When you cook your own food, you are creating. You're contributing to a story that is uniquely YOU. And perhaps, the loved ones who enjoy the meal with you. Sure, going to Chipotle has a story (a delicious one), and that's nice and all (they use local, ethically raised/grown ingredients, btw), but I'm not really in that story, except as a consumer. And I don't want to just consume, I want to create, to contribute. (That's kind of the point of this blog, after all.)
So I'm trying to take it one step further, by growing my own food. Last summer I got into gardening, and it was pretty much the best thing ever. It was my therapy. Every afternoon I would come home from work, put my bag down, and go straight outside for a half an hour. I watered my plants, stared at them, smelling the herbs, pinching off dead leaves, and honestly just loving those plants. Oh and occasionally I would harvest a modest yield of tomatoes, bell peppers, mint, parsley, cilantro, and basil. I don't actually get much sun (7 hours in the sunniest spot), but growing tomatoes was still surprisingly rewarding.
My living situation right now means that there is not much space that belongs to just me, and these plants were MINE. I got to decide what to do with them, where to put them, how to care for them. I was responsible for their survival. I felt pride, and a sense of mastery, when I brought a few leaves of mint inside to add to a berry smoothie.
One big lesson from last year was: start earlier. About two weeks ago I realized it might be time to begin thinking about what I want to grow. So exciting. A crazy idea came to me that I should try growing from seed. This method has a few advantages: it's cheaper, you can get a wider variety of "breeds", ie random purple heirloom tomatos, yellow carrots, whatever. And also, you know, you can say, "See? See this huge plant, laden with fruit/vegetables/deliciousness/nutrition? I planted the seed."
I'm getting all goosebumpy just typing that.
I can't quite figure out how to write what it is about starting from scratch that grabs me so. I could get up on my farm-to-table foodie soapbox, and talk about getting closer to the source of our food, understanding and respecting it, and participating in the process. I could talk about local (check) and organic (check check) and fresh!, and nutrition (checkity check check). And it would all be true. So at the heart of what I believe, and what I want for myself and my potential children.
But there's something more. It has to do with fresh air. The smell of turned earth. The joy of seeing a slowly unfurling, bright green new leaf. The blush of red on a green tomato that is just beginning to ripen.
Maybe I'm just a nature kind of girl. Because it's REAL. More real than much of things in our modern world. More real than TV, or someone else's vacation photos on Facebook, or all those thoughts of what you imagine your life will be when you finally make it, whatever that means. Gardening gives you a chance to live fully in the present moment, telling the murky past and the uncertain future to quit tapping you on the shoulder, saying, "pay attention to me!" Go away now, I say, I'm tending my plants.
All that said, last week I seeded tomatoes, basil, lettuce, parsley, and cilantro.
I read about it online, got briefly overwhelmed, and managed to cover every south facing window sill with pots, all covered in plastic wrap to keep my little babies warm and the soil evenly moist. It would be a long wait - 14-21 days til germination for some! Sometimes my desire for instant gratification is a little hard to ignore. Plus I let myself get seized by the panicky thought that, what.if.nothing.grows? What if I used the wrong soil? What if I watered it too much/too little? What if there wasn't enough sun? So I raced out like a crazy woman and bought seedlings, so that just in case life did not find a way, I wouldn't have wasted 3 weeks of the growing season.
Well, someone really should have told me about garden centers. You know, candy stores for adults? That place you go, and like shopping when you're hungry, leave with so much more than you planned on buying. Arugula (seeds and seedlings), lettuce (all those mesclun varieties are so tempting), radish seeds, rosemary, and a freaking strawberry plant... You guys, it's a really good thing I had a gift certificate.
And then the next day I went to another garden store to get more potting soil, and came home with carrot, spring onion, and Carnival Mix bell pepper seeds.
I need help.
But then. THEN! Something happened. Something to justify all my manic-overdoing-biting-off-more-than-I-can-chew-my-home-looks-like-a-hothouse nutty behavior. I came home, pulled away the plastic wrap, and there they were. Tomato sprouts/seedlings/whatever you call thems! About 1 inch tall (how did they grow that fast, I swear there was nothing yesterday?)
I literally squealed, sang my way to the the other windows, and discovered basil! Dozens of little basil babies, poking their heads up with two of the most adorable leaves you ever saw.
There is so much pesto in my future.
The very next day, a tiny dot of green in the lettuce pot. The mint and chives are coming back from last year (very hardy), and rain all week has meant happy little plants crowding the deck. Happiness is being a gardener.