WHEN IS A ZUCCHINI LIKE A MOVIE? – A Gardener’s Tale

Remember how I whined earlier this summer that my vegetable seeds weren’t sprouting? Be careful what you whine about. Now my zucchini plants are arm-wrestling with my tomato plant for square-foot-garden domination.

My zucchini plants are arm-wrestling with my tomato plant for square-foot-garden domination.

For me, life is an endless series of reminders of my favorite movies and books, and gardening is no exception. I’m a remedial gardener, as you can tell from the staking system I use for my tomato plant – adding one bamboo stake after another until it looks like a bundle of pickup sticks, and the whole thing still leans. But I do know stories…

So here’s how my first food-growing season has gone so far, from a book- and movie-lover’s perspective:

I’m a remedial gardener, as you can tell from the staking system I used for my tomato plant.

MARCH: I set out on a four-week book-tour just before planting time. My flower garden was full of dry twigs, and I felt some remorse over that. When my book came out the previous fall I’d been too overwhelmed with work to mulch, so some of my perennials hadn’t survived the winter. Ever since I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I’ve been haunted by visions of a post-apocalyptic wasteland without a trace of vegetation, and now here it was. I was guilty of negligent botanicide.

“The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night. The last instance of a thing takes the class with it. Turns out the light and is gone.” – The Road, Cormac McCarthy

APRIL: When I returned from my book tour, my husband, Dale, and I were in desperate need of a vacation. But we could only afford a stay-cation. I thought I’d use the time to plant veggies and fruits, but it took two weeks just to prune, weed, and replant the flower garden I already had. Still, I felt guilty about letting another season pass without knowing how to grow my own food. This guilt complex had grown since last year, when our book club read another post-apocalyptic novel, Margaret Atwood’s The Year of The Flood.

“She’s counting on this garden: her supplies in the storeroom are getting low. Over the years she stashed what she thought would be enough for an emergency like this, but she’d underestimated, and now she’s running out of soybits and soydines.” – The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood

It took two weeks just to prune, weed, and replant the flower garden I already had.

MAY: When my friend Kelli gave me the infamous Mortage Lifter tomato seedling, I took it as a sign that I should give my long-dreamed-of square-foot garden a shot. There were still a few weeks before extreme heat set in. So Dale built a 3-by-4-foot box, and I blended planting mix and sowed seeds in one-foot squares. Feeling drunk with the possible power to draw life from this box of dirt, I raised my hands over those seeds and shouted:

“LIFE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GIVE MY CREATION… LIFE!” – Dr Frederick Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks)


JUNE: For two weeks, I fretted over my apparent sandbox. Then, one day, Dale spotted a bud hardly bigger than a water droplet pushing its way up in one of my zucchini squares. I was ridiculously proud. My friend Faith would later take similar pride in her garden, holding up a carrot – or was it a zucchini? – and declaring:

“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” – Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With the Wind (Sydney Howard via Margaret Mitchell)

One day, Dale spotted a bud hardly bigger than a water droplet pushing its way up in one of my zucchini squares.

JULY: At first my baby zucchini plant and its brother next-door seemed so fragile. But now I look on that like the initial innocence of Audrey 2 in Little Shop of Horrors. It didn’t last. Both plants fanned out so fast they stole the sun from most of my other seeds. One pepper seedling and four carrots still cling to life. But that zucchini just keeps spreading, like the murderous Audrey 2… who turned out to be a Mean Grean Mother from Outer Space written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and sung by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops:

That zucchini just keeps spreading, like the murderous Audrey 2… a Mean Grean Mother from Outer Space.

AUGUST: Faith had warned me that it’s almost impossible to kill zucchinis, and that I’d probably be sick of them by summer’s end. I thought I was safe, since the first one wasn’t ready to harvest until about a week ago. But I’ve cut three so far now, two are still in my fridge, and the plant threatens to keep producing.

The plant threatens to keep producing.

My friend Jen advised me not to let the zucchinis grow too large because they’re tastier on the smaller side, but I’m tempted to see just how big one can get. Dale and I tend to be pretty juvenile — perhaps because we have no children, just plants — and we keep giggling over the phallic shapes of these green fruits. Which calls to mind Animal House’s Otter and his big, sensual cucumber…


My husband’s come-ons are subtler. He made a zucchini omelet for me with my first harvest: is there anything more sensuous than a man buttering up his wife by cooking her zucchini? That omelet was mighty tasty, and allow me to add – pesticide-free.

My husband made a zucchini omelet with my first harvest.

Some of my other plants may never make it to the table. I pulled a couple of carrots today, and they were tiny enough to give even a beginner gardener a complex.

The carrots were tiny enough to give even a beginner gardener a complex.

I’ve given up on the stunted pepper seedling, but one of Dale’s coworkers gave us a potted pepper plant that might make up for it. We’re now waiting for the peppers to turn red.

We’re now waiting for the peppers to turn red.

Our stubborn tomatoes, too, remain petite and green. Oh well, if they don’t turn red soon, we (that is to say, Dale) can try making Fried Green Tomatoes:

If they don’t turn red soon, we can try making Fried Green Tomatoes.

For now, I’ve given my tomato plant fair warning:

“If you won’t listen to reason, there’s always TOWANDA!” – Evelyn Couch, Fried Green Tomatoes (Fannie Flag, Carol Sobieski)

***

Does your life ever remind you of a movie or book?

8 thoughts on “WHEN IS A ZUCCHINI LIKE A MOVIE? – A Gardener’s Tale

  1. Beth Partin

    Cara, this post made me laugh so hard. I’ve done veggie gardening for years and never managed to produce a respectable carrot. The last two years have been bad for tomatoes and peppers. Maybe next year you can cover them at night in May and June and they’ll grow faster. By the way, is your garden exactly 1 square foot? I’ve been wondering that ever since you told me about it.

    Reply
  2. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Thanks for laughing, Beth. The carrots sure made me laugh when I pulled them. Thanks for the advice about covering the tomatoes and peppers at night. Maybe I’ll try that next time.

    I’m glad you asked if square-foot garden means the garden is 1 square-foot. I used to wonder that, too. “Square-foot” refers to the idea of dividing the garden box into a series of square-foot plots. Most square-foot gardens are 4-by-4. Ours is 3-by-4. So we have 12 square-foot plots. Although I mentioned something to that effect in a previous post, I forgot to do so this time, so I went back and clarified. Thanks for catching that.

    Reply
  3. Candace

    This is hysterical, Cara! I love the phrase “remedial gardener.” So many of us can relate! The movie that comes to mind for me right now is Awakenings. I often yearn for the catatonic experience. But that’s just me. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Glad to hear I’m not the only gardener who needs special ed, Candace. Yearning for catatonia?! Can’t you just take a nap? Oh, right… you have kids. OK then, make THEM take a nap. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Rachel Cotterill

    I love your literary references! Great stuff 🙂 My garden needs a bit of attention, now, but I’ve been concentrating on the house….. and it *is* hard when you’re a travel-addict like us, isn’t it?

    Reply
  6. Cara Lopez Lee Post author

    Glad you appreciated the literary references, Rachel. Thanks. I suppose “The Road” is kind of dark as a gardening reference, but then I have a dark sense of humor sometimes. I hear you about travel interfering with gardening: whenever I hit the road, my poor flowers do suffer a bit of neglect. That’s one reason we don’t have pets… yet.

    Reply
  7. steve

    don’t give up on the tomatoes yet. when it gets to cold,(after the first frost) pull the plant roots and all and hang it upside down in the garage or shed. some of them should ripen for the ones that don’t fry them!

    Reply

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