Sunday, January 4, 2009

Recession Garden

In what my superego keeps naggingly telling me is an absurd and self-delusional exercise in futility, I have begun my Recession Garden.

My superego makes several solid points. It observes, (1) less than half of the things you plant will actually produce more then 4 ounces of harvest--drought, birds, and bugs will get the rest. (2) You'll forget to harvest half of the potentially harvestable produce, and it will bolt/rot/dessicate. (3) Of the remainder you do harvest, half will go bad before you buy the other necessary ingredients to make something with them, half will go bad because they'll look weird, mushy, and misshapen and you just won't be able to bring yourself to eat them, and half (the third half) will go bad because Matt cordially hates almost all vegetables and you won't want to eat them by yourself. However, you will harvest 2 undersized tomatillos, roast and puree them, and put them in the freezer to use later in a salsa. They will remain in the freezer for the next four years, slowing turning into astronaut food.

My superego frequently indulges in sage observations like these, and I just as frequently sing loudly while stuffing my fingers in my ears. In the case of my Recession Garden, though, I can't help it: it's the zeitgeist. Prudence and frugality and Puritan self-reliance are in the air. They aren't really qualities I possess, but I can't help going through the motions, all the same.

So, telling my superego to stuff it, I, Goody Melanie, planted half a large pot of D'Avignon radish seeds and half another pot of Lolla Rossa lettuce in our greenhouse. In a couple of weeks, I'll plant the other half of the pots, theoretically extending my harvest. I have intoxicating visions of salads comprised entirely of home-grown goodness. Of breakfasting on freshly dug radishes dipped in butter and fleur-de-sel. Of lowering my grocery bill by the whopping $4 I spend on lettuce and radishes every couple of weeks. We're in the money, baby.

I also planted some lemon grass (I'll be lucky if I use that even once in a bowl of Tom Yum soup--for which I would have to also buy Asian mushrooms, coconut milk, and galangal root), some Mrs. Burns lemon basil (delicious in marinara sauce... which I usually buy in a jar), and Violetto artichokes (a variety I have to remember to harvest punctually when young and tiny or they will turn woody and nasty).

Yup. This is going to save us a ton of money.

I suspect that for this enterprise to have any validity whatsoever, I'm going to need to institute Garden Days--maybe Wed and Sun. Take a basket with me into the garden, harvest everything that's close to ready, and make valiant efforts to work the results into a meal. I'll have to have failsafe recipes standing by for those occasions when my harvest consists of 1 baby artichoke, 2 cherry tomatoes, 5 leaves of lettuce, and 30 pasilla peppers. And I'll need to make strategic grocery purchases ahead of time (always keep lemons on hand for the artichokes; cream and pie crusts for the pumpkins; and breadcrumbs and parmesan for frying eggplants) so that whatever I harvest can be turned into something edible right away. And it would be helpful if I made a practice of trolling through the cherry tomatoes on the way to work to grab some for lunch.

This, I think, is not an aspect of vegetable gardening that is emphasized in the seed catalogs. You imagine yourself reclining at your ease in your garden, jewel-toned fruits and vegetables hanging fat and plentiful on the vine, while your harvest magically coalesces into a bounty of salad niçoise, artichoke and salsify bisque, swordfish provençal, and strawberries romanoff. But making use of your harvest requires at least as much planning and strategy and effort as growing the darn thing in the first place. It requires, in fact, a lifestyle change.

But this here would be the winter of our discontent. To be made glorious summer by rigorous applications of fish emulsion, mulch, and implacable personal discipline.


janiceyoungblood said...

I've skipped past the cool season plants and have started dreaming of onions, squash, and watermelons... I haven't hardly touched real dirt in years but now that I have Michael's little yard to dream in, I'm feeling dangerous. Apologies for the use of Milford's 4-letter-word... ;-)

Elgin_house said...

"'Dirt' is what's under your fingernails," Mrs. Butera! _Soil_ is what you grow plants in.

I'm delighted you're finally getting a yard to dig in. Let me know how your cucurbits grow!

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