Monday, June 23, 2008

Home: Bounty in waiting

When we took up residence here two years ago, the place was, in a word, overgrown. We spent that first summer wielding an arsenal of bladed tools, preoccupied with pruning and digging, hacking and slashing, building a brush pile the size of a suburban garage.

Then last spring, we resurrected a small garden plot in a corner of our back yard. We tilled the soil with simple hand tools and spiked it with rich homemade compost, some of it a by-product of the previous year's labor.

Perhaps because we didn't have grand expectations for such a modest garden -- less than a hundred square feet of shallow topsoil over hard clay -- we were thrilled with the yield.

So we've planted again.

Working the soil was easier this year, thanks to an electric mini-tiller that my wife won in a sales contest. We added more organic material and built four raised beds. Into the tilled earth went an assortment of herb, tomato, pepper and cucumber plants, all from a local family-owned nursery, plus seeds for radishes, lettuce and peas.

Two weeks in, all of the seeds are up and every plant is thriving. And so we wait for this little patch of ground to give up, bit by bit, its bounty.

No store-bought candy compares to shelling and eating sweet peas, right from the vine. Fresh rosemary and parsley will grace a skillet of potatoes, basil and oregano will perfect a bowl of pasta, and chiles and cilantro will go into a pot of slow-cooked chili. Vine-ripened plum tomatoes and a medley of herbs, married by olive oil and a splash of vinegar, will come to rest on Provolone cheese and grilled Italian bread. By autumn, we'll open the first cured jar of refrigerator pickles made with homegrown cucumbers and dill.

While our garden isn't capable of feeding our family, it complements nicely the produce available from farmers' markets. It also hones skills and senses necessary for sustenance farming. And it reminds us of the difference between grabbing food from a bin and drawing it carefully from the earth.

These days, that reminder may be the best bounty of all.