April comes, the snow begins to melt, and we start the debate: Should we plant a vegetable garden? Or give up, save ourselves the work and frustration, and rely on the bounty of the OldStrathcona Farmers’ Market?
My husband and I try to eat the way we were raised: Italian-style, cooking from scratch, with an emphasis on high-quality ingredients. We need pots of basil, beds of rosemary and parsley four steps from our kitchen counter, and two or three types of lettuce available for a last-minute salad. We thrill at red tomatoes warm from the vine. Through the long winter, we dream of fragile zucchini blossoms, dipped in a light batter and fried. Their delicate taste is the essence of summer. For years, we had a month – or maybe two – when we could forget that we were living in the northern-most city of the continent, in Edmonton on the 53rd parallel and not Palermo on the 38th. For years, but not the last few.
Some summers were too cool and rainy; others brought snow in June or a deep frost in early September. Seeds failed to sprout; the leaves of the basil turned dry and brown. Tomato plants bore flowers, but managed only small green fruit before they shriveled and died.
And when we had a run of good weeks, the tomatoes were blighted by rot, or the plants succumbed to a tsunami of ants. Cutworms felled the tall green-bean vines. The zucchini plant produced one zucchini, the size of my index finger, and a lonely flower.
Several of my Italian-Canadian friends have mothers in their 80s and even 90s who still cultivate full and fruitful gardens. But our respective parents came from cities and brought no arcane knowledge or green magic. Besides, we have a north-facing garden. We must resign ourselves, lay down sod. Then it is May, and the stands at the market overflow with bedding plants, flowers, and vegetables. “I’ll dig a new bed,” my husband says. “Buy fish meal and manure.”
Last year, it worked. The sun shone. We had a flood of beans, and so many tomatoes I spent days roasting and processing. All winter we ate them on pasta and in soups.