The Inconstant Gardener (or: “Why Are My Beets Akimbo?”)

A few weeks ago, on a brisk Sunday morning, Frank walked into the kitchen and announced that it was time to put the vegetable garden in. For weeks we had been waiting for it to get warm enough to start planting, and after a very chilly spring, it looked like we finally caught a break. Frank had already assembled a bucket, gloves, dixie cups for starter seedlings, the seedling tray we used last year, a bunch of planters, and a couple dozen packets of seeds.  He was ready to get started.

“Okay,” I said. “What’s the plan?”

He looked at me.

“You know,” I said. “We should have a plan. Like, a map that says ‘this is what we’re planting here,’ and ‘this is what we planted there.’ A grid. So we have it all planned out beforehand.”

He thought for a moment.  “I guess we’ll see when we get down there,” he said. “It’ll make more sense once we take a look at the space, and then we can go from there.”

“Don’t you think we should have a plan?” I said.

Frank shook his head.

I dug my heels in. “Yeah,” I said. “We really should have a plan.”

He put the seeds down. And … let’s just say a discussion ensued.

The upshot of the discussion was this: I was convinced that we needed a Capital P Plan for the garden before we moved an inch of dirt, and that to just start tossing seeds around without one was an invitation to chaos. “Garden Malpractice” is actually what I should have said, but I didn’t think of it at the time. In my mind, I saw nice, neat rows of plantings, all lined up and shining in the sun. Arranged by height. And production cycle. And maybe even alphabetically.

Frank’s preferred approach to the garden was more…well…organic. He envisioned small subplots of plants, grouped in patches that roughly resembled Brooklyn neighborhoods. Over here in Greenpoint we would plant the lettuce. Over here in Sunset Park we would plant the cabbage. Or maybe not. A little bit here, a little bit there. We would see what grew, and then rotate things out. We would plant new things as space opened up.

In retrospect? Both reasonable approaches. At the time?

Well, lucky for me, Frank is a very good sport. After a fair amount of discussion, he agreed that we could draw a map.  But because I can’t draw and he went to art school, Frank actually drew the map while I watched.  And when he had finished, we had a nice neat map, all blocked out in squares and rows:


And then we went down to plant.

Well, the first results of the planting are in and…uh….well…they’re spotty. Particularly, for some reason, the patches I planted. Here, for instance, is some lettuce Frank planted:


See how it’s all dense and lush and fills the space? Here’s the one I planted:


That patch looks nice–I guess–but the problem is that I actually seeded the entire plot. Or I thought I did. Maybe I got distracted. I don’t know.

Exhibit 2: here are row of seeds Frank planted:


Yes, they sure are nice and orderly. All lined up an shining in the sun.

And here are the beets I planted, which are totally all akimbo:


Here a beet, there a beet…I have no idea what happened here.

And I’m particularly dismayed by this guy….


Who is supposed to be in with the rest of the beets, but is so way out in left field … I blame the squirrels. I really do.

And then there’s this patch of collards I planted (front right), which seems to be coming up fine…


… but for the fact that I planted it where the lettuce was supposed to be. Totally not according to plan.

There’s a moral to the story in here somewhere. At first I thought it was something like: “Some people see the forrest and some people see the trees…but it’s all okay! It takes all types of people to make the world go ’round!”

Yeah, that’s sweet — but that’s not it.  I think the moral here is that you can have the best plan in the world, but if don’t follow it, or don’t take the right steps to back it up, you’re just tossing seeds into the wind.

P.S.: For what it’s worth, here are some tomatoes I planted inside, where the darn squirrels can’t go moving them around:


Frank’s going to plant them outside in the newly-cleared Brooklyn Heights section of the garden.  I think they will look nice there.