I have an ambivalent relationship with vegetable gardening due to my youth on a Tennesee farm. The upside of a vegetable garden is obvious. We had homegrown tomatoes from about July 4 through the rest of the summer, juicy, sweet and picked when they were ripe, not shipped in from Florida or Mexico. If you wanted green beans for dinner, you went out and picked some. Silver Queen sweet corn was so flavorful it really didn’t need butter. Cucumbers, cantaloupe–Mother cut it up in slices and kept a gallon jar full in the refrigerator–“shelly” beans, all were grown every year. There’s not much better than a thick slice of ripe, homegrown Big Boy tomato on a hot biscuit with butter.
The downside for me was two issues: hard, manual labor, and bugs. A large garden has to be hoed to get rid of the weeds, if you want to have any significant amout of produce. And gardens are not like grocery stores. You cannot shop when you need something. When the garden “comes in,” you have to pick, eat, freeze, can and/or share. One memorable summer the Kentucky Wonder pole beans would not stop bearing, I suppose due to optimal rain and sun. Mother and I canned or froze a total of 100 quarts of beans. I walked between the rows muttering, “Die, bastards, die.” We even canned two bushels for Aunt Eunice in exchange for her making a slipcover for the couch. And Kentucky Wonders are string beans, so you have to string them as well as break them before canning or freezing. I resented the extra work.
Our garden was not organic by any stretch, since Daddy put a little fertilizer in the soil before we planted (not much, or you got all leaves and no fruit, so to speak). We also used a pesticide on the young plants, but once they started bearing we couldn’t safely do that. So bugs became a presence by the time we were ready to harvest from the garden.
The worms that get in ears of corn weirded me out, but they at least were not belligerent. My real battles were with the blister bugs, or blister beetles, to give them their proper name. The ones in our garden lived on the tomato plants. They were one to two inches long with vertical black and white stripes. If I approached a plant with a blister bug on it, the bug would do a sort of push-up and elevate its rear legs, the better to spray my hand with acid. The acid raised blisters on anything it touched. I learned to carry a stick with me so I could knock off any blister bugs that threatened, although I had to be careful not to knock them onto another plant where I planned to pick.
So I don’t have fond memories of gardening back in Tennessee. Every once in a while the impulse to grow something still rises. I used to grow tomatoes on my balcony, which my boyfriend called “the back forty,” but quit when I realized they were the most expensive tomatoes I’d ever had, and not very good to boot. The kind you can grow in pots are not very flavorful. I have the occasional pot of herbs along with the flower boxes, just to prove I still have it. I could have a truck patch if I had to, but please don’t make me do it!