Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My black thumb

We planted a garden today, and we might get in trouble for it. We live in a condo with a tiny spit of grass outside our back door and this morning, my husband and I decided that it’s time we start trying to live off this land!

Problem is, according to our condo association, we’re not really “allowed” to have anything in our “yard.” No hangers for line-drying clothes, no pots or welcome mats on the porch steps (lest they rot the wood underneath), no bikes outside. We once left a dry, dead, hanging plant outside for too long post-mortem and immediately got a tersely worded letter asking us to please remove the offending foliage, as it was, apparently, an eyesore.
The one exception to the 'Don’t Sully the Common Area' rule seems to be gardens; the people here tend to gussy up their sad plots of land by cramming as many bushes and flowers as they can into the couple feet each of us has in front of our townhouses. We thought, if they can do it, so can we. Granted we’re the only ones digging up a big portion of the lawn for a raised bed vegetable garden, but there you have it. If the condo manager arrives to scold us, I will simply charm her with some big, beautiful bushels of garden-fresh zucchini.
So for mother’s day this year, my husband bought me a 4x4 screw-together raised bed garden frame from Aldi that’s made out of some kind of fake-wood-plastic composite and has a five-year warranty. 
My almost three-year-old daughter, Chloe, and I started our plants in the house in mid-spring in a long seed-starter tray: we planted beets, lettuce, zucchini, and squash, 48 plants. They all grew! I couldn’t believe it. This was after getting laughed at by my grandmother when I informed her I was going to the hardware store to buy some seeds.
 “What are you going to do with them?” she asked.
“I was just going to dig a hole outside, and sprinkle them in,” I confessed.
Hysterical laughter.
“It’s too early to plant them in the ground,” she says. “My father always said ‘don’t plant outside until after Memorial Day.’”
“Really?” I asked, dejected. It was mid-April and sunny and warm and I am not a patient person. And I had promised my kid gardening that day.
“Well, you can start them inside, in containers,” she offered.
Bingo! Since I also fancy myself an environmentalist, I started pulling empty containers out of the recycling bin, showing Chloe that we could turn anything into vegetable pots. Hooray for life lessons about reducing trash and growing our own food! I am supermom.
We strolled into the hardware store and were faced with a wall of seed packets. Too many choices. Paralyzed. I start pulling stuff off the rack at random, while nonchalantly explaining to the store owner that I was going to plant our seeds in old milk jugs and peanut butter jars.
More derisive laughter!
“How about this?” he asks, pointing to the fancy seed-starter tray, with an air of redirecting a confused child.
I’ll take it. And while I’m at it, I ask what seeds I should buy. I also confess to him that I know nothing about dirt, one of the world’s most common substances. Why not? He’s already found me out as a gardening fraud.
And so five or six weeks pass by and our plants are growing like crazy! My neighbor asks what we’re growing. I tell her, and she looks at me skeptically, warningly.
“You get a lot of zucchini off of one plant,” she says. I have 12 of them.
“Well, I really like zucchini bread,” I say. She’s unconvinced. “And I have hungry neighbors?”
“Yeah, we like zucchini,” she says. OK then! 

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