Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
When I was a kid, my mother had a fantastic Victory Garden. I’m not sure how much of it was to help the war effort during severe rationing and how much it was her love of gardening, but at the first sign of spring she was out there stomping on her three-pronged garden fork, turning over the earth.
Every last leaf or vegetable remnant was thrown on her compost pile, which, over the years, turned to black dirt and was, in turn, forked into her garden.
We had a marvelous asparagus patch, the first edibles, followed by beans, peas, tomatoes, carrots and strawberry patches, which were attacked by turtles. My mother waged war with the turtles and would have leveled the atomic bomb on the woodchucks if she could. When my mother was far into her 90s and the vegetable garden had been long gone to lawn, my daughter Skye told her that a woodchuck roadkill was lying in front of the house and she coldly said, “Good!”
My sister and I had daily duties – weeding, planting seeds, harvesting and preparing the crops for the canner or freezer – and hated every minute of it. Visitors would come in from New York City, exclaiming over a dish of fresh lima beans (ask me if I’d kill for a fresh lima bean today), and we kids would roll our eyes because we had never tasted anything else.
After I left home, I missed the hell out of fresh vegetables. In Alaska, we tried to hack through virgin dirt that had been exposed by a bulldozer (so and so many acres had to be “cleared,” according to homestead laws), but without supplements and irrigation that effort fell flat.
In Aspen in the ’60s, the fresh vegetable scarcity was as bad as it was in Alaska. The large back yard looked promising, but turned out to be an impenetrable rock pile.
In its formative years, I took out a plot in the community garden for a couple of years, starting from rock-filled scratch but reaping a substantial harvest of sweet little potatoes, Chinese cabbage and little finger carrots, as well as beets, peas and various leafy things, but it was hard work. The irrigation system didn’t work and everything had to be hand-watered; my kids went off to college, there was only one mouth to feed and my back went out.
I had a little railroad tie garden set up in my back yard, and I feasted on sugar snap peas and fresh green beans for several years until I couldn’t step on the garden fork and turn over a clod of soil without sending my spine into spasms.
Three years ago my friend Hilary took over the vegetable garden and the flowers in front. The flowers rioted but the vegetables were pitiful the first year, and in the second year we were blasted by a spectacular early hailstorm that killed many of the peas and fava beans.
Fava beans are the closest thing to Fordhook lima beans that can be grown at this altitude. This year Hilary decided to get a jump on things and turned the front of my living room into a greenhouse.
There were various pots with tomato plants, round balls of sod accommodating a single seed, and 24 medium-sized pots made of some kind of biodegradable cardboard pots for fava beans.
The fava beans grew like crazy. When Hilary returned from a week in Mexico last weekend, one of them was a foot-and-a-half high. I had to employ the table forks, propping up the stems between the tines.
On Sunday it was 80 degrees and Hilary planted all of the fava pots in the railroad tie garden out back. The next day we had, of course, a blizzard.
The garden is tented with blankets and sheets and, as Mary Poppins says, “We shall see what we shall see.”