Growing up Gardening


My grandfather always grew fruits and vegetables as did his grandfather and great grandfather.  Maybe it was because he was familiar with farm life as a young man.  Like many others, my grandparents had a Victory gardens during the war and later, when they lived in a place where a garden wasn’t workable he would improvise and even once bought a small farm which had a few cows and room to grow a garden.

When they lived in San Diego they had fruit trees on their property.  I was especially fond of the nectarines as I preferred its smooth outer skin, unlike the peach which was more flavorful but had peach fuzz which didn’t suit me at all.  There wasn’t really enough room to have a vegetable garden so he picked out a plot in the community garden, going to tend to his plants every few days and bringing back any that were ready to eat.  When stayed with them during the summers, I would often go with him.  He lived in two more places before he died and each one had a community garden nearby ensuring that he would have a place to grow his vegetables.

Joseph loved to work in the garden.

Joseph loved to work in the garden.

My grandmother always made eating fruits and vegetables fun.  She would put a maraschino cherry on the top of our grapefruit halves.  Sometimes she would tell us stories that had to do with fruits and vegetables.  On time, while eating watermelon, she wanted to make sure we spit out the seeds so she told us that her brother, who was a doctor had once taken out someone’s appendix and when he did a whole bunch of watermelon seeds popped out.  Was it true?  I don’t know?  But, it made us think when we were eating watermelon and I mostly spit out the seeds.  My grandparent’s love of fresh fruits and vegetables has instilled in me, a love of gardening which I have carried with me to this day.  To me, it has been a natural part of my life.

ImageMy step-mother also grew fruits and vegetables and as a gourmet cook, she introduced me to more and more varieties of both.   She taught me how to can foods and pickle olives and cucumbers.  Our garage had one area with shelves made into a squared off pantry of sorts that was lined with an assortment of recently canned foods and when the pickles were done we’d sell them for a nickel a piece to the neighborhood kids.  One year we grew zucchini and had planted too many plants.  We  made zucchini everything and still had too much even after giving lots to the neighbors…eventually they refused to accept any more.  I got tired of the taste of zucchini (even when it was camouflage in sweet bread) and it was many years before I was willing to eat even small amounts of it.  From this, I learned to only grow as much as you need and just a wee bit more to share with your friends.

When my daughter was young, she would help me care for our own garden, eating the beans as she picked them off the bush.  When she started eating solid food, I ground up just a little of what we ate, never canned baby food.  One of my favorite memories of my own garden was being able to make fresh apple pies whenever I wanted.  We had a few miniature trees (because I didn’t want to have too many pieces of fruit) and I would pluck a few apples and whip up a batch of dough for the crust so that it would be ready to pop into the oven after dinner.  I got so good at it that it only took me fifteen minutes to prepare the whole thing.

Even as a teacher I tried to include growing a garden as one of our class projects. When we were designing the back yard landscape at the school, I made a special request for two large garden beds.  That year, the students created their first vegetable garden and on the day that they had picked the harvest, they took all the cucumbers, with their twists and curls and spelled out the name of the school on the ground in front of the bed, posing afterwards, for a class photo.

Needless to say, my daughter immediately found a smile on my face when she told me that she and my three year old grandson were planting vegetables one day.  I have never met a child who grew a garden and did not like vegetables.  It seems to be one of the easiest ways to encourage a healthy diet.