Before I fall in love with my vegetable garden, I want to come clean about what is better out of a local garden and what is bunk — almost all of you would say everything is better out of a garden than you can get in a grocery store.

Well, I do not agree.

Now when I compare vegetables, I am going to compare what you can get in the store at the time you get it in the garden. So let’s start with asparagus. Is a local garden better? I say no.

I start getting asparagus in mid-May and get it through the end of June.  The stores by then are getting it from New Jersey, which is made for asparagus. Asparagus keeps well, so even if you get New Jersey asparagus 10 days after it is picked, I can’t tell the difference and it is great.  So I give local asparagus a “zero” in my comparison. To earn a “10” the vegetable has to be far superior to what is available in a grocery store.

Here is a 10: Cucumbers! I have not bought a grocery cucumber in 30 years. They are horrible. Even Florida grocery stores have terrible cucumbers. One of my favorite meals is a cumber sandwich — but it has to come out of a local garden.  I have no idea why the disparity is so great, but it is.

Another near 10 is strawberries. If the grocery chain gets strawberries from Florida, the disparity is reduced.  If they get them from California or Mexico — forget it. I don’t have another 10 on my list.

I grow great beets, but I grow a special kind which you can’t get in a store. This isn’t a fishing spot so I will tell you. It is called Early Wonder.

Remember beets are better after a frost or two, and that can be tricky up here. One year the ground froze with the beets in it and ruined the beets. So if they have not gone through a frost, put them in the fridge for a week. If I grew regular beets, there would not be much of a difference.  My beets get an “8.”

Carrots are better, but not by much.  A carrot right out of the garden is special.  What is not special is baby carrots or baby anything.  No taste. A carrot gets a “5,” and much of it is due to the fact that you get them weeks old in the grocery store.

A tomato right out of the garden is special, but I do not like the early variety.  I need 100 days to grow tomatoes and when I first got here, it was impossible. Tomatoes love nights in the 60’s and that is rare up here, but last year it was common.

Obviously, they can’t take a frost, so we pick many of them green and put them in a box and cover them with a newspaper. Don’t let them touch each other and they must be checked every day.  I strongly recommend marriage before doing this because a wife is great at doing it. Once I agreed to help can tomatoes — never again. What a mess — again I recommend marriage for this. Tomatoes are a “7.”

Lettuce, spinach and chard are not much better than a grocery store.  I grow bib lettuce and it is amazing, but that is the seed and not the surroundings.  Lettuce is a “7.”

Spinach, like asparagus is not better and it is tough to grow. It is a zero.  Chard is the same. Zero!

Potatoes are a “3,” a little better but not much. Of course, by the time I get potatoes, the grocery store is getting fresh potatoes from Maine, so there is not much so it is hard to tell.

Garlic is a zero, as are Brussel sprouts. Herbs are substantially better because of freshness. They are an “8.”

String beans are substantially better — as in an “8.”  Scallions are a zero. Radishes are a zero.

Corn is high on the list, but I can’t grow it.  A couple of years ago I grew some great corn and it was a few days before picking and the coons got it all — so I gave up.  You can’t keep a coon out with a fence. I have seen them open a door or a latch better than a human. I didn’t think we had raccoons up here, but now I know different.  At any rate corn is an “8.”

Onions are a zero, although they are fun to grow.  I will continue to grow all of the zeroes and ,when I pick them, I will swear they are better but this is before I go “nuts” in the garden.

As bad as grocery cucumbers are, somehow pickles are good.  My pickles are slightly better — a “5” at most.

What cucumber makes the best pickle?  Bread and butter pickles are not fussy — any cucumber will do. Dill pickles need an immature long green — like a straight “8.”  Amazingly, picklers do not make good dill pickles.

Gardening has to be a labor of love.  I never grew a thing until I was 30, and the one who hooked me was my former father-in-law.  NOTE: Gardening is not cheap!

One thing I won’t do is garden with a wife. My first wife could not grow weeds and was a tad too anal. An example is planting beans. The direction say plant them two inches apart. She had to measure the two inches. Drove me nuts, so we alternated years.

Do you really think two inches has to be that precise?  They transplant easily and they can be thinned.

I have a different wife now and I drive her crazy because I measure the space between my rows and I want them square to the house and lined up properly.  Now I’m too anal!

Some day I’ll get this right!

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