Vegetable gardening always seemed like something that grounded, sensible, virtuous people did. I wasn’t any of those things. But I longed to be, and was willing to sacrifice 100 square feet of lawn and a few packets of seed to get there.
I began with foolishly enthusiastic naiveté, starting several flats of tomatoes indoors, sowing on the new moon, composting compulsively—and envisioning the day I’d share generous bumper crops with friends.
I had no idea what I was doing. For one thing, most of our available garden space spent long summer afternoons in the shade, thanks to the neighbor’s giant white pine. For another, the backyard had previously served as the dumping ground for two large dogs.
But it was what we had, so in early spring, my husband and I headed out with packets of carrot, kale, arugula, spinach, and pea seeds. We loosely followed label instructions and hoped for the best.
“We planted carrots!” I announced to my mom, wishing to finally earn some grownup cred despite being child-free and career-less in my mid-thirties. She obligingly acted proud.
In that first year, I did just about everything wrong. But our little bundles of joy sprouted anyway, forgiving my ignorance. Then the peas toppled for lack of support, the kale was pin-holed by cabbage worms, the spinach’s measly leaves hungered for the nitrogen I’d failed to fix in the soil. And the carrots, despite their fetching lacy green tops, grew spindly, stringy, and wan. Even a rabbit would turn its whiskery nose up at their paltriness.
But we still ate from that little garden. Salads of brightly zesty arugula, sautés of energy-packed kale. I was hooked. Failing had never been so fruitful.
I’ve learned a lot since that first year. I still screw something up every season. But I keep going anyway, like the grownup I might one day become.