This column is usually about edible wild plants and special southwestern spices, but I’m also a conventional gardener. As you desert dwellers know, Mother Nature has organized our seasons upside-down from most of the rest of the United States. While we are harvesting the last of our crops, gardeners in New Jersey are setting out tender little starts or planting seeds.
Today I put my vegetable garden to bed for the summer with a heavy heart. I love harvesting my home grown vegetables as much as I get a kick out of picking food from the wild. The last thing I pulled out was several clusters of I’itoi bunching onions. My two small-ish raised beds fed me and my husband Ford and our guests 90 percent of our vegetables and salad since around November. Every day when it was time to fix lunch, I took a colander and picked a selection of lettuces. When all the broccoli decided to flower at the same time, we ate broccoli every other day. I did plant twice as much mustard greens as we needed, so I managed to fix it in creative ways and gave some away. My tomato plants were full of unripe fruit during the November cold snap, but I saved them with Christmas lights and several layers of blankets and we ate tomatoes through February.
I felt prayerful and grateful and sad as I pulled up the last sun-crisped plants, coiled up the drip line and worked in the compost, readying the beds for early fall planting. For the first time, I deeply understood harvest festivals. For us, it is usually a fun weekend when we buy a pumpkin or some Indian corn. In more traditional times, people celebrated a real accomplishment – enough food to get them and their kids through the winter. I rely on a drip irrigation system to supplement our winter rains. But if I were gardening a hundred years ago, it would be a different story. Rains that were spotty or too plentiful could mean disaster. And that is still the way it is in much of the world – a bad harvest can mean starvation. A bountiful harvest was cause for jubilation.
In a week, I’ll pick up some chicken manure from my friend Linda and work that into my garden and hope the monsoons turn it into a nice nutritious goop. Meanwhile I think I’ll order some new seeds and get ready for September when the thermometer goes back below 100 degrees.
Vegetables and wild greens from my backyard – you can’t get more locally sourced than that!
Please share your experiences with your own garden. I’d love to learn from you!