Greening My Thumb in the Slope

I have long dreamed of planting a vegetable garden. In my previous home in the Slope I enjoyed the luxury of eating from a garden that someone else had planted and cared for: While I happily picked salad from just outside the kitchen door, my roommate performed all the maintenance. Now in a new home, I was ready to initiate planting and caring for a garden—eager to get dirt under my fingernails, spurred on by a desire to connect with the Earth that, even in Brooklyn, proves fertile.

Knowing that I would be traveling for the latter half of summer, I planned to cultivate fast-growing vegetables that would flourish in time for a mid-summer harvest. Advised and cheered on by my green-thumbed friend, Leda, I set off to the Union Square farmers’ market to buy seedlings and compost. Scouring the market, I finally found what I was looking for: big, 2′ x 5′ trays of seedlings, each a mixture of lettuces, dandelion, and mustard greens. Perfect! I bought two.

Next on the list was compost.

“We sell worm-castings in one-pound, five-pound and ten-pound bags,” the earthy looking vendor told me.

“I’m looking for compost, not worm-castings,” I explained.

“Worm-castings are compost,” she told me. “It’s the same thing.”

Clearly, I was on a steep learning curve. I bought a five-pound bag and sought her instructions on what exactly to do with this rich by-product of the worms’ labor.

Taking my seedlings and compost home in a cab seemed to contradict the eco-spirit of my gardening enterprise, but there was no way I could single-handedly navigate the subway with my leafy brood and their future bedding. Back in Brooklyn, I tentatively ventured into the garden and took a deep breath, slightly nervous with anticipation. Squatting, I started pulling up grass, creating a rectangular patch of nude earth at the back of the yard.

Next came transplanting, a delicate process whose success rate was yet to be seen. In preparation, I loosened the topsoil with my trowel and mixed in a large helping of worm-castings. I then dug holes for the seedlings, and transplanted my babies from their trays, packing them snugly in the ground with the nutrient-rich compost. Finally, with their roots firmly set in Park Slope soil, I gave them their first watering. I felt like a proud mother, a huge satisfied smile upon my face.

Days and weeks passed. Nature, of course, provided the sunlight, and she and I shared the task of watering. I discovered my mistakes. Many of the lettuces had not been planted deep enough and had to be dug up and replanted afresh. I had over-estimated the space they needed and could have packed them in more tightly. I initially under-watered them, unaware of how moist the soil needs to be. My gardening apprenticeship had begun.

Any friend that came over was immediately given an enthusiastic tour of the veggie patch. One laughed at the notion that I had actually planted dandelion, an unwanted weed on the farm where she was raised. I was glad I did, though. While the lettuces never filled out the way I hoped they would, but grew tall and thin and quickly went to seed, the hardy, deliciously bitter, blood-cleansing dandelion kept on giving and giving—the most abundant crop of all! The mustard greens did well too, though three tomato vines I planted bore not a single fruit.

A new ritual permeated my mornings. Barefoot, I would walk through the dewy grass, an utterly sensual experience, to inspect and water my beloved greens. In the calm of the morning with my toes wet, I tuned into life on a subtler, quieter level. I sensed a newfound intimacy with nature, a new way of connecting with the web of life that supports and feeds us all. A new avenue to tap into the vital force that surges through all of us and all of life had become available to me. The act of growing food, once a necessity, now a novel luxury, was deeply fulfilling.

After a month I started harvesting, pacing myself not to pick any greens faster than they could grow. On weekends the leaves would rapidly become a salad, inspiring me to invent new, creative dressings. On weekdays I would either pack a little bunch as a component of my lunch or add them to my dinner. The novelty never wore off.

When it was time for me to leave for my summer adventures I handed custodianship over to my roommates who had been helping all along. Delighted to have grown my first, albeit small, vegetable garden, I left the Slope already looking forward to next spring, the future gardens I will grow and the progressive greening of my thumb.

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