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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Gardeners know the best dirt

Carole Townsend 

Carole Townsend 

Editor’s Note: Carole Townsend, a correspondent for the Daily Post, is writing a blog called “Food for Thought.” It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com/townsend.

When I was a little girl growing up in Doraville, my dad always had a garden. I remember him tilling the ground when the days would begin to warm, and my siblings and I would help him prepare the rows and sow the seeds. He’d show us how to step carefully and not disturb the tiny treasures we’d just covered with rich dirt. I remember the fat robins that would hop along behind his tiller, dining high on surprised earthworms who thought they’d hidden themselves pretty well.

Dad would grow squash, tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, onions, peppers — you name it, and he’d grow it. Even back then, I remember the feeling of watching a seed sprout first two leaves, then four, and before we knew it, there was a plant or vine heavy with produce. The feeling was one of awe, satisfaction and I don’t know, something else. Something very earthy and basic. It seemed that in the heat of summer with all my dad’s plants heavy with vegetables, all was right with the world.

There’s something about gardening that keeps us grounded, I think. It’s kind of hard to put on airs when you’re mixing animal waste into dirt, pulling weeds and battling science-fiction-looking insects with pesticide-free solutions, all so you can eventually get a tomato that tastes like a tomato and not a baseball.

My mother, both a Virginia-raised country girl and a corporate woman way ahead of her time, would can (or “put up,” as she’d say) green beans, tomatoes, corn, pickles and applesauce. Our basement shelves were always lined from floor to ceiling with nature’s bounty.

This year was the first summer I tried my hand at gardening. Farmers markets and community gardening are all the rage again; gardening is one of those things that’s “trending” again, it seems. My husband built a raised garden bed, and back in April we planted tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and three kinds of peppers. Of course I had to buy an artsy metal sign to stick in the soil too, and my masterpiece was complete.

Then we waited. Sure enough, about a week or two after planting, up through the ground popped tiny tender leaves. As the days warmed, the plants grew at a pretty fast pace and before long, the nice, neat rows had jumbled together into a jungle thicket. I made a note to plan better next year, allowing more room for the plants to spread.

By mid-June, I was afraid of my garden. I would go out to pick the day’s harvest (by now we were getting baskets full of veggies every day), and inevitably, something would fly into my face or hair, sting me or hiss at me. The hissing actually turned out to be the air conditioning hose, but still…it could have been a snake. Around that same time, a big, fat toad took up residence under the runaway cucumber vine. Every time I gingerly stuck my hand into the tangled greenery to check for the spiny veggies, the toad would jump onto my hand or foot or once (and I still have nightmares), right down my shirt.

So I’d say mid-June was when my husband actually started harvesting the bounty on his own. I took over when the vegetables were brought into the pest-free, air conditioned house.

Last week, I canned little jars of banana and jalapeno peppers. I was so excited that I actually did it — with no fires, explosions or burns - and the little jars of peppers look so cute. I plan to tackle homemade salsa in the next few days, so wish me luck.

I experienced that feeling again this summer, that satisfaction and wonder at what a seed and some dirt can produce. It took me right back to the days of my dad’s garden and that safe and predictable thing called childhood. This summer I watched my daughter, who typically has no interest in the outdoors unless there’s a theme park or swimming pool involved, go out to our little garden every morning just to see what was there and harvest it. And I felt a little bit closer to my Dad, whose 92nd birthday happens to be this week. His gardening days are well over, but he taught us how to do it, so maybe they aren’t really over after all.

Do you do your own gardening, or have you found a favorite farmer’s market here in Gwinnett? Tell us about it.