This year, I have learned a couple of things, re-learned others and will likely have more to figure out. I have had good luck with seeds, in that they tend to be what the label says they will be. When it comes to plants, whether purchased at a store or plucked from a field, I should be more wary. In the case of the bought cucumbers, labels were swapped but in the end we have what we thought we bought: two burpless cucumbers and two lemon cucumbers. I failed to segregate them due to the label problem, but it does not seem to matter.
Similarly, the zucchini and undercover pumpkins are planted right next to each other, thick as thieves, but they are still producing what they were meant to produce. Maybe the pumpkins will stay green but beyond that, I no longer believe that they are some freak hybrids. Apparently cross-pollination is not the problem I thought it would be.
The water issue is a little like an eating problem: too much always looks like enough to me. I need to work on moderation, but that is a lesson I may keep learning again and again. I only have to look at the fat horses to know that my eating habits spill over onto all I care for.
I started last year’s garden because I wanted to clean the place up for a party we were having. It was not the most efficient way to clean up, but once I started pulling weeds, the rest just followed. I had tended flowers for several years, but that was my first vegetable garden. I always enjoyed gardening, but it was only when I started growing vegetables that I began to recognize this as a family tradition.
Gardening is recommended to reduce stress and improve fitness. In general it does that for me, but more specifically it is a time of memory and connection to my maternal grandparents. They were avid gardeners. I don’t remember doing a lot of garden work with them but I remember watching them work and perusing the plants. I remember them talking about it, and I remember what they grew. In this way, I feel like I am working alongside them, though they are both gone now.
Working the soil by hand instead of with power tools, trying to remember how the soil should look, knowing which manure is good for fertilizer, these connect me to my family’s past. I started with the same crops I remember them planting, adding little experiments like mystery squash, cauliflower (ugh, that was a disaster!), and now peppers. It is a balance of raw memory and creativity, to garden as they did and expand on it.
It is not only my grandparents who connect me to gardening. My parents have planted several gardens in a couple of different climates, and their help is valuable. My mother even knows how to actually cook the vegetables once they are picked. I am not so good at that. My father probably knows everything I need to know about water problems, I just keep forgetting to ask before acting.
I recall the peas, carrots, and onions my mother grew in Cloverdale when I was little. It was hotter and dryer there than it is here. I also remember her planting sweet peas on the fence of that garden. That sort of gives me permission to mix in flowers with the vegetables, though I have already seen some of the flowers crowd their edible bedfellows.
The little rose shown above (the “sucker” from last year) is becoming a threat to one of the green bell peppers, but I am proud of the way the rose has survived and thrived.
It is not exactly a ritual, this gardening by vague memories. It is carrying on a tradition without documentation. Well, I guess I am documenting it but that was not really my intention. I don’t always do what I know my elders would tell me to do, like prune the roses when it is time to do that, but when I see them falling over and smothering their neighbors, I understand what I did wrong. It is not painful, to make such mistakes. It is just part of a tradition, to remember and forget the way it should be done, and sometimes learn it over again. I imagine that is how they did it too.