Friday, July 23, 2010

On sharing the garden wealth

This morning I experienced two conflicting emotions about sharing the bounty of my garden. On one hand, I need to foist off my surplus now, lest our family develop some kind of nutritional deficiency from living entirely off cucumbers. I collected a large basket of produce this morning from my beds, including the giant cucumber above that sneakily swelled up on a rogue vine behind the AC unit. I feel overwhelmed by the amount of food I bring into the house every day this time of year. I have pickled and canned and frozen, as well as served untold bowls of cucumber-and-tomato-based dishes over the past few weeks. My genial colleagues are always ready to eat up any produce I bring to work, and this basket is destined for the table in the break room this morning (with the exception of the red yardlong beans, that are much better cooked than raw).

On the other hand, when it comes to my neighbors on either side of my house, I feel quite possessive about my plants and produce. Consider the red kuri squash plant that I am growing in my compost pile. The plant recently has put out a long side vine that has wound its way into a narrow space next to my neighbors garage. I can see that it has already set several fruits -- fruits that will be out of reach to me through the fence that separates our two properties. I began to look around for my pruners, ready to lop off this wayward branch of the the plant -- I stopped myself just short of the amputation. Why did I care? Why was I so intent on my plant not supporting squashes that might land on my neighbors table instead of mine? This wasn't all sheer greed, though I admit that I'd rather focus the plant's energies on the squash that I can pick. Even if the squash was totally growing on my side of the fence, I'd likely push a few squash into their hands at the end of the summer, encouraging them to roast it and enjoy.

I believe my impulse to prune was tied up in issues of neighborliness as it relates to tight urban areas like mine. We live incredibly close to each other -- despite brick exteriors and latched windows, they know when the baby is up early and we know when our elderly neighbor leads a prayer meeting. We all are careful to respect each others' privacy. We greet each other when feeling gregarious. We avoid eye contact when, for example, I want to lose myself in the peace of weeding and my young neighbor wants a quiet smoke after a long shift. We are aware of each other, mere yards apart, but try to exist in our separate mental worlds, to create spiritual isolation amidst intense physical togetherness.

This plant breaks carefully constructed boundaries. It takes liberties. It encroaches. It insistently acknowledges that we live as a tribe, entwined despite our various efforts to pretend otherwise. I will leave it as it lies, but check with my neighbor that he doesn't mind that this plant is thriving in a forgotten spot behind his garage. I could just ask him through the fence as he smokes, but I will probably go around the front and knock on his door.


  1. I agree - wonderful post Abbie. I can really relate. Although we have more space out here in the 'burbs, and have a fair amount of privacy in our back yard, our neighbors still seem a little too close sometimes, and we all seem to work toward that goal of spiritual isolation amidst physical close proximity.

    It seems fitting that a seed swap squash's bounty will be shared. I sure hope the neighbors like squash, and will try the encroaching kuris. They're so, so good.

    I'm envious of your cucumber bounty - cutworms got my first seedlings, and now the tomatoes are shading the trellis, and the cukes are just barely starting to fruit. I'm missing them this year - last year we had tons. We're still enjoying last year's pickles.

  2. This is such a wonderful post.

    I too live in a community where my kitchen window is mere feet from my neighbors dining room window, no fences in our yards so we stand mere feet from one another. It’s an odd sort of existence where you know each other is there but there are proprieties of privacy that encourage us to pretend the other is not. Perhaps it is why we can all coexist in harmony.

    By the way, your bounty is beautiful!

  3. Thanks for the kind reviews, yall!@garden girl -- I too am glad the encroaching plant is a red kuri, so tasty. Thanks again for the seed many months ago!