The suburbs of Rockland were my rest stop between city and farm. I moved from the city to an acre in the suburbs six years ago now, and dug a little garden. The amount of sweat that has poured off me in that garden was substantial.
I situated the garden under a massive oak tree so it wouldn’t interfere with Frisbee tossing on the grass. I hadn’t foreseen that this corner wouldn’t get any sun once the oak tree got its leaves. Well, my thimble-sized carrots were the sweetest you ever tasted.
Year two: I went to town with my hoe on a plot twice the size of the original one, in a sunnier location, although the whole yard was pretty well shaded. I got a call from husband Joe upon his return home. “I didn’t know you were going to rip up half the yard.” I hung up. He called back. His suburban mentality had been surprised, that was all. Hell, he said, farm the whole yard if you feel like it! That was more like it.
This yield was only slightly better than last. It included balls of corn containing 10 kernels apiece; more thimble-sized carrots (purple this time); and tomato plants with yellow flowers but still no fruit by the fall frost. Dead-set on getting a tomato, I dug up one tomato plant, transplanted it into a giant pot, and lugged it to our bedroom, where it commanded a view of the driveway out a south-facing window. I took down the blind so the plant would get the maximum available sun.
“If this doesn’t work,” mocked Joe, “we’ll get the tomato a hotel room.” Without the blind, neither of us could sleep past 6 a.m.
Our sacrifice was not in vain. In February, my winter tomato stunned naysayers with a single ruby red fruit.
After it had given birth and just before the plant gave its last gasp, I took cuttings. They survived. Now I could get a head start by planting juvenile tomato plants in the spring instead of seedlings. Who says you can’t put one over on Mother Nature?
After that, my yard’s productivity – while still paltry – skyrocketed in comparison to year one. Partly, that’s because I picked up gardening tricks like 1) Use raised beds full of soil from under the leaf pile and 2) The aforementioned tomato head start program. The combination produced a tomato jungle that towered over the rest of my garden.
But there’s another reason for the increased output, and it’s kind of embarrassing. After a camping trip, I had brought home and transplanted a wild raspberry cutting. Days later, I checked on it. The cutting had withered, but that overgrown thorny heap devouring the fence? Those reddish canes resembled the raspberry bush I’d been coveting. On closer look… Yep, here I was working myself to the bone to grow mouthfuls, losing a winter’s worth of quality sleep for one undersized tomato, when a walk around the yard would have uncovered a berry cornucopia.
In case I hadn’t gotten the point (pick your head up, look around), nature went ahead and offered me another gentle proof of her gardening superiority. I was admiring my tomato jungle by moonlight. Weeding in the dark is dicey, and there was nothing else to be done, so I wandered aimlessly. That led me to a gnarled tree I’d never thought of as anything but third base in Wiffle Ball. There at eye level, 20 paces from my garden, glowed a small green globe. I took a bite. Not a crab apple. It was a crunchy, delicious apple without a single wormhole. There were a dozen of them. It had only taken me four years to notice.
Becca Tucker is a former Manhattanite who now farms in upstate New York.
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