Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Peppers and Melons and Squash, Oh my!

By K. Taylor, Aurora ON. Peppers and melons and squash, oh my! I planted a garden this year. A wee little patch, five foot by five foot at most. To be fair, I’ve gardened for years, our tiny scrap of grass was long ago ripped up by my long suffering handyman…er…husband and replaced with a pond, a small patio and clusters of perennials. But this year I did me some proper gardening: vegetables.

I’ll pause for you to reflect a moment in awed silence.

Vegetables! Yes! Apparently they’re not just available for purchase in jaunty displays at the supermarket (displays I suspect the marketing gurus think will fool us into believing we’re at the farmer’s market.) Not even are they only available at actual farmer’s markets. Apparently vegetables can grow in our very own backyards. Who knew?

Actually to be quite honest, I knew; at least in theory. My father has long been proud of his beans. My aunt feasts on homegrown everything all winter; scraping frost from carefully marked freezer bags in January and proudly proclaiming that these are garden peas thank-you-very-much. In a voice that suggests they are therefore far better than mere grocery store peas. Which of course they are. But just like I know the earth is round, there’s a vast difference between knowing it in theory and tying on a pair of sneakers and attempting to walk it’s circumference to find out for yourself. Especially when you hit the ocean.

But this summer I hit that ocean. Metaphorically speaking. I. Grew. Vegetables. And so many! And in such a small space! Our cup and veggie patch truly runneth over.

“Outside I would hurry and we’d twist like acrobats to peer under leaves and behind stalks to see what lovely new treat was growing, without disturbing anything.”

I’ve heard vegetable gardening is very hipster-friendly right now, and so is growing squash. I wouldn’t know, having never been hip. I think I may have a touch of arthritis in my hip, but that‘s as close as I get. But apparently along with beards and a disdain for mainstream culture, hipsters have developed a taste for local eating; self sufficiency; and a desire to have one’s counters cluttered with an excess of cucumbers. Given that hipsters are young, this is probably a good thing for the ongoing health of the human race. In my day (which wasn’t that long ago but far enough in the fuzzy past that I can use the phrase) gardening was for old people, it went along with moth balls and mints in your handbag which is horribly ageist but who wasn’t a little ageist at twenty? Ah but a few decades made me eat those words along with the feast of side dishes at Thanksgiving (squash); because young people become old people if they’re lucky and suddenly there’s wisdom in age. Time teaches.

“Apparently vegetables can grow in our very own backyards. Who knew?”

My grandfather was a gardener, a real gardener, who did it for a living. In fact when I researched family history, I quickly found that on my father’s side they had essentially been farm labourers in the same small patch of English soil since back in the 1600’s. So I suppose perhaps this is in the blood. In fact the first thing Grandad did when anyone entered the house was to beckon you forth with a crooked finger, “come have a look at my tomatoes,” he’d say in his lovely English accent, the sort of working class lilt that makes me think of damp pavement and a kitchen smelling of boiled potatoes.

Then he’d show you his tomatoes.

So with four hundred years worth of family history at my back, my husband and I began to dig up the sedums and hostas from their happy little beds and relocated them; bought a large bag of soil and some fertilizer (both of which promised our vegetables would be in veggie heaven) and in went the new plants. Next year I might try growing from seed but… you know… baby steps; and already collected squash seeds too.

All summer we patiently watered from the hose, then the rain barrel when finally mid-summer skies deigned to stop being so stingy. My eight year old has darted out most days to see what’s new, and many a summer morning started with her screaming for me to Come! Now! As if the new offering might disappear if I didn’t hurry. Which with the dog around is actually a possibility. Outside I would hurry and we’d twist like acrobats to peer under leaves and behind stalks to see what lovely new treat was growing, without disturbing anything.

We have butternut squash to enjoy, we’ve had cantaloupe, lettuce and an invading army of cucumbers; and when we’re not looking the dog has feasted on the tomatoes and anything else he can reach before we catch him. It has, in a word, been delightful.

So whether you’re young and hip; or old and hip; or middle aged and seriously uncool; this vegetable gardening thing is where it’s at. And though it may be my fanciful imagination, I can’t help but feel that all those generations who came before me are smiling down on my little garden. And I know just what they’re saying. “About bloody time too, girl!

K. Taylor
Aurora, ON

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