The Gardening Problem I Never Thought I'd Have

Well, it is now mid-July and my corn is definitely taller than knee-high. The cherry tomatoes have grown up and out and are even in need of a pruning. The overgrown cucumber vines look like something out of sci-fi movie. What I planted only back in late May has grown into a robust, producing vegetable garden.

Frankly, I can't believe it. You have to understand that I am a city girl who grew up in apartments in Los Angeles. My father once remarked that if the world had more concrete and less plants, it sure would make life easier in terms of upkeep. Needless to say, we never had a garden.

So here I am in my mid-forties with the enviable problem of too many vegetables, which I grew, on my hands.

As I mentioned in my "I'm Starting a Garden" blog, this summer's plot is my first vegetable garden. Back in May, when I planted the baby plant starts and seeds, I was pretty sure I'd blow it. I figured that with how few people grow a vegetable garden it had to be pretty darn hard. When I turned the soil in my 8-foot-by-3-foot plot, adding compost, I repeated to myself how I would tend this patch no matter what; I committed myself to those baby plants. You see, I'm a darn good starter of things, but not always so good at the follow-through. Gardeners, I assumed, needed to be excellent at the follow-through. I believed them to be hyper-vigilant green thumbs who spent hours each day tending their gardens. What I've learned is that "pretty attentive" works OK in a small vegetable patch like mine.

After my seeds and starts were in the ground, I visited the plot daily. There wasn't a whole lot to attend to, but it seemed like what a good gardener would do. Some days I'd water; some days I'd pluck a few weeds. There was the Wednesday that I staked some growing tomatillos. A few times I added some of the über-nutrient-rich organic compost I'd bought by sprinkling it around the plants; I'd read that it was good to do that, not always to mix it in.

Before I knew it, my three varieties of kale—Curly, Red Russian and Lacinato—we're sporting full-grown leaves just like those you pay money for at the grocery store. I was so shocked I consulted a veteran gardener friend, who informed me it was time to harvest some. I pinched one of each off at the bottom as she'd instructed and brought them into the kitchen. There on my counter were three leaves of kale, ready to eat, that I grew. I put them into my smoothie and thus began what is now my summer morning routine: wake up, water garden if necessary, then pick kale and maybe some mint and parsley for my smoothie.

I had expected gardening to be boring—a small price to pay for growing my own food, I told myself. But my little patch is far from mundane. It evolves every few days, and I find myself heading out there with the anticipation of what it might have growing; what might be ripe for the picking. Last week, a dozen or so fully formed green beans hung heavily off their vines, ready to be picked. The little green balls adorning the cherry tomato plants are just beginning to blush with color. The tomatillo plant emits the scent of a Mexican restaurant when you are close to it, and I can't wait to try the small green tomatoes growing in their papery packages.

My garden's giving does not stop with me. Butterflies and bees flit and buzz around, feeding on the flowers.

I do have quite a lot of gardening basics to learn. When I'm not marveling over the simple fact that it's growing and producing, I'm taking notes for next year's planting: I won't plant things so close together. My basil struggles under the shade and tangled vines of the 4-foot tomato plant. The cucumber vine bullies its way in every direction; next year it will grow alone in a separate plot.

I also want to add rock dust to the plot before I plant next year. My conversation, and subsequent NVL article , with Joanna Campe, executive director of Remineralize the Earth, taught me about the importance of replacing minerals in the soil. So next spring I will be ordering rock dust and enhancing the soil with it.

In addition to the joy of watching the garden grow and give life-sustaining nourishment, I feel empowered by the knowledge that I can grow my own food. It doesn't take special training or superior patience and focus that I lack. It takes some dirt, seeds, water and a bit of your attention. I realize my little plot is just that, little; that larger gardens and farming require a tremendous amount of those things I just mentioned. But to grow a small kitchen garden—well, anybody can do it.