Friday, August 22, 2008

Small Garden Triumph

I love red peppers. Ever since I was a kid, I've loved red peppers. I might have picked the tomatoes out of things, but I never picked the peppers out. They're one of the few vegetables I'll buy when they're out of season and expensive--my vegetable drawer doesn't feel complete without at least one colored pepper in it. I eat them raw, in salads and sandwiches. I make sauce out of them. I add them into whatever vegetables I'm cooking. I roast them in the oven. If I had a grill, I'd grill them. They're my number one go-to vegetable.

So, when I started gardening, I was very excited to grow peppers. Over the years, I've grown things that I don't eat that much or can't eat quickly enough. But that didn't seem like it would be an issue with peppers.

My first few years at the community garden, I put in at least 6 or 8 plants. And every year, the same thing happened. The peppers would arrive, and when they were green, they were fine. But when I waited for them to turn red, they would rot before I could pick them. No matter where I got the starts from, no matter what kind of peppers. They'd start to turn red, and then they'd rot. Alex started some from seed one year, and the same thing happened. It was one of my greatest gardening disappointments.

Finally, I gave up. It was just too frustrating. But when I bought the house and started gardening here also, I thought I'd try it again. I thought that maybe there was something in the soil at the community garden that made them rot, or maybe there was some kind of insect. And the first year I planted the peppers here, I got a few red ones, and I thought the problem was solved. But last year, it was back to square one--as soon as they were close to being all the way red, they were rotting. I asked one of the guys at the farmers' market who had a nice spread of peppers what he did to keep them from rotting, and he said he didn't--he had rotten ones too, only he'd planted so many that he got some good ones to sell. I found this very dispiriting--I didn't really want to take up a ton of garden space growing peppers that would inevitably mostly rot.

Still, this year, I found myself buying just a few plants at the beginning of the summer. At the same time, I've tried very hard not to get attached to the idea of having red peppers. I'd take casual glances at the plants when I was out there picking basil or digging around for potatoes, but otherwise, I paid them no special attention. Still, when I was poking around in the garden yesterday, I couldn't help noticing that there was a red pepper on one of the plants. I felt it, sure that I would find the mushy spot that indicated that the rotting had begun. But there wasn't one. So, even though it wasn't all the way red, it felt like tempting fate not to pick it, so I did. Here it is, in all its glory, green spot included:

There are some green ones still on the plants, and I'm trying to stay detached from those too, just in case this one misshapen red pepper is the only red one I get. It won't last very long and won't make much of a dent in my need for a late summer supply of peppers, but still. Just the fact that it's whole and red and came from my garden feels like enough of a triumph for the moment.

p.s. Those eggplants and tomatoes keeping the pepper company in the top photo are from the community garden and will probably become either tomato soup or, in the case of the eggplant, Deborah Madison's fabulous summer vegetable gratin, which I will write about another time.

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