Last summer was my big 4-0. I went on a grand hiking adventure in Scotland complete with summiting Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in Great Britain. This summer, I have decided for various reasons (namely money and exhaustion) that I was going to stick closer to home and scale everything back. I have a new goal for this summer: growing things.
We always had a garden when I was growing up. We grew corn, green beans, potatoes, carrots, peppers, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers. We had rows and rows of raspberry cane. We would forage for choke cherries on the wind breaks by my great aunt’s farm.
Us kids were in charge of picking raspberries. You had to pick them gently and slowly because the fruit was delicate and the tiny thorns were brutal. But the effort was rewarded with endless berries eaten from our fingertips and, if we were lucky, raspberry sauce on ice cream or angel food cake that night. We also got the terrible jobs of endless, endless weeding. And picking the prickly pickling cucumbers. And snapping green beans.
We had a root cellar and a deep freeze and my mother would carefully can or freeze the fruits of our efforts each September. I have startlingly strong memories of our kitchen filling with the sharp smell of vinegar from pickling in the early fall. Of tomato sauce bubbling on the stove and requiring my mom’s careful skimming of oil every few hours. And of staining our hands red and purple making jam.
I had never tried a canned green bean until I got to middle school and forgot my packed lunch one morning. It bore no resemblance to the green beans at home. I didn’t really know what it was. I still remember my friends laughing as I spit it out in my napkin.
We were so lucky. But not the way you might think. I know now, looking back, that this bounty was not just a hobby for my parents. It was born from necessity. We were rural poor. A garden provided our sustenance. We literally would not have had enough to eat if we had not grown things. But we were lucky in our unluckiness as well. This yearly work of planting, growing and harvesting taught me about where food comes from, how the Earth can provide for us, how work yields results, and how simple and beautiful food you have grown and made can be.
I am happy to say that my daughter has never been hungry. We have always had ample money for groceries. I have never had to put an item back in the checkout line because we couldn’t afford it. We are fortunate. So very fortunate. But I still want Violet to learn all the lessons that gardening has for us.
So, this summer is about growing things. I have built a garden (with help from Violet). We picked seedlings. We turned and screened our compost pile and gathered up all the worms we could find. We are ready.
This summer will be about Violet learning the smell of tomato vines, and eating strawberries before the rabbits get them, and pulling weeds. About picking fruit in season. This is the summer of dirt under our fingernails. So we can reap the rewards of fall. So we can grow.