Vegetable gardening is for the adventuresome, imaginative child in each of us. It's never dull.
Mv vegetable garden changes constantly, seemingly by happenstance. Sometimes 1 select plant varieties on a whim, and the garden changes direction with the breeze: Each year 1 add to the staples I'm sure we can't be without. I've learned there are more interesting, unusual, and rewarding plants than can be grown in a lifetime. The best advice for the beginning gardener is to follow your instincts, try new vegetables, let yourself be challenged, experiment! If you like to cook, you are luckier still. The opportunities with new vegetables are limitless.
The Chinese remember the years with the names of animals—the year of the monkey, the year of the dragon, and so forth. I remember my summers by the vegetables that held my enthusiasm: the summer of the Chinese vegetables, the tomato medley, the potato parade, and the vine teepees, to name just a few. By indulging my interests. I've been rewarded with wonderful memories, an education, an expanded palate, and more vegetables to add to the list of "favorites," vegetables I refuse to go without each summer.
Looking back over the last few years, the summer of the Chinese vegetables stands out as the most unusual, with bitter melon, fuzzy melon, and cucuzzi tucked in among the more conventional Chinese vegetables of snow peas, pak choi and Chinese cabbage. The cucuzzi was especially beguiling. It made an acceptable soup, but it wasn't as delicious as it was simply fascinating, a fast-growing, vining squash with long, narrow S-shaped fruits that reached four to five feet. The vines grew over the fence, into the roses, and out again across the lawn 20 feet or more to the walk. We just let it grow. It was harmless enough, a great conversation piece, strange and wonderful to watch. Once, I spied the kids fencing with the largest of the fruits. We grow cucuzzi every year now, to instill in our children respect for the miracle of growth. The cucuzzi demands attention; it is impossible to avoid just watching it grow.
The summer of the tomato medley was tame by comparison. Until then, I had grown only red tomatoes, never yellow or pink. The sizes, shapes, and colors available were an education in themselves: small fruits to whoppers, in pear and ball shapes, in shades of yellow, red, and pink. It was very interesting to serve them to guests. Even though the yellow tomatoes seem milder—and seem to taste less acid—some people shy away because of the unfamiliar color. In my blindfold test, the yellow tomatoes were noticeably milder—a big winner.
One truth manifests itself every year: No matter how carefully I plan what to plant, I never have enough tomatoes and always have too many zucchini. (In Vermont, summer wisdom dictates that you always lock your car at the shopping mall or some generous soul will come along and fill it with zucchini.) I happen to love zucchini every which way: in soup and bread, stuffed and sauteed . . . you name it. Zucchini is kind to the beginning gardener because it almost never disappoints, but be aware that it is a very prolific plant.
Our "Indian" summer featured peas and beans grown on tall poles tied together into teepees the children played in. The floor of each teepee was carpeted with black plastic and covered with mounds of salt hay to fluff like pillows.
One of the pleasures of vegetable gardens is harvesting.
Last year was "potato parade." Potatoes have always been my favorite vegetable but I hadn't grown them, mistakenly believing they would take too much room in my garden and that the ones from the store were as tasty as homegrown. Was I mistaken! There are even more varieties, shapes, and colors of potatoes than of tomatoes, from long, purple fingers to small, round, solid blue. red. and yellow. For inclusion in the vegetable garden, potatoes have moved right to the top of my list, next to tomatoes.
The purpose of this book, as well as of the others in the "Burpee American Gardening Series," is to spread the pleasure that comes from gardening, and to help and encourage new gardeners. It also aims to challenge more experienced gardeners to try less familiar plants and new ideas, while sharing the knowledge Burpee seedsmen have accumulated over one hundred years of breeding, growing, and harvesting seeds.
At Burpee we concentrate on a practical approach. giving the gardener choices that will accommodate a busy lifestyle. Here we believe everyone can benefit from gardening, feeling closer to nature and the changing seasons, and taking pride in the bounty of the harvest.
The joys of gardening are great, and the sorrows and disappointments few. Like anything worthwhile, good gardening takes practice, patience. and. to start, a little knowledge. But it's so rewarding! Nothing tastes like fresh-picked, garden-grown, home-cooked vegetables—except fresh-picked, garden-grown, home-cooked vegetables.
When next year's catalogs arrive, I will again scheme and plan my garden. So many choices, so little room, and so much fun. We hope that in the pages that follow, you will find at least one thought or suggestion that will help you celebrate the wonder of gardening.
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