• Karl Thunemann

Back to the Earth

By Mimi Simmons


My husband and I enjoyed having a vegetable garden for many years. Steve grew up in Brooklyn and when he moved to the Northwest he began to embrace many things he couldn’t do in his youth, like climbing trees and digging in dirt. So when we bought a home on an acre in the country, he relished becoming a gardener. He joked that it was only slightly less (or was it more?) expensive than therapy. We stopped gardening one Spring when Steve’s father became ill and we needed to devote more time to his care.


After more than 30 years in our previous home, we moved to a smaller house in a smaller town on a much smaller lot, a fifth the size of our old property. Now both retired, as we set up our new home to take us into old age, we wondered if we’d want to have a vegetable garden again. We knew it would take a lot of work to get it set up and then more work throughout each year to keep it going. Both of us were up for it, remembering how much we had enjoyed keeping a garden in the past.


When the weather turned colder, Steve followed Martha Stewart’s advice to pick the remaining green tomatoes and bring them inside, in paper bags with a banana, to finish ripening. What a nifty trick; each of these tomatoes turned red and became edible. Steve planted cover crops to enrich the soil over the Winter and to keep weeds down. We laughed at some of the names, especially Hairy Vetch, and tried using it as an invective.

This garden would need to be different. It would need to be smaller. Much smaller. The beds would need to be higher to reduce bending and squatting. They would need to be narrow so we could easily reach things in the middle. We wanted this garden in our front yard where the land is flatter. We eat breakfast on our front patio as much of the year as weather permits, and we could picture sitting at our patio table looking out onto a little garden.


After much deliberation, discussion and planning, Steve built three small, raised beds to accompany a large ceramic pot where we would plant tomatoes and nasturtiums. We removed a circle of grass where the beds would be and used the sod, upside down and layered with cardboard, in the bottoms of the beds, adding good soil and compost on top. It was satisfying to re-purpose the materials.


When the beds were ready in August, we knew we were late in planting. Some things would not have enough time to fully mature, but it was fun to forge ahead and see what happened. We planted some things from starts – tomatoes, lettuce, orange bell peppers and Japanese eggplant. Other things we planted from seed – arugula, kale, radish, carrots, snap peas, fava beans and more lettuce. What a delight to reap the rewards of our first return to gardening. The joy of seeing things come up. New tastes in salads and stir fries.


When the weather turned colder, Steve followed Martha Stewart’s advice to pick the remaining green tomatoes and bring them inside, in paper bags with a banana, to finish ripening. What a nifty trick; each of these tomatoes turned red and became edible. Steve planted cover crops to enrich the soil over the Winter and to keep weeds down. We laughed at some of the names, especially Hairy Vetch, and tried using it as an invective.


When the weather turned colder still, it warmed our hearts to see hummingbirds visit the pea vine blossoms that wouldn’t have enough time to become peas. After a blanket of winter snow killed the fava beans, we chopped them up and dug them back in, again to nourish the soil.


As we tucked the garden away for the rest of the Winter, we felt the deep satisfaction of returning to this hobby, growing our own. It was a choice we didn’t have to make but we’re glad we did and we look forward to next year.



Mimi Simmons