The summer the veggies took over the garden

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The summer of 1999 brought Maine some of its best weather in years. During the months of March, April, and May we enjoyed spring instead of our usual mud season. And the summer was filled with sunshine and hot temperatures. This meant that many of us who had unsuccessfully attempted to grow vegetables in the past experienced some incredible successes.

For me, this was quite a change. My tomatoes had never grown bigger than Ping- Pong balls or become pink until deep into autumn. My attempts at broccoli and cauliflower had just produced a new breed of insect, and my farming of lettuce resulted in more weeds than plants. In the past I had watched the green leaves of my carrots grow tall and healthy. I couldn't wait until the time came to pull them up. Naturally I was shocked to see that they were approximately one inch long and had an ever-so-slight yellow-orange color.

But somehow I knew that this year was going to be different. I tilled my garden and filled it with compost and fresh soil. I planted three different types of tomatoes, eggplant, beans, zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkin, peppers, and an assortment of herbs.

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The only mistake I made was that I never labeled the plants. A mistake that still haunts me.

My garden became a forest late in July. I didn't know where the tomato plants ended and my eggplant began. Also, what I thought eggplant looked like was not what it became. Instead of a deep purple vegetable that bulged at the bottom, my eggplants looked like fingers. The color was correct but the shape concerned me.

My squash also grew out of control. If I don't see another summer squash for at least a couple of years, that might be too soon. I grilled them, steamed them, baked them, and attempted to give them away.

My zucchini also grew like there was no tomorrow. My wife made pans upon pans of baked vegetables. The zucchini kept coming until every time I saw my neighbors they would rush back into their houses in fear that I might be offering them more.

My cucumber plants subtly took over the garden as single vines crept in between the other plants until you couldn't see any soil. They produced so many cucumbers that I dared not look under the leaves anymore. My pepper plants kept generating fruit until the tops started to droop to the ground.

My tomato plants grew taller than I am. The wire cages I put over my young The most interesting thing my tomato plants produced was a tomato hornworm. I made its acquaintance when I was weeding and came face to face with something I plants weren't seen after July; I sometimes wonder if the plants ate them.

I would expect to find in a B-grade horror flick. We stood eye to eye and I was the first to retreat.

My herb garden grew strong and healthy and the plants perpetually begged to be pruned. The basic problem here was that I did not know what the plants were supposed to be. When my wife baked a huge tray of vegetables in which she used one of the mystery herbs, that night my cat kept rubbing his cheeks against both our mouths. At least we had then identified our mystery herb as catnip.

The pumpkin plants beat me into submission by totally taking over the area in which my beans used to be. The eggplants grew into shapes that I have a tough time describing. Now that fall is here, the zucchini and the summer squash must be rotting under the canopy of their own green leaves, and the peppers have finally toppled over.

As for me, I sit on my deck dreaming of the time when my garden was not so successful, but so much more controllable.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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