El Huerto…and Me In It
Over the last month or so, I’ve been laboring away on a project that I consider muy Americano: a backyard garden.
Por supuesto, I know growing a garden is by no means exclusively American (among others, my kids’ Guatemalan madrina reminds me that veggie gardening is very Guatemalan, too). I’m just saying, in my mind backyard gardening feels particularly American because a number of my American relatives gardened (while my Spanish relatives were typical city dwellers) and America has that longstanding agricultural tradition- those rolling, planted fields I’ve seen from the car window on road trips, those roadside produce stands… And, as I’m learning through my kids, an awful lot of little songs about farming.
So, when my husband and I built a house and finally moved out of a condo association last summer, I imagined the vegetable patch I would plant under the new house’s kitchen window: a little bit victory garden throwback, a little bit local eating solution, and a little bit American tradition I could really embrace.
Now, as background, I knew nothing about starting a garden prior to this year and had little help (the gardening American relatives are all either no longer living or living too far away to easily ask for advice). The only thing I had going for me was my entusiasmo and a husband willing to carry around thirty pound bags of topsoil. Oh, and maybe my willingness to play Maná, Buena Vista Social Club and La Oreja de Van Gogh while I garden, and to talk to my plants en español. (Look it up, that stuff’s supposed to work.)
I had to tear out the sod in the patch that would become our garden, mound up the bed, till the soil, research, plot the plants, choose seeds, direct seed some and start the rest indoors (and when those didn’t survive the transplant, replace them with hardy seedlings from the garden center), line the bed, and weed and thin before ever being able to step back and admire something resembling an actual vegetable garden. That last part happened today.
In the end, here’s what I’m growing: greens (Mesclun, Persian cress, Komatsu, and Purslane), mild Jalapeno peppers, green onions, peas, Japanese eggplant, tomatoes (Arkansas Traveler, Chadwick Cherry, Cherokee Purple, Stupice, Wisconsin 55 and Yellow Pear), sweet peppers (Corno Di Toro, Nardello, Purple Beauty Bell, Red Ruffled Pimiento, Sunrise Orange Bell and Tangerine Pimiento), zucchini, basil, oregano, and parsley. And tucked into another bed in another part of the yard (once I ran out of room in the kitchen window bed): Jubilee watermelon and Sugar pumpkins. We’ll be feasting all summer.
And I’ll be getting a kick out of myself all summer, too- the once-prissy Madrileña getting her hands dirty in a patch of dirt in Pennsylvania. Proof that even when transplanted, I can still thrive and grow.
*photo by docman