How My Garden Grows

Did you look at the header image for this post? I mean, did you really, really look at it? Did you notice the 3-inch pea plant poking up in the back? The tiny little green strawberries? The radishes and greens? That's my organic garden, friends. My garden.

I know, I know -- it's not cool to brag, and I don't mean to boast (but "I'm intercontinental..."), but of all the life challenges I've taken on in the past two years, growing a successful organic garden has always seemed like the one I was least likely to achieve. It's still early, you're probably thinking, don't take that victory lap quite yet. 

And still, looking at my garden makes me a little bit giddy. Here's a little bit of back story:

Just over 10 years ago, my wife and I, having thrown out our last neglected, dried out, brown houseplant, decided that we weren't really "plant people." Some people loved their plants and cared for them carefully and consistently; we didn't. Heck, until we ran into them, accidentally breaking off their crusty leaves, we didn't even notice they were there.

Although I felt a little bit funny about it, I never once regretted this decision. As parents, my wife and I are much more responsive and responsible. If one of the kids needs water, we make sure they get it. Maybe if those plants had been a bit more vocal about their needs, they'd still be thriving.

Just over two years ago, when my interest in local food took over my life, I decided it was time to grow my own food. Remembering our experience with the plants (and being from New York and all), I decided to hire our garden out. When I proudly told the world that we were farmers, having paid A Backyard Farm to do the work for us, my friends just rolled their eyes. Even my wife thought it was silly at first -- did I want to grow my own food, or not?

When I decided to hire A Backyard Farm in 2009, I told my friends that my goal was to learn from them, and to eventually handle garden on my own. Did I believe this? I don't know. But I do know that A Backyard Farm was terrific -- they got us all set up, helped us plan the garden, and came back each week to help us figure out what we had. It was a start.

Last year was a different story. Being members of Featherstone's CSA, the idea of paying gardeners a weekly fee didn't work for us. We would take care of the garden on our own!

Except that we didn't. Lacking the gardening knowledge -- and, to be fair -- the interest in learning, my family watched our lettuce bolt as the weeds took over right before our very eyes. The low point of the season was when my father-in-law came by to take a look:

"Why isn't our broccoli growing?" we asked him.

"Broccoli? That's a potato plant," he answered. Ugh.

We resolved to call it quits, cut our losses, and keep the garden covered in 2011.

When my brother and his wife sent us a box of seeds for the holidays, I started to wonder if we could make them grow. And then, at last month's Earth Day community dinner at the Birchwood Cafe, my wife Laura told Farmer Greg Reynolds that there was no way we were going to try again this year: we're lousy farmers, and that's that.

"90 percent of farming is not giving up," Greg told Laura. Five days later, a large package of seeds arrived in the mail and we were off.

And so, here we are at the beginning of a (hopefully) long summer, looking proudly at a small garden that almost didn't exist. We've learned a lot about gardening over the past two years, to be sure -- including how to tell the difference between broccoli and potato plants. We've also learned a bit about ourselves: our persistence, our ability to take advice from people who are smarter than us, our commitment to the garden, and our ability to adjust the timer on our irrigation system when the need arises.

Most importantly, we've learned that when we're just about ready to quit doing something hard, we should be careful who we tell.



Lee Zukor is the founder of Simple, Good, and Tasty. Email him at