Friday, June 4, 2010

Never a surplus

No matter how much I long for the first strawberry, within weeks of the glorious inaugural bite, I am up to my neck in the fruits and ready to call it quits. I can barely keep up with harvesting them, let alone eating them or preserving them. I have 5 pounds of strawberries sitting in my fridge that I was going to turn into jam yesterday. But after a full day of work, then picking and cutting off runners, I was too tired to sterilize jars. So the whole lot was shoved into the fridge. Shoved in alongside the other giant bowlful I already had sitting there. If I don't make jam tomorrow, I will freeze them instead, for smoothies and sauces. Something that was just a few weeks ago an anticipated luxury has now become a burden.

I face this rapid transition from scarcity to surplus not just with strawberries, but with tomatoes, green beans, and summer squash -- namely, all the plants that I grow in much too much quantity for the size of my family. Not so with peas. Because I only have eight plants, in one square foot of garden space.

Square foot gardening keeps me in check with peas and other harvests -- I have two 3ft x 3ft beds, for a total of 18 square feet. I grow a different vegetable or herb in each. Initially, one may think that this style of microgardening is a little silly -- I mean, 4 ears of corn, really? But it offers -- in a very limited space - a way for my son to taste many different homegrown crops. It also offers a way for me to learn how to raise them, to be ready for the day when I can grow more than 9 beets or 16 radishes. And to be honest, 9 beets is just about enough for our family. If, for some reason, we all get a beet craving, I can always supplement with the farmer's market.

Raising crops on a microscale like this also allows me to focus on enjoying them in the moment. I am never overwhelmed by the harvest. I am never too busy thinking about preserving the surplus to savor the just-picked taste. Several of my square foot crops never even make it to the table. Carrots are washed and eaten on the spot. The peas are opened and gobbled as a quick early morning snack before the pre-work weeding. There is never a surplus of peas. I never even gather enough to serve as a side dish. I am shocked whenever I see home gardeners give pea recipes -- for soup, sautees and the like -- they must have a large bed dedicated to peas, and a lot of patience for shelling. Me, I'll stick to raw snacking, a pod here and there. It is a fleeting taste of early summer, and the scarcity makes it all the more precious.


  1. I certainly know what you are talking about. Everything I grow is in limited quantities. But, this is okay because I been there where I grew too much and could not even give enough away to the neighbors. This way, we can sample a little of all the things we like.


  2. Too true about the neighbors, Eileen -- although I find more takers for strawberries than zucchini

  3. Peas never make it into our kitchen either. I like sugar snap and snow peas - no shelling needed. George, our dog LOVES them too.