By Carolyn Malcoun, Hilary Meyer, "First Harvest,"March/April 2011
Late in February, I declared to my husband, Dan, that I was done with winter. I longed for the first tender leaves of spinach and lettuce and the satisfying “snap” of a spring pea, fresh from the vine. When I looked down at my dinner plate, those fresh spring vegetables were nowhere to be seen. I sighed and dug in.
The next day I vowed to transform those emotions into positive energy. I was testing recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen alongside Associate Editor Hilary Meyer when our conversation turned to gardening. We’re both aspiring gardeners but neither of us had the space for a garden at home. We were debating our options—CSAs, community gardens—when I realized that our solution was right outside the window.
EatingWell’s Vermont office is surrounded by lots of flat, open, agricultural land with plenty of sunlight. There was more than enough room to have a garden. A really amazing garden. I knew that if we worked hard, in a few months we’d soon be stepping out of the office in the evenings and “shopping” in the garden instead of heading to the grocery store. I could gather the freshest kale and onions to fill up tacos or snip fresh tarragon to season poached salmon. Heck, we might even save money too. For about $3, I could buy a bag of mesclun greens that would last us a meal or two—or plant a single packet of lettuce seeds that would keep us awash in salads for weeks.
Our husbands met us after work one evening to get started. The four of us stood side-by-side in the cold early-spring rain and dreamed about the robust tomatoes, bulbous eggplant, bright sunflowers and spunky chives we’d soon be pulling up from what was now just a scraggly patch of weeds. We went home and pored through seed catalogs. I couldn’t wait to try rare red iceberg lettuce; crisp, refreshing and flushed ruby-red. Dan insisted on ordering hot and spicy Spanish winter radish seeds. (I think he just liked the catalog description, which suggested enjoying them with a frosty mug of beer.) Hilary wanted to experiment with growing romanesco, which looks (and tastes) like the alien love child of broccoli and cauliflower. Inspiration tickled me to plant tons of cucumbers so I could try making my own pickles.
For weeks, our bodies ached as we prepared our plot—pulling up sod and tilling the soil. There was work to do at home too. Seeds to start. Plans to draw up. Trellises to build. We traded organic gardening books and took notes on how to thwart critters naturally since we weren’t planning to use any chemicals.
Finally it was time to plant something! We started with whatever would tolerate a little frost—myriad lettuces, dark leafy greens, golden and Chioggia beets, carrots that ran the breadth of the rainbow, purple-topped turnips, aromatic leeks and onions, sugar snap and snow peas. Within a couple of days, little shoots emerged from the soil’s surface, tiny arms stretching up, reaching for the sun’s warm rays.
A few weeks later, Dan and I were swimming in tender lettuces, spicy radishes and the first leaves of ruby-red chard and purple-veined kale. Russ and Hilary had started their seeds earlier and were already pulling up tiny turnips and multicolored beets. As we rinsed flecks of soil from the baby greens we had thinned from the garden to make a salad for dinner, the memories of sore muscles and raw hands faded away. The hard work had paid off, and we were now preparing to enjoy the bounty of our first harvest. I couldn’t wait to dig in.