The task of planting a vegetable garden has now fallen to me. As a city boy I was not raised to grow my own food. I never wondered how produce made its way into the food distribution system. I knew only that it was available usually frozen, occasionally fresh, in the supermarket. My only experience with food in its natural state was when as a boy we used to sneak apples from a neighbor’s apple trees. The elderly woman who owned them caught us one day and made a deal with us. We could pick as many as we wanted as long as we gave a bucket of them to her. We youngsters thought this was quite a deal. My mother wasn’t so happy about it, but she dutifully canned apples, made apple sauce and baked apple pie for weeks afterwards.

Anyway, my wife was the gardener in the family. Although I helped with some of the heavy lifting, she was the one who chose what to plant in our little vegetable patch, did most of the watering and weeding, and generally was the cultivator. My task was mostly to eat the finished product either raw or in prepared dishes. This growing season I took on the task myself. My first foray was to buy some onion plants from a local nursery. My first lesson was that if you buy plants your task has just begun. You cannot wait a couple of weeks and plant them when you feel like it. You need to plant immediately otherwise they just die out. Lesson learned. My second purchase of onion plants went right into the ground the same day. I then decided that the taste of home grown tomatoes was so much better than the store bought kind, that I would try them next. With the help of my son those went in immediately and were watered consistently over the next few weeks. When we lived in California we knew a guy who was just getting into growing his own tomatoes. He made the mistake of thinking that each tomato plant produced only one tomato and so planted a lot of tomatoes. He eventually was introduced to the error of his ways. You see, you can’t reason with tomato plants. You can’t explain to them that you have enough tomatoes, thank them for their service, and expect them to stop producing. It doesn’t work like that. They have life within them begging to come out. You must have an end game. You cannot eat enough salads to keep up with them, so you need to find recipes for tomato sauce, learn how to can them, and to make tomato paste. I am in that stage now as the plants churn out tomatoes and I cannot give enough of them away to keep up. On the bright side one of my toddler granddaughter’s favorite activities with me is going out to pick ‘matoes.

I also planted some oregano and sweet peppers which will eventually be used in the tomato sauce. I even tried growing some cantaloupe at my son’s insistence. They only produced a few melons but it was an interesting experiment. As the growing season come to an end what have I learned? Next year I will try again putting this year’s lessons to use.  You have to plan carefully and devote much of your time to thinking this out. Fresh vegetables are delicious but you have to select the kind, planting timetable, and spacing well. My tomato plants took over the garden looking more like a jungle than a farm. They still produced abundantly but I want to put a little more order in their lives.

The larger lesson I have learned is that it is good to stop thinking of yourself occasionally and to put your attention elsewhere. Having a vegetable garden is like having a pet. You are responsible for other living things and not just yourself. You have to feed and water them on a regular schedule. You cannot just think of them now and then but almost every day. Also, they are not economically rational. For the money, time, and energy, it is more economic to go to the grocery store and let the professionals work for you. However there are benefits to gardening that go beyond this. There is mental challenge in the planning, peace in the mindless repetition of weeding and watering, and satisfaction in the harvest. That is why I will do it again next year only better.

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