Oh, to Pick the Perfect Pepper! - Cape Cod LIFE Publications

Oh, to Pick the Perfect Pepper!

There is something so elemental about vegetable gardening, putting a simple seed in the ground, watering and watching over it until one day a tiny green sprout appears.

Photo by Susan Dewey

Photo by Susan Dewey

I can still remember the excitement I felt when I planted a row of radishes in my first vegetable garden. One of the easiest, quickest vegetables to grow, the sprouts popped up, flourished in no time at all and soon plump red radishes formed, perfect for salads.

I planted that first vegetable garden when I was around 30, in a small space beside our house on the Mount Hope Bay. I was lucky enough to inherit the garden from a previous organic gardener who had prepared the soil really well, removing all the sod and New England stones, digging down several feet, and adding lots of well-rotted manure and organic matter to the soil.

Gardening by the salt water is a gift—vegetable plants seem to love the warm moist air. That first year, besides the radishes, I grew several different kinds of lettuce, fat Early Girl and Better Boy tomatoes, sturdy basil—I even had some pretty good peppers. With our two small children, I used to spend hours in the garden. I was hooked, as were my children, who used to love helping me weed, rake, plant, and especially water, the garden. I thought vegetable gardening was a breeze.

Photo by Susan Dewey

Photo by Susan Dewey

I soon learned that in addition to patience, gardening can teach you humility. My next vegetable garden was in a field behind our new home in Central Massachusetts. As soon as we moved in, I started dreaming of my huge new garden, even envisioning perfect swaying rows of corn.

Perhaps I should have listened to the man in his 80s, a devoted gardener, who had grown up in our house, tilled gardens there for decades, and who had a 1930s degree from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMASS Amherst.

“Well, you can try,” said Fred, a lean New Englander with a strong handshake. “I never had much luck getting anything to grow there—except gourds. Everyone loved my gourds for their Thanksgiving tables. It’s pretty wet back there and you really can’t plant to August, but give it a try.”

Still in my early 30s, I believed I could get anything to grow anywhere if I tried hard enough, so I forged ahead. Our helpful neighbor plowed and tilled the field with his tractor, my small son seated beside him, watching the dark earth appear in beautiful orderly rows like magic. The garden looked so fertile, as if anything could grow there. We excitedly planted row after row of corn, tomatoes, peppers, and squash.

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