The Lucky Gardener

Vegetable Gardening: Hanging on by a Sponge
October 10, 2011, 10:01
Filed under: Loofa sponge, Richard Nixon, Self-sufficiency, Vegetable Gardening

May is the month suburban vegetable gardeners rekindle their dream of achieving self-sufficiency: to live off the land by the fruits of their labors. As the first seeds are sown and seedlings planted, the desire to produce enough food to feed their family awakens from its winter idle.

Perhaps the pursuit begins even before the crops go in. Taking in the smell and feel of the earth while tilling cherished compost into the soil, mulching beds and pathways to keep feet dry and roots moist does much to stir the spirit for the season that lies ahead.

My first garden was about the size of a Volkswagen Rabbit. Though caring for it required little effort and the variety of plants was limited, I felt myself an Early Settler, carving out a section of earth, cultivating a sense of permanence.

My last garden, encompassing nearly half an acre, was more a working farm than veggie patch. Its size created nearly as many challenges as produce. I became obsessed with keeping a step ahead of the varmints and pests that anticipated each harvest as anxiously as I did. Proudly, I never abandoned my strict organic-farming methods. I did, however, temporarily arm myself with an air rifle to thwart an ever-growing groundhog menace. I gave up the gun quickly though, as my unease with firing pellets combined with the realization that the shots bounced off uselessly without the critters taking notice.

As most seasoned gardeners would agree, success emboldens us toward more cultivated land and greater crop diversity. We seek cultivars beyond the ‘garden-varieties’ available locally. Personally, the search was a combination of satisfying an urge for excitement and the desire to thrill others. At one time or another, the garden included red popping-corn, horseradish, yellow watermelon, purple potatoes as well as other less notable aliens.

The most memorable of my attention-grabbing crops were the Loofah sponges grown from seeds for the garden of ‘95. Thought seen by most as some sort of ocean pickle, Loofah is actually a gourd, with a vining growth habit similar to cucumbers. The elongated fruits were stunning as they hung from the garden fence. Conspicuously placed, they dazzled and puzzled visitors from the moment the garden came into view.

To this day, friends relate the tale, ‘The Year of the Sponge’ as treasured garden lore. Some still use the dried-sponge scrubbers I gave as novelty presents, years before they became popular bathroom accessories. In my twenty-five years of providing such garden entertainment, the Loofah reigns supreme, easily trumping the former frontrunners, a twenty-two pound zucchini and the eggplant that looked like Richard Nixon.

Originally published, June 2011, The Nyack Villager

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