hates the sticker shock. All those pretty chemical-free plants just waiting for you to come eat their vitaminy goodness! The reality of gardening is that it's a lot of hard work, with spotty results. Or maybe I just have a black thumb of death. (Seriously, it wears a little cloak and carries a scythe. Nothing escapes alive.) And I don't want to hate rabbits!

    So yeah, I'll be at the farmer's market, too, supporting those who can, remarkably, actually coax life from the ground.

  2. i still like to think, were i to have proper sunlight and fewer rabbits i could in fact make vegetables grow....but i may just very well be fooling myself...
    hmmm. maybe goats. i should raise goats. in the country of course. but if you live in the country it is a rule that you must have a giant-ass garden.


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