My modest vegetable garden is in full swing and I’m pretty darn happy about it. I give all the credit to the resiliency of plants. When I was busy/busy I nearly forgot about the two tomato plants I bought from Kinnicutt Family Nursery at the Saturday Farmers Market. The hot concrete of my front porch radiated heat into the nearly lifeless containers and twice I watered the young plants just in time.
Weeks after my hope-filled purchase, I made the life-saving move and gave the tomatoes a home in the planter box — the black plastic truck bed liner filled with soil.
I will pat myself on the back when I harvest a bowl of tomatoes later in the season. However, the true reason for the success of tomato plants is that they possess a will to live.
This week I spotted a green plum tomato and more tomato flowers ready to be tickled. (Gently tickling the stem of the plant, just below the flower, helps with pollination. Bees are in short supply these days and I like to give the flowers a jiggle to help the pollen move from place to place. Plus, tickling makes me feel useful.)
In my continued effort to test fate, I proceeded to neglect the basil plant I bought from Angela Handy along Third Street at the Thursday night farmers market. The basil had been hiding in plain view near the volunteer wild grapevine that is threatening to eat my screen door. The basil snapped back with a little water and now has a home in a 15-gallon pot near the tortured tomatoes.
Basil, by the way, will die early if you let the plant produce flowers. The natural cycle is for the seed to sprout, grow into a plant, produce flowers (and seeds) and then die. By pinching off the basil flowers, the plant will keep growing and trying to produce those flowers. Better yet, give the plant a sharp pruning midway through the growing season and add the leaves to your salad. The plant will reward you with new growth.
Trader Joe’s sells those lanky basil plants, on display in the wooden cart near the entrance of the store. If you buy one, take it home, make some pesto, then put the shortened version of the plant in a pot by the kitchen door.
As I buy and abuse more plants, the raised bed is filling up. Meanwhile, the best thing growing in my garden is the accidental squash sprawling across the compost pile.
Last winter I bought a winter squash, a Delicata, which sat like a decoration on my kitchen counter. Squash, I have learned, can last for months and remain edible. I like to bake squash and I realized if I did not eat it soon I would be warming up my house while baking squash in a sundress.
After the squash was dutifully consumed, I tossed the seeds and shell in the compost pile. The seeds sprouted and created a lovely mass of greenery in an otherwise stinky hot spot. I’ve been watering the squash, which can only be good for the compost as well.
Volunteer squash can’t be trusted. I learned this the hard way in my early days of overly-enthusiastic gardening. Back then, I composted by digging a hole in the ground and throwing in food scraps until the hole was filled. Then I’d dig a new hole in a new location. My theory was that over time, I would improve the soil in many different locations. Way back then, something that looked like a squash plant arrived when I was not looking.
The leaves on that plant were monsters, and looked like something they would use to build shelter on the show “Survivor.” The plant continued to take up space until it covered an area the size of a Winnebago.
My nephew was young at the time and when the fruit began to grow, we were hopeful. The fruit turned out to be fun — day-glow orange, and shaped like a football. But when we sliced the mysterious object, it took brute force to make a dent. We ended up chucking the mystery balls back and forth in the yard as their shape suggested.
My nephew is in his 20s now, and lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If the squash growing in my compost pile ends up producing play-toys, rather than kitchen counter decorations, I’ll bring in a big box of fun to my future classroom.
In the meantime, I’ll wait for the mystery to unfold.