I’m feeling pretty heady on the heels my first garden harvest. Today, I weeded, turned soil, planted one tomato start, and then, with a deep breath, started snipping. When I arrived home with two whole bundles of rainbow chard, buoyed by my improbably bounty, I thought: This deserves documentation. In a reckless burst of chard-confidence, I thought about writing a blog, befitting my how-to series, titled: How to grow a garden.
Indeed, I typed those words. I hit return. And then, as I sat and stared a blank screen, I realized: I don’t know how to grow a garden. In fact, I realized, I’d be better off writing about how to not grow a garden.
How to not grow a garden:
Move to the desert. Plant a tomato seedling in a ceramic pot outside your apartment, water copiously for the first month of this seedling’s life, wait until the temperature hits 105 degrees, and then go on vacation and forget to ask your neighbor to continue tomato care. Come home to find fried-not-tomatoes.
Co-rent a plot at a community garden with a dear friend. Assume that dear friend is watering and weeding the plot when you are not; she will assume the same. Leave the fate of your plot in the hands of an over-exuberant drip irrigation system. Feel exasperation when you return, one day, weeks later, to a thick tangle of weeds. (Oh, but hey, there’s a watermelon!)
The day before a hail storm, transplant bell pepper starts into a corner freed from the grasps of the great weed patch. Do not go to your garden during the hailstorm—do not try to cover or protect your plot. Instead, take a picture of hail hitting pavement from your office window.
Abandon garden plot. (Before, gather the entirety of its bounty: three frail bell peppers and two watermelon.) Move into a new house across town. Bike past a foliage-filled enclave for a year before you realize that it is a community garden. Wonder how one joins said community garden. Wait and see and then forget and then remember when, by chance, you meet a woman (at the gym) who has a plot at this mysterious community garden.
Join the community garden, full of renewed hope. Meet your garden plot—a great gyre of weeds, waist high, a half year neglected by its previous owner. Don’t purchase any tools; don’t consult experienced gardeners; don’t read articles on the internet. Grab a shovel from the shed and start digging, start hacking. Hack, hack, hack. Pull, pile, compost. Hack. Hack and hack, but then on day three, fatigue. That’s enough hacking. Probably the soil is sufficiently turned. Probably the vines that had grown wild are tamed; probably the mint that had strangled the previous plot will not return.
Plant seeds. Carrots, onions, kale, chard. Bury these seeds in furrowed holes, two inches deeper than the package—that you did not read—says they should be buried. Believe in the power of seeds.
Become exasperated when food does not appear immediately. Lose faith. Buy plant starts and throw those in, too. Feel frustrated when the plant starts do not immediately start flowering broccoli and cauliflower. Allow your frustration to become neglect.
Do not, under any circumstances, tend your garden every day. Once a week is sufficient. Leave the fate of your plot in the hands of an old, creaky drip irrigation system. Water exuberantly on the days you do visit.
Do not, under any circumstances, let hope glimmer when four bundles of Swiss chard begin to sprout; don’t plan or expect when the Swiss grows from baby green to adolescent vegetable.
Forget to buy harvest shears. Lose your gardening gloves. Buy a trowel, leave it at the garden, and then pout when it disappears.
Buy new gardening gloves. Buy harvest shears. Harvest two whole bunches of Swiss chard. Rejoice: You are the champion of the garden!
To commemorate this improbable garden victory over the extensive odds, I made myself a celebration harvest dinner tonight. I’d planned to make a big, raw salad, to let the chard shine in all it’s glory, but Sunday night is comfort food night, so instead, I made myself a Swiss chard, apple, onion, and goat cheese quesadilla. To make the meal unprocessed, I used a block of parmesan cheese (not grated, which has additives) and Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Tortillas.
To make: Cook red onion with chopped apple in a frying pan on medium heat. Cover, stirring occasionally, until the bottoms of the apple chunks begin to caramelize (about 10 minutes). Roughly chop Swiss chard and sauté with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh garlic. Set aside—put the contents of the pan onto a plate and add a tortilla to the hot pan. Add a layer of grated parmesan cheese; add the greens/apple/onion mixture. Sprinkle goat cheese. Cover with second tortilla. Flip when one side turns golden brown. (Or bubble-black burnt. Yum.) Cut into sixths, drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Add an avocado if you have it.
Relish the slow transformation of a seed into food—and the very slow conversion of a plant-killing plot-abandoner into a person who can grow her own food.