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“If we were stuck on a deserted island and had to eat each other, who would be eaten first?” My curious young son asked one night at the dinner table years ago. If you haven’t spent time with a prepubescent boy, let me advise you: They can raise the hair on the back of your neck with their vivid imaginations.

Our stunned silence was apparently the siren call for “game on.” Not only did my inquisitive child repeat his query, but his older sister leaned in with a knowing snicker.

“I’m the witty one in the family. I’d keep the mood of the group happy.”

My husband chimed in that he could fix things and could provide safety until we were rescued. “That’s nice, Dad,” our son replied, “But I’m fast and can outrun you all.”

I chimed in: “I can grow vegetables and feed us.” My wise family decided not to eat me first. That’s the power of gardening — it can save you on almost any terrain.

Years ago, I gardened only for pleasure and took delight in creating seasonal displays of color through annuals. As I became more knowledgeable about horticultural, I began to work with perennials and tried to have something blooming most of the growing season. I was a proud gardener, basking in joy when neighbors commented on my beautiful plantings.

But one day, my husband challenged me to actually grow something that we could eat. That was enough for me to try my first vegetable garden.

It was a small patch, no more than 2x4 feet, with a few cucumbers and squash that first year. I chose to sow seeds because it seemed like something a “real” farmer would do. Lo and behold, those seeds took off, generating a batch of summer produce that was both delicious and fun. I was hooked.

Since that time, my vegetable garden has tripled in size. We now enjoy cucumbers, different varieties of squash, tomatoes, basil, green beans, pumpkins and various types of lettuce. During the summer, we consume freshly harvested vegetables almost every day, picked that morning. And we share our bounty with neighbors, friends and the local food bank.
While I still love to work on my perennials and take great joy in creating a feast for the eyes, there is nothing like growing produce to appreciate the vagaries of nature.

If I’ve planted a week or two earlier than the local extension service recommends, I worry about the hardiness of the seeds. Later in the season when it’s dry and scorching hot, the health of the tomato plants brings me much concern. And all summer long, the beetles, stink bugs and other insects turn up my anxiety. Gardening is not for the faint of heart.

What I don’t fret about are pesticides, GMOs or anything harmful in my produce, because I control what goes in the soil and on my plants.

It’s incredibly empowering and satisfying to grow food. I imagine the pride a farmer must feel when he/she brings in the harvest that feeds hundreds and thousands of hungry mouths. I have enormous gratitude for the farmers across this country because what is a hobby for me is a profession for them. They gamble with Mother Nature every day; if they lose, we all feel the impact.

Fortunately, this has been a fruitful season for my little plot, generating pounds of lettuce, tomatoes and squash. The cucumbers, however, struggled and were a disappointment — something to consider when planning next year’s crop. The pumpkins will soon begin their sprawl and, fingers crossed, the “Great Pumpkin” will be part of my patch by Halloween.

Life with a vegetable garden is a creative challenge, a continual science experiment and a call to your pioneer side. If I haven’t convinced you yet to give it a try, consider that a little gardening knowledge may come in handy on that deserted island.

Teri Merrill

Teri Merrill has been writing professionally since 1982. She has recently been writing for her town newspaper.

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