The 2016 Gardening Awards

November’s killing frost is upon us, once again. My two remaining beets shrink underground, like Nature’s shriveled nutsack, dormant until May makes the earth climax once again. Which means it’s time, gentle readers, for the 2016 Gardening Awards.


Biggest Diva Award: tomatoes

There’s a reason why tomatoes represent the best of summer:  fat and sensual, like biting into a tiny beam of juicy red sunlight cooled in a stream. Yes, your reputation is deserved. Every red cherry tomato plucked from the vine represented the best children of sunlight and dirt. You win. Every year. But you also took up a fuckload of space and other veggies suffered for your need for more sunlight, more space. Okay, that’s my fault for not obtaining the vegetable diva her (or his—gender unclear) the equivalent of their own trailer. My bad. I’d be angry at what you did to the celery, but you’re tomatoes, and I will applaud you under every growing circumstance.


Career Tragically Ended Too Short: celery, carrots, and red peppers

My bad. I planted diva tomatoes near you, which outgrew and overshadowed your careers. Sorry about that. The celery was amazing for two weeks, but then…tomatoes. I ended up crunching delicious stalks and a two bowls of celery soup, so, you didn’t die in vain. (In the same way, I screwed over the carrots and red peppers. Sorry.) I learned what to plant near each other, this year. Next year will be different.


Biggest Comeback:  beets

I planted everything early in May, and that decision bit me in my proverbial beet. One cold, cold night—not quite freezing but almost—blackened the flourishing beet leaves to a crisp. But they came back! By August, they were flourishing. Not every single one, but most. I harvested enough to cook two batches of beeets, and still had enough to give mom, as well as gift their greens to friends who value such things. A surprising performance, given the May damage. You made it, beets. You made it.


Biggest disappointment: basil

Sorry, basil. You’re a perennial fan favorite (see what I did there) and you had a few good moments in June and July, chopped up into a fresh salads and a cameo in a Caprese salad, but your big scene was scheduled for August, when you stepped into pesto. Because of excessive rain and root rot, you cancelled your public appearance, which pissed off everyone. Well, everyone in my house. The academy looks forward to your next year’s presence, but this year, you let everyone down. The academy voters are tough. Better luck for your limited run in, The Winter Vegetables.


Best Supporting Vegetable: cucumbers

Who saw this coming? Not me. I don’t love cucumbers. My mom makes good pickles, and I made her pickle recipe with the first few cukes, but the giant bastards kept growing and growing and growing, like spokesmen for those giant penis emails. (Which I have never answered. Ahem.) Disclaiming phallic interpretations, I gave one to my coworker, Tom, who shocked it into the spiciest, most dangerous pickle wedge I had ever tasted. Three bites, and instantly, I understood the massive potential in this inconvenient surplus. My cucumbers hadn’t been given a big enough role, a big enough platform to shine! Spicy cucumbers, you were a contender for best vegetable. But early on, you were miscast in a smaller role.


Best Impersonation: green beans

This year I canned dilly beans, which did an amazing impression of pickles. They tasted like pickles, had the crunch of pickles, were overall as refreshing as pickles. You surprised me. Delighted me. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I need to plant even more green beans in 2017.


Best Surprise Performance: butternut squash

You dominated my entire backyard, stretching your tendrils into alarming expansion week after week. Had you sentience, you could have (and would have) snaked into the garage and strangled me while I tinkered with the lawn mower. There were definitely times in this summer’s performance when I doubted your ability to make good, especially after squirrels decimated your entire first class. But during The Pantyhose Strikes Back, you found a role suited to your strange sensuality, sexy undergarment vegetables. Weirdos. Still, the squirrels couldn’t chew through the second class, and I’ve enjoyed eating you in soup, risotto, and oven toasted. Did not expect you to live through the season. But you triumphed.


Best Vegetable: green onions

Normally, a surprising ordinary role, a supporting vegetable to other more impressive, outlandish tastes, green onions stole the hearts of vegetable eaters throughout my household, night after night. I had no idea how much pleasure I would gain, June through November, walking into the back yard, yanking up some green onions, and chopping them up for that night’s dinner. Other vegetables held more dramatic roles (butternut squash, tomatoes, cucumbers), but green onions showed up every night for dinner, green little wisps politely asking, do we jump into that frying pan? Yes, little greens, please do.


Underwhelming Performance: the crimson (red) onion and the white

Neighbors to this summer’s Best Vegetable, these onions simply did not hold their own. Their bulbs never really grew to anything impressive. Hell, some of the green onion bulbs were bigger. I found out from a coworker they like lots of constant fertilization, so, there you go. They weren’t nurtured. Awww, poor babies. Beets weren’t extra-fertilized, and the cold burned their fingertips off. You don’t see them shirking their garden responsibilities. C’mon onions. Do your job. Next year, I’ll try more tough love (and nitrates).


Best Ingenue: sugar peas

The ingénue is a stock character in literature, film, and theater; generally endearingly innocent and wholesome. Snow peas appeared in late May, early June, crunchy and pure of heart. I almost never cooked them in anything, because eating them right off the vine was too tempting, every time. So sweet. So innocent. So digestible.


Solid Performance: acorn squash

Two beautiful orangey acorn squash were harvested, when nothing was expected. They were planted in an odd spot and received the same watering as other plants, but were expected to fruit in the shadow of all those raspberry canes. Nevertheless, they persevered. They didn’t explode with eleven squashes, but hey, two is solid, bro. *brofist here if you had hands*


Ingrid Bergman Award: cantaloupe

I checked on these fragile souls daily for a month and a half, encouraging their growth, weeding around them more than other plantings, and they hung on, but did not flourish. They were forced to compete for growing space with the aggressive butternuts, so, I’m not surprised they quivered and withered. Still, after leaving them alone for the next two months, three skittish cantaloupes appeared, a nervous trio, not sure whether to grow into themselves. One survived, and she was juicy.


Best Extra: green peppers

These veggies never stole center stage. They were shapely, familiar, chopped into a dozen dishes, and during canning, a bright spot of green against my pale spicy cukes. The green peppers were the Best Supporting Vegetable’s background friend. I’m not sure if I’ll plant these again next year. They are plentiful and cheap at farmer’s market, and I think I’d rather experiment with orange and red peppers, as well as the variety of Hottie McHotterson peppers. But the green peppers were a great extra in many popular dishes.


Best Performance From A Foreign Garden: plums

The plums were donated by fellow Minnesota gardener, and an extraordinary author, Jenna Blum. I picked them from the tree in her backyard. The thrill of picking fruit right from the tree is not to be underestimated. These lovelies made my lunch better for a week, but most of them are currently soaking in vodka in my basement, turning into a plum liqueur. Should be ready for a Christmas release. Honoring the fruit (or green beans, or tomatoes) from someone else’s garden is to experience the thrill of generosity. Whenever I sip this plum drunkedness this winter, I will recall my friendship with Jenna, our amazing reconnection, the chicken cordon blue squirting butter, the astonishing chocolatey cake, and the party she threw me for my book release. This plum liqueur represents friendship and love.


The Academy would like to thank all its voters.


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