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Garden Party

By Tina Traster

October 25, 2007 -- Give a city boy land, and he thinks he's a farmer. Where I saw a weed-choked patch of hostile earth, my husband envisioned a fertile field for growing organic fruits and vegetables. True, we had not long ago slogged through a grueling renovation of an 1850s farmhouse, but I just didn't have the "vision" thing. I told him, "Knock yourself out. I'll be inside by the fire."

Last November, he cleared a 3-foot-by-6-foot rectangle from a tangle of brush, sifting every rock through a strainer until he was left with dusty soil. Filling in the bed with a blend of existing earth, bagged topsoil and Gardener's Gold compost, he planted 18 hard-neck garlic cloves. For the next six months, gardening catalogs stacked up on tables. He pored over gardening books and corresponded with gardening Bloggers. In the dead of winter, he ordered carrot, tomato, watermelon and pumpkin seeds from Burpee. He talked incessantly about growing herbs, lettuces and onions. He composted.

It was a little like listening to my 5-year-old daughter talk about castles and princes. But my sweet husband had this vision for our land and our table - who was I to poke him in the back with a pitchfork?

April rolled around, and my husband chopped down Sumac trees and built an enclosure around the garlic patch, made of wood posts and chicken wire. He yanked out every weed and prepared the soil for a mid-May planting. He repeatedly monitored the soil's pH. I felt like buying him a pair of overalls.

On Mother's Day, he returned from the nursery with a car full of plants. "Get your trowel and garden gloves," he said. "Let's plant."

For the first time, I entered the Eden-to-be. I crouched down and dug holes for the fragile plants, inhaling the heady smell of moist, loamy soil. It was a warm day, and the mixture of sun and sweat and home-grown compost was like an elixir of fecundity, filling my nay-saying head with thoughts of our own little farmers' market.

Days later, during my weekly visit to our village farm market, I bought yellow pear tomato and cubanelle pepper plants. My husband acted nonchalant when I took the tender little crops out of the car, but I knew he was pleased I was drinking the Kool-Aid. I ran the rest of the food inside and reappeared quickly, ready to dig.

Within two months, neat rows of seeds and tiny plants exploded into a forest of leaves and vines. The herbs and lettuces grew faster than we could eat them. Tiny flowers on the watermelon and pumpkin vines signaled success. By July 4, we used garlic scapes and basil to make pesto. Unearthing the first of our carrots was a moment of awe. They were about 10 inches long and 2 inches wide, with curly leaf tops, and they burst with earthy flavor when you snapped one between your teeth. No wonder we had a rabbit living in the patch for weeks.

August brought forth a bounty - and a dose of humility. Our watermelons were misshapen and resembled cucumbers when we sliced them open; the pumpkins only grew to the size of large grapefruits. But we bore baskets and baskets of tomatoes and sweet Cubanelle peppers, and we unearthed an abundance of fragrant garlic and onions.

My kitchen filled with colors and aromas. Pasta sauces were made entirely out of homegrown vegetables; I starting giving away jars of pesto. My daughter begged us to set up a table and umbrella to sell tomatoes like our neighbor. Maybe next year. Now we're wrapping up one last harvest - spinach, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Our Thanksgiving will include some of what we've grown. When I raise my glass that night, I'll thank my husband for showing me how resilient he - and our homestead - can be. Spoiled by our fresh, homegrown crops, we are now talking about greenhouses and raising chickens.

Next year, we will expand the garden. We will forgo watermelons and pumpkins. We may even turn our incredible pesto into an enterprise. But first, I need a pair of overalls.

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