Growing up, we didn’t have a Nintendo. We owned no boat, and we didn’t have a big screen TV. We had something much more valuable: all the fresh produce we could possibly want.
For most of my life, my grandparents cultivated an enormous garden from whence treasures of all colors and flavors erupted every year. I never saw a jar of store-bought jam in our pantry because my grandma made jam every summer with berries my sister and I picked (er, the ones that made it to the kitchen). I learned at an early age that eating peas off the vine in the humid embrace of the garden was better than any candy at the checkout line. Luckily, we lived just one hour north of this lush patch of land and could watch the garden cycle from seed to harvest.
Sadly, the recent death of my grandpa and the waning strength and stamina of my grandma leave the garden plot barren this year, save for the persistent blackberry bush and some volunteer cosmos. But that garden still holds some of my fondest memories with my grandparents, who taught me at a very young age the value of homegrown food and instilled in me an aspiration to grow some of my own.
After college, one thing I looked forward to more than any other was starting a patio garden at our first apartment in Washington DC. I was unfortunately thwarted: somehow, we managed to secure an apartment assignment with a balcony that received literally no direct sunlight. None. It was quite aggravating. The next year, I was certain that our new place across town would yield a sunnier outlook. Alas, two hours of daily commuting to a full-time job, and most days, a part-time job as well, meant that I could barely keep myself fed and watered. Besides, after deciding in late April that we would be moving to North Carolina in July, it didn’t make sense to start building an army of soil-filled containers that would also have to make the move.
And so, with no further ado, I want to take a moment to introduce you to a few of my long-awaited leafy friends. Friends that I hope will survive, and if I’m lucky, that will actually produce some extremely local food for my little kitchen.
Okay, so I’m not gonna get a pantry full of jars out of this. In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say that I’ll consider this adventure a success if I get ONE tomato.
Even though this balcony is far superior to the last two, I still face some significant challenges. For one, I still have a hard time finding spaces that get enough sunlight to satiate anything more demanding than lettuce, limiting my growing space to over-the-rail hanging containers and troughs that fit on top of an old headboard.
Secondly, and probably more importantly, I sort of have NO idea what I’m doing. Yes, I grew up helping plant potatoes and pick vegetables, but it was always under the tutelage of my very green-thumbed grandparents. My attempts this year at starting vegetables from seed were only somewhat successful: the seeds did sprout, at least, but seemed to lurch to a halt after their seed leaves unfurled. So, many of the lovely specimens you see here were nurtured into adolescence by a couple of local growers who sell their goods at my local farmers market.
Make no mistake, starting a garden is not an easy task. Every day I come home with bated breath just hoping that something hasn’t keeled over in a faded yellow heap. How much do I need to thin the leeks? Are the tomatoes getting enough light? Water? Is this container too small for a zucchini plant? Why is the dill leaning over so far? What the heck and I going to get from my “Hot Peppers” seed mix?! Is the next strong wind going to knock the whole mess to the ground below?
I definitely have a lot to learn, and I think I’ll gain a lot this summer. For certain, knowledge, patience, and a better plan for next year.
With hope, tomatoes, peppers, and some handfuls of herbs.
Are you growing a garden this summer?