I always thought my first blog post would be of political intent—whether about the upcoming election or the latest Supreme Court ruling—not about the heat and my vegetable garden. We’ve had a week of 90 degree weather and every morning I’m out while there’s still some crispness to the air, watering and muttering words of encouragement to the plants. I’m worried that it’s getting too hot for the lettuce, the escarole, the kale. Maybe the heat’s gone to my head.
A friend who is a retired professor of agriculture, suggested I plant the tomato starts in straw bales. For twenty years I’ve been going after tomatoes—maybe this year, I think. Maybe this year. This year with my new fencing and refurbished beds—I can’t begin to calculate the cost of my salad—that’s not the point.
The point is I’m a born and bred New Yorker, from the Upper West Side, raised among an enclave of Jews who were mostly first generation, nurtured on concrete and asphalt and soot, except for momentary forays into more organic environments. Until one day I became an urban émigré.
My mother came to visit soon after I’d moved, wearing her omnipresent girdle and nylon stockings. Stepping gingerly from the car, she exclaimed: “Oh my god, this is Country.” She could handle her sister’s White Plains backyard but I had pushed the envelope beyond the realm of safety. In fact, I think it all began in my Aunt and Uncle’s backyard, because some of my best childhood memories were the visits that we’d make on holiday weekends, the Harlem & Hudson train line carrying me to parts unknown—as magical and mystical as the places visited by Anthony Bourdain—even though it was only thirty miles out of the city. My uncle would barbeque, the dog would scamper, and the air was redolent with the smell of cut grass and charcoal. It became my go-to fantasy.
Back then I couldn’t imagine growing things. I couldn’t imagine that there was a world larger than the backyards characteristic of middle class suburbia. Neighborhood gardens hadn’t emerged, and my backyard was a fire escape outside the window of my fourth floor walkup apartment in Greenwich Village. The salad came from the cart of an angry street vendor down the block. Not today. While I still occasionally mistake weeds for incipient radishes, I’m ever hopeful that this is the summer of the would-be tomato.