This is the first summer in more than forty years that we haven’t had some kind of outside garden. Our first ‘garden’ was a row of tomato plants. I started them from seed in paper cups when we lived in Georgia and planted them beside the south wall of our duplex. We got so many tomatoes that summer we couldn’t eat them all so I learned to can tomatoes and make tomato sauce. When we were head residents in the freshman women’s dorm at Knox College (in the time before co-ed dorms) we shared a garden with the other head residents in a big open space between the library and the boys’ dorms. When we moved to the farm we wanted to eat organic food so we grew everything ourselves–including wheat and popcorn some years. Our garden was huge and dinner was a success when everything on the table came from our own land.
After organic food began showing up in stores, the size of our garden shrank. We grew veggies because we love digging deep beds, smelling the dark rich scent of fertile ground, and feeling the warm seeds slide through our fingers into moist soil. We watch the little green points pop out of the ground and unfurl into leaves that we could recognize as carrots, spinach, peas, and such. I even like weeding–making order out of chaos. And my favorite thing about gardening is going out before dinner to pick a basket of spinach and romaine lettuce, a pail of scarlet runner beans, or a bushel of tomatoes to eat, can, freeze or give away.
But gardening is a lot of work. It’s often hot, sweat-dripping-down-inside-your-shirt, dirty work. It’s put-calamine-lotion-on-all-the-chigger-bites-work. If you want the veggies at harvest, you have to put in time, even though your editor is waiting for your novel or your students want their tests graded. So when moved to Brooklyn, we were looking forward to a break–a summer without chigger bites. Some extra time to read or go to a show or take a walk. Dinner without picking worms off the broccoli before we ate it. In Brooklyn, we are members of an amazing food co-op with over 16,000 members. The organic veggies there are always fresh, beautiful, and reasonably priced. So we knew we’d have plenty of our favorite foods to eat.
We were right. We are enjoying our summer off–though we do have a few herbs growing on shelves in the bathroom window–the one with the most light. We have plenty of gorgeous vegetables from the co-op–a greater variety than we could possibly grow in our garden. Most of the vegetables come from local farmers, and they’re all delicious. But I miss going out to the garden, walking barefoot in the damp soil and picking our own veggies. I miss eating a tomato or cucumber still warm from the sun. I miss sitting down to dinner and counting how much of the meal was grown on our own farm. Going to our “bathroom garden” to harvest basil, oregano and parsley for a salad just isn’t the same, though I admit I do get great satisfaction in eating herbs I’ve grown indoors.
If we’re here next summer we’ll sign up for space in a community garden. Or we’ll try rooftop gardening. Or growing in containers. All those options will have their own joys and their own challenges–and possibly an amazing view of the Manhattan skyline or downtown Brooklyn. But I’ll still miss going out to the garden, looking across the valley to the next ridge, and the next, and the next…the whole panorama of the worn and ancient Ocooch Mountains laid out before me…and then picking a heavy, juicy, heirloom tomato for lunch. Some experiences just can’t be replaced.