On Becoming a Gardener (+ a simple cucumber salad)

I did not grow up with a garden. Sure, many weekends were spent helping to plant flowers in our front yard, but growing vegetables? Nope, we didn’t do it.

Last year, I began my foray into gardening by growing cherry tomatoes (sweet millions to be exact) on the little balcony of my apartment. I was surprised by the ease and success of my “garden.” I was a proud tomato mama– I watered my tomatoes daily. I took photos at least once a week to document the growth. When we were away on vacation and a derecho blew through Charlottesville, I was anxious that my tomatoes may have been damaged in the storm. Suffice to say, my potted tomatoes gave me the gardening itch.

A cluster of tomatoes

Fast-forward one year, and I found myself with a real yard! Visions of gardens danced in my head–but my family warned me to start small. So, after a month of planning and preparation, Del and I “installed” our first 4 x 6 raised bed on Memorial Day. I planted (one each): cucumbers, sun gold cherry tomatoes, striped german heirloom tomatoes, flavor burst sweet yellow peppers, and carmen sweet red peppers (plus a small herb garden in a pot on the porch).

It’s been a rainy summer, so I’m not sure how this year’s garden compares to “normal” for central Virginia. I picked my first 5 cherry tomatoes, my first cucumber, my first bell pepper in early July. My dad was almost as giddy as I was, laughing with delight when I showed him the cucumber, ready to be picked, and telling me know how proud he is of me for this endeavor.

Each day, I walk out to the garden, open the “door” we’ve built with netting to keep out deer and birds, and survey the growth. I trim leaves that don’t look good and healthy, pinch the growth that tries to come in at a 45 degree angle on my tomato plants, and pull up weeds. As I tend my garden, certain qualities amaze me:

– The crunchy, almost spiky, elephant ear leaves of the cucumber plant; the aggressive cucumber tendrils, throwing out a curly-cue and climbing up whatever they can find.

– The rapid rate of growth of my one little cucumber plant, now a massive, almost unwieldy vine. New bright sunshine yellow flowers appear on a daily basis, followed by teeny tiny cucumber buds, which quickly grow into full-size fruits.

– The anticipation of eating my first home-grown pepper.

– Waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the green to turn to red…

– The learning process inherent in gardening. I have never before known so intimately just how plants grow. Now, watching my garden grow, I find myself able to identify plants I see around me on a daily basis.

– Noticing the details, and thus the differences, between my heirloom tomato plant and my cherry tomato plant. The leaves and stem are slightly larger and tougher on the heirloom plant. The flowers a little bit fuzzier. The rate of growth slower.

Each day, the time I spend in my garden—noticing the details, observing the growth, tending the plants with my own two hands—brings me joy. It fills me with a sense of accomplishment, a sense of purpose. I never expected to be a gardener, but it has become a label that I increasingly aspire to, as I find it is a label that fits.

garden growth

cucumber merged

cucumber bud

pepper growth

Carmen Peppers

Green tomatoes

DSC_0278

First Heirloom

Thank you, Sarah, for taking this photo!!

The heirlooms are struggling–perhaps because of all the rain. I was finally able to pick the first, ripe and ready tomato last week. Eating it was an incredible treat, simply sliced, on a piece of good, fresh bread, with avocado – when it was gone, I was only sad that it couldn’t have lasted longer.

I also found a few hornworms the other day–something I will need to be diligent about looking for if I want to enjoy tomatoes for another month or so…

hornworms

The anticipation I felt in early July, watching the yellow flowers on my cucumber plant turn to fruit, has given way to feelings of panic–whatever am I going to do with so many cucumbers? I’ve canned pickles and relish; added cucumbers to smoothies; and eaten cucumber salad like the one below pretty much every day.

Cucumber salad 1

This salad featured not only cucumbers from my garden, but tomatoes and basil, too. I kicked it up a notch with the addition of white beans. Fresh and crispy vegetables; tangy vinaigrette; this is summer in a bowl.

Cucumber and White Bean Salad

Ingredients

  • Cucumbers, chopped
  • Cherry Tomatoes, halved
  • White Onion, thinly sliced
  • Basil, thinly sliced
  • White beans
  • Olive oil
  • Champagne vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

Method

Combine vegetables in a large bowl. Dress with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste.

cucumber salad close up

How is your garden doing this summer? What are your favorite cucumber recipes?

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