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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Planning my little garden isn’t just about selecting seeds and refreshing the raised beds. It’s also more than a renewed learning experience about growing things and the region I live in. It’s more, even, than the excitement at the expectation of edible things right at hand, things fresh from the ground that are all mine and haven’t waited days to reach my table.

I started my first bed for my mother as much as for myself, because growing plants and gardening was always something she loved. She would tell stories about the vegetables and fruits growing on her grandfather’s farm in Russia, the preserves in the cellar, the names of plants in Russian and in the dialect spoken in her village. And also about her adventures in discovering new edibles and trying them for the first time after she left her hometown.

Planning my garden and growing things makes me think about my aunt who lived her whole life in their native village in the Soviet Union, sustaining herself and an extended, urbanized family on her tiny homestead. Growing potatoes and apples, and drying them, growing pumpkins for the meat and the seeds, making preserves of everything.

Growing up, I always lived in apartments (except for a short and exciting year). There was no room for growing food – although I seem to remember having a large pot of dill on the balcony when I was very little. But Mom always had indoor plants that thrived.

She also did little experiments just to see (and to show me) what growing things look like.

Put cuttings in water to watch them take root. Put leftover seeds from fruits or vegetables in a pot to watch them sprout. And of course, any time we were out “beyond the city” (за городом, that is, out in the countryside) she would name the plants she recognized.

She used to make Russian pickles and sauerkraut, and her own preserves. At peak season, when fruit and berries weren’t too expensive, she would make strawberry, plum, orange preserves, so we always had jars of homemade preserves (so much tastier than the storebought stuff).

For my own garden this year, I want to plant some tomatoes and cucumbers. I always hope that I will get a large enough harvest to make at least one jar of pickles… but we just eat them too fast. Last year, when I had dill growing, I thought of my mother and of my aunt every time I went to cut some fresh sprigs for a dish I was making.

I also had potatoes. Which is kind of silly because potatoes are so plentiful year round, and cheap. But we had purple potatoes: purple skin, purple flesh, and yes, they were indeed more flavorful than what you get in the store.

My aunt would probably tease me about my garden. It’s tiny and amateurish. It wouldn’t sustain a family that has issues with consuming carbs. At the same time, I’m sure she would be curious about the raised beds and the growing conditions, so different here in South Texas from her native Russia and its rich black soil.