Best Laid Plans

As Autumn began that first year of our garden, life had taken on a frenetic pace. Our girls were both in school now. Elementary School has a way of making time skip and hop. There were holiday concerts, birthday parties, first attempts at sports and ballet. These things required all kinds of shoes, ballet shoes, gym shoes and pretty little patent leather Mary Janes. I remember  little shoes all over the house, hanging from the cellar door, piled by the back door and of course the basket by the front door. There were parent teacher conferences, secret reader days and cupcakes to be baked for their special day. These parental things we did, these obligations we chased had a way of keeping us from essential family time. Time we promised we’d catch up on, next week we’ll go out, next year we’ll go on a weekend getaway. Somehow, it got away from us.

The Duke Farms in Hillsborough New Jersey had recently begun a relationship with NOFA NJ, Northeast Organic Farming Association. Together they were offering an Organic Gardening class at the Estate and I was beyond eager to attend. There was a cost involved of course and I was working full-time at a retail book store with crazy unpredictable hours. The girls were still young and needed to be watched. There was simply no way for us to go together to the class. After considering all of these parameters, I decided to go ahead and take the class with a friend of mine. Every Saturday for 6 weeks, I would get up and leave my family to attend gardening class with my friend for the day. The classes were amazing! I learned all kinds of things I didn’t even know I needed to know about. There were cover crops to build the loam and health of your soil. There was companion planting, to boost your crops and help control pests. There were gardening tools made in America by hand. There were all kinds of organic seed companies that offered more seeds than I could ever grow. As my fever for the garden grew at class, something else was stewing at home. As every gardener knows, if you neglect your garden, weeds will grow.

The Winter months disappeared in the rush of the Holidays. Soon I was making plans for the garden again. Pouring over newly discovered seed catalogs, carefully plotting the crops for the best yields. I had decided to allow my friend to help us in our garden. We had taken the Organic Gardening class together and certainly with this new-found knowledge and another set of hands to help, this years garden would most certainly be the best. My friend would come over to help, we discussed new plants to try, and new structures we could build for trellising cucumbers.  Trips to the gardening supply store were made and soon we were digging up the plots and planting our first organic crops.

In all of my gardening excitement, I had neglected some vital pieces of the puzzle, my family. Now I found myself in the garden with my friend. Gone were the days of little girls in dresses with strawberry stains. My husband was upstairs working in his office. My girls were off with friends or up in their rooms. I was mad. What was happening? I thought we were building this garden of dreams together? I continued to labor away. My friend and I planted our organic crops. We had brussel sprouts, broccoli and we planted garlic for the first time. There were Japanese climbing cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes. I took notes and weeded with fancy new tools acquired by my friend. Yet, the garden was a disaster.

The disappointment was palpable. Our freezer did not fill nearly as much as the previous year. There were no fabulous melons to bring to work. The hours my husband and I spent crawling around the tomato patch laughing and cursing were gone. Our daughters had lost interest completely, it would be a good five years before we saw them wander into the garden on their own again. A most valuable lesson I had learned. Family is the best ingredient in any kitchen garden. The time spent together in the dirt is most precious and the crops you grow together taste the best.

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