Is it something in the soil?

When we started our garden on land at the senior center, we thought it would be nice to have just a few fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn.

What we knew about gardening you could put in a thimble. However, we were not discouraged, since, along with signing up for a 15-by-15-foot section of ground, we automatically became members of the garden club.

Once a month speakers with knowledge would come and give talks on how to grow perfect flowers and vegetables.

We listened. We took notes. And we did exactly what they recommended – amending the soil, cultivating, adding compost, etc.

So, what happened to us? What happened to our garden?

We don't know, but it appears we are growing one-of-a-kind vegetables. We have produce that you will never find in a market.

The cucumbers that have been so prolific in the past few years took a turn for the worse this summer. Instead of the foot-long green specimens that won awards, this summer we've had small round yellow cucumbers.

"That's not what it said on the package," my husband declared. We looked again. The package said the seeds inside were for small pickling cucumbers. He scratched his head. "That's not what I planted. Is it? It isn't what we meant to plant, anyway."

OK, so we purchased the wrong seeds, but even so, the package did not stipulate "lemon" cucumbers.

Next came the tomatoes. Every year we have had perfectly shaped red tomatoes. Not this time. Our Big Boy tomatoes were anything but big. Teeny would be more like it. And color? Well, I've seen yellow tomatoes and even purple ones, but speckled? Never – until now.

Still, all was not lost, we discovered. Biting into one of the strange-looking objects, we found it sweet and delicious. Maybe we've found something new, we thought.

Last year the cornstalks grew as high as the proverbial elephant's eye, but instead of the kernels being golden yellow, they were yellowish-brown. Was this the corn that's used to decorate Halloween tables? Nope, it wasn't even that pretty, and the flavor was not there. The only advantage of this type of corn was that its stalks acted as stakes to hold up the pole beans. So they went into the book as "don't plant this variety again."

This year's corn was more successful – the seed package stated white and golden corn, and that's exactly what we got – a few all-white ears and a few all-golden ears, not a mixture of white and yellow kernels on the same cob.

This summer's zucchini resembled green blimps, ready to take off and float overhead. Some were so large and pretzel-shaped that we couldn't pick them without chipping away part of the plant. Just one of these green giants was large enough to make nine loaves of my favorite zucchini bread.

This year I'd decided to try growing a few herbs for a change. Basil being one of my favorites, I purchased a plant not bigger than my thumb.

Before long we had a field of fragrant basil meandering among and competing with the cucumber vines for space. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it all. This is an amazing amount of basil, considering that one leaf is enough to flavor a batch of spaghetti sauce.

Carrots and celery with six-foot-long tops and stalks have found a way into our garden without our help. One wonders if Mars dust has fallen on our plot and created mutant forms, since everyone around us appears to have a normal garden.

Our neighbor has a perfectly lovely garden. Her tomatoes look as if each one has been dipped in red paint and measured with a tea cup for consistent shape. Green and red bell peppers and jalapeño peppers grow abundantly. And perfectly shaped cucumbers roll around her vines in perfect harmony. Her cabbages are kings ... that is, they sit on the stalks as if on a throne.

In contrast, our cabbages grew in pyramids instead of nice round heads.

But all is not lost. We wait and watch in wonderment for what might pop up next. It's a real source of entertainment. And who knows, perhaps we really will discover a new vegetable.

Great zucchini bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat together sugar and oil in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla, zucchini, and nuts, if using. Add sifted dry ingredients a little at a time. Mix well after each addition.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until center is solid and a tester inserted near center of bread comes out clean.

Cool in pans on wire rack before turning out. Makes 2 loaves.

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