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

Aug 14, 2011 | Food Adventures, In My Garden, Spirit of Adventure

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?

About Cara

Cara Lopez LeeCara Lopez Lee is the author of They Only Eat Their Husbands. She’s a winner of The Moth StorySLAM and performs in many storytelling shows, including Unheard L.A., and Strong Words. Her writing appears in such publications as Los Angeles Times, Manifest-Station, and Writing for Peace. She’s a traveler, swing dancer, and baker of pies. Cara and her husband live in the beach-town of Ventura, California, where they enjoy tending their Certified Wildlife Habitat full of birds.
Cara Lopez Lee

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