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Sweet Garden Success

Meal planning has become like triage; we eat whatever is most urgently ripe

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The author's vegetable garden. Photo courtesy of Lisa Bramen.

I’m about halfway through my first season of vegetable gardening, and frankly I’m amazed at how well it’s going. Considering how little I knew and how nervous I was going into this project, it’s been gratifying to see my little boxes of dirt turn into a well-stocked produce aisle. Few other endeavors would allow the novice such immediate success.

Much of it, of course, has been luck—I happen to have a south-facing backyard that gets sun all day, and Mother Nature has been doing a lot of the watering for me. The rest is just showing up: pulling weeds, pinching off tomato plant suckers (new growth in the joints of stems that could siphon away nutrients from the fruits) and harvesting veggies when they’re ready.

The latter, surprisingly, has been the most challenging. Some things, like lettuce mix and arugula, have grown so quickly and abundantly that I feel like Lucy Ricardo on the chocolate factory assembly line trying to keep up with it. I’ve been handing bags of the stuff to everyone I know, and I still have plenty left for two salads a day. Next year I’ll plant half as much.

And what was I thinking planting a whole row of dill? One plant would have been sufficient for the occasional sprig I need. I hadn’t realized they would grow to three feet tall. I couldn’t handle the pressure of a dozen plants daring me to find a use for them—and casting shadows over the rest of the bed—so I finally cracked and pulled up all but two (a couple of them found a new life transplanted in a friend’s garden).

Meal planning has become like triage; we eat whatever is most urgently ripe. One day, after weeks of eyeing my shelling peas, I realized they had reached peak plumpness and needed to be picked—stat! Any longer and they would become tough and starchy. Because peas take up so much space relative to their edible yield, we ate the entire harvest in one sitting. Next year, I’ll plant more peas.

I almost didn’t plant peas at all, because I have never been a fan. I was one of those kids who used to push my wan, shriveled frozen peas around my plate rather than eat them. But, along with tomatoes, peas might be the food with the most radical taste difference between fresh homegrown and store-bought. Fresh off the vine they are sweet and succulent—delicious.

Now on to the next project: learning how to pickle and can my surplus veggies so I can bring a little taste of summer into next winter—a season that always comes too soon around here.

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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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