It started innocently enough.
My daughter came home from school with a small shoot she had grown from a seed. The project had sprouted her interest.
I thought, "We could grow some things." It would be a fun activity to share and an educational experience.
There was just one small problem: With the exception of pulling a few weeds for my father when I was a kid, I had little gardening experience. My mom has always had a lot of houseplants, but I never have. My sister can put nearly anything in the ground, and it seems to thrive. Visions of spending happy hours digging with my daughter overcame practical concerns.
We bought a few vegetable and herb plants, transplanted them to some pots, watered, fertilized and waited. Soon, we were rewarded with basil, cilantro, cucumbers and tomatoes. We hoped for a flood of strawberries but received only a trickle. We relished those few sweet ruby gems.
The second summer, we bought more and bigger pots. We added zucchini, squash, eggplant and banana peppers. The strawberries still eluded us.
The next year, we graduated to seeds. We carefully portioned out seeds of every size, color and shape into seed trays and waited for magic to happen. My daughter dutifully wrote down which seeds were planted in which trays to help us keep track. Within days, green shoots began to peek through the peat moss. Soon we were transplanting seedlings to larger pots. In addition to our regular plants, we harvested a handful of green beans and peas, not enough to cook but enough for a crunchy raw snack.
Most years, our tomatoes have been fairly successful — ironic given my distaste for them unless they are at least twice removed from their original state. I slice them and dry them, chop them into salsa, and roast them with other vegetables, but the bulk of them have gone to my parents, who gladly eat them. Apparently, my tomato quirk was not inherited.
At one point, the bottoms of the tomatoes were becoming mushy while still growing on the vine. A work colleague and gardening sensei told me they had a calcium deficiency; he recommended buying calcium supplements, mashing them up and adding them to water for the plants. I imagined Sally Field giving Boniva to my tomatoes.
We have battled bugs, caterpillars, snails and grasshoppers. I've read about organic remedies and tried many of them, most with so-so results. Our next step is to try planting some sacrificial plants to tempt pests away from our vegetables.
With more than two-dozen large pots, we were maxing out the space on the screened-in patio. My husband built three raised beds in the backyard, turning our garden into a mini farm.
The beets, radishes and carrots were dismal failures — a combination of bad timing, planting them too close together, and general ineptness. The tiny vegetables that came out were adorably inedible.
The squash and zucchini plants grew well. But we only picked one giant green zucchini before nonstop rains turned every other small, growing specimen into mush. That's a guess, mind you. Remember: I don't know what I'm doing.
The green beans seem stunted. The two corn plants we managed to successfully grow from seeds actually looked like they were going to grow as high as an elephant's eye at one point, then they flopped over and died tragically.
The watermelon and cantaloupe plants are growing like weeds, but they might as well be just that because no flowers are fruiting.
Our tomatoes seemed stunted at the beginning of the growing season, and although they're larger now, we're not seeing too many flowers.
This has been the year of the cucumber, the only crop that produced regularly.
We pick weeds, monitor progress, take pictures and harvest what little we can.
We've tried other edible plantings as well. We bought three blueberry bushes. The plants continue to struggle but produce a few dozen blueberries, which we happily eat if we can pick them before the neighborhood critters discover them at their indigo ripeness.
We purchased a Key lime tree that coughed up a few dozen limes just months after we planted it — then did nothing for two years. This year, it's covered with baby limes. We can't wait. I might even try to make Key lime pie.
Meanwhile, the beautiful grapefruit tree that came with the house and produced bags and bags of sweet tart fruit seems to be dying.
This year, we'll plant fall and winter gardens with spinach, kale, cabbage, broccoli, onions and garlic. We'll give carrots, beets and radishes another try as well.
I do not have a green thumb, but I have a green heart.
And although most of our crops have failed to produce a lot of food, we've gathered a bounty of intangible benefits.