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Slim pickings from the garden, and that’s all right

Timothy Kenny and I were chatting about blueberries. He wanted to plant enough blueberry plants to be able to make blueberry pie. As it turns out, blueberries ripen gradually and not all at once, so… no.

I told him that you can get a lot of enjoyment out of one blueberry at a time.

My blueberry story started when W- and I were joking about planting blueberries and attracting random bears. (We live in Toronto. Probably the only time I’ll see a bear is if I go to a zoo.) When I saw the blueberry plants on sale at the end of the season a few years ago, I scooped them up. We planted six in the front yard – small bushes, not even very bushy.

This is a picture of our first blueberry “harvest” from 2011:

We haven’t gotten more than a handful of blueberries this year, but that isn’t the point. When we notice two or three have ripened, we eat them: tiny explosions of flavour, and then they’re gone.

It’s not the same as digging into a fruit salad or baking a pie, but it’s a different sort of enjoyment. It keeps me in tune with the passage of time. I see the bushes awaken from dormancy, bud leaves, flower, fruit. And the fruits are a nice bonus, a reminder that the supermarket doesn’t give us everything.

We also have cherry tomatoes in the backyard. We don’t buy cherry tomatoes at the supermarket. They’ve always felt like a bit of a luxury, and I tend to buy whatever has the lowest unit price. The cherry tomatoes that grow in our yard hide the cost of compost and water and soil, so I get to enjoy them guilt-free – again, one or two at a time, always a treasure hunt.

Our garden isn’t nearly as productive as Mrs. Wong’s front yard down the street She has a veritable farm in front of the apartment building. It’s in full sun and full growth. Last year, she grew these huge squashes that hung pendulously from the vines. She works hard on it, though. She waters seedlings by hand, frames the plants with twigs from High Park, breaks up pumpkin shells after Halloween, and adds what we will politely refer to as night water. Our garden is shaded by pine trees, so our plants tend to get a little straggly. I’m not as conscientious as Mrs. Wong, although I do try to water when it doesn’t rain.

Other gardening notes: Having realized that I really enjoy the part where seedlings are breaking out of the ground (even if they don’t end up growing to their full potential), I’ve started the second batch of snow peas, another round of lettuce, and a round of beets. (At least I think they’re beets. I forget.) The bitter melon is gamely trying to grow, although it’s nowhere near fruiting. The zucchini isn’t as prolific as gardening blogs let me think – we haven’t gotten any yet. We’re letting the strawberries rest this year. Next year we’ll plant more.

Maybe someday I’ll learn how to supplement more of our food budget with home-grown vegetables. People figured out victory gardens, and maybe I can too. In the meantime, even these slim pickings are scrumptious meditations.

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