My Life As a Vegetable Gardener

My entire history of vegetable gardening took place during the spring and summer of 1971 in Midland, Texas, the only summer i stayed in Midland during the years i taught at Midland College.

In the early spring i was out in the back yard of the little house i was renting and noticed this fern-like weed growing vigorously over by the east fence, encouraged by unseasonably early rain that year. Since i’d already decided that i was going to take care of the yard, i went over to pull this weed up. However, as i bent to grab one of the stalks by the base i noticed something quite strange right beside it. Good grief, i wondered, that looks like an asparagus spear!

And it was. And since i liked asparagus and was so stone broke that buying a luxury as expensive as asparagus was out of the question, i ran for the hose.

A bit of background here for the readers fortunate enough to know nothing of west Texas. It’s a semi-desert. The annual rainfall for Midland is 14.5 inches (37 cm.) and the great majority of this rain comes in the summertime. In fact, the average rainfall in Midland in each of the months from November through April is less than two cm., so if you want anything other than a handful of hardy native plants to survive, you have to run water on it with a garden hose.

So i did. And i even coughed up a few dollars for some fertilizer to scatter around the patch. And as the stalks got large enough, i cut and refrigerated them until i had enough to make that excellent Joy of Cooking recipe “Creamed Eggs and Asparagus Cockaigne”, a rich dish i made for Dutch friends on one of my visits just to show them that green asparagus could be edible.

Harvesting my own asparagus in the spring made me realize that i could plant something myself, and i decided on tomatoes and okra. I spaded up a section of the sunniest part of the yard and put in four “Beefsteak” variety tomato sets. The okra i decided to grow from seed, so i planted a bag of seeds in a straight line at the end of the tomatoes. The tomato sets grew vigorously from the day of planting, and then, in a few days i saw a row of tiny okra seedlings break through the soil. After a week or so, the okra seedlings were several inches tall and so i went down the row pulling almost of them up so that the remaining four would have plenty of room to make vigorous, heavily laden plants.

The next morning i went out and discovered that during the night mystery varmints had come out of nowhere and gobbled down to ground level all four of the okra seedling i’d left. My first garden tragedy.

But the tomatoes grew like mad, and since i’d never peered over the fence of the codger who lived behind me, i didn’t know that his life revolved around growing tomatoes using astonishingly elaborate cultivation methods. As it turned out, he was also covertly monitoring the progress of my crop since i was clearly a competitor.

So we both watched as my plants grew and grew and then blossomed and were covered with little green tomatoes that got larger and larger and larger, and then redder and redder and redder until finally he could bear it no longer and lay in wait behind his fence until i came outside. He then opened his gate and came into my yard beside me and my tomatoes and plaintively inquired, “Are you gonna just let ’em rot on the vine?”

And then i knew it was harvest time, so i picked two, and we ate them standing there. I didn’t remember ever eating a better tomato, feasted on them all summer, and gave many to friends. And apparently i was not the only person who’d never tasted a better tomato because he for sure never gave me none of his to compare.

Since i don’t have a garden now, i confine myself to house plants. Here’s my Aloe aristata, on regal display for passers by in my southeast office window.


Aloe aristata

I’d been thinking as the winter progresses and spring nears that it ought to be showing its appreciation of my granting it the best spot in the house, and my heart kept sinking as i peered nearsightedly into the center, hoping hoping to see the tip of an inflorescence.  Nothing.  “Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion.”  And then i happened to glance down to the side a bit and saw this tiny bud:

tiny bud

Surely you didn’t expect it to be dramatic yet.

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