Lake Norman & Mooresville

I know what I grow in my garden

After reading a new book on square-foot gardening, my husband was eager to try the method on the two raised beds in our backyard.

Unlike traditional row gardening, the square-foot method maximizes space by using lattice to divide the garden into square-foot sections and planting a different vegetable in each square. Amending the soil with compost and planting the crops progressively are also key components.

I have to admit, I pooh-poohed the idea, We've tried, mostly without success, to grow our own vegetables.

We'd get a few tomatoes and a handful of beans, but never enough to cover the cost of the plants.

As a farm girl, I found this failure both embarrassing and exasperating. I needed another reason to get excited about gardening.

Then, my family went to dinner one night at a buffet-style restaurant. The dessert line included an ice cream cooler with a sign that read, "Parents, please assist children under age 10."

After the main course, I escorted my 5-year-old, who had diligently eaten his vegetables, to the ice cream cooler.

Ahead of us was another boy who looked about 10 years old. My son and I perused the selection while the older boy wielded the scoop.

There were no labels on the containers, leaving us to guess the precise flavor based on sight alone--or so I thought.

"What do you think this one is?" my son asked.

"I don't know; it looks like chocolate," I answered. The older boy, who was amassing an assortment of flavors in his bowl, offered a bit more.

Still holding the metal scoop, he dipped into the mystery flavor, gathered a small chunk, and brought it up to his mouth. Then, much to my horror, he stuck out his tongue and tasted it.

My first thought: Ewwwwwww.

My second thought: They need a new sign: "Please, do not put your tongue on the ice cream scoop."

I promptly informed the manager of what I had witnessed, and she promptly replaced the scoop and all of the ice cream containers in the cooler. Whew.

But how often does disgusting stuff like this go unreported?

I know I have to work hard to keep my kids' fingers out of their noses and off the chow mein at the buffet line.

I took this little incident as a turning point: I can either swear off buffet restaurants altogether, or I can suck it up and accept the reality that the consumption of most commercial food carries the possibility of contamination.

We place a lot of faith in people who prepare our food, whether it's on a buffet line or in a vacuum-sealed package.

We place a lot of faith in parents to escort their kids to the ice cream cooler.

But let's face it: the only way to ensure the quality of food is to produce it yourself.

Finally, a reason to get excited about gardening.

Somehow, we are having success with our square-foot garden. At this point in the season, most of the little squares have plants coming up in them. We've continued to plant seeds that will sprout throughout the summer.

Ironically, I enjoy the garden for much the same reason that I was appalled by the incident at the buffet: Sampling is allowed. One of my kids' favorite things to do is pinch leaves off our rosemary plant and taste them.

With the lattice system, everything is clearly labeled, too. Not only are there little pieces of white tape pronouncing Swiss chard and carrots, but we also have a scale diagram of what's what in the garden, letting us know where the spinach is and when it's expected to crop up.

Just a few days after our visit to the buffet, we harvested the first batch of salad greens. Maybe the leaves had been touched by dirt, bugs, and the occasional boogery finger.

But I'm pretty sure no random 10-year-old has ever sampled the leaf lettuce. And even if he has, I can wash it.