Would somebody please shoot me next time I agree to do a film about growing a vegetable garden?
Yesterday I spent seven hours in the sun without a break with a cameraman from MonkeySee.com trying to tell everything there is to know about growing vegetables in 12 three-minute clips.
The clips are entirely unscripted. I work extemporaneously from a bare outline and there is the constant threat that I will leave something vitally important out of the footage.
The format seemed to work alright last year when we filmed a series about composting. (It is available for viewing in the column on the right under "videos." MonkeySee is all about posting how-to videos on the internet.) I felt pretty comfortable talking about one of my favorite subjects. I felt I could have used another month of preparation and rehearsals before taking on the whole world of vegetables. But the folks at MonkeySee were anxious to get this thing in the can NOW and there wasn't a lot of advance notice.
Funny, I don't remember being interrupted every five seconds by passing cement trucks and helicopters overhead last year. I can't count the number times we stood idle yesterday, waiting for the traffic light to change because a car was stopped at our intersection with a Bob Marley tune playing at ear-splitting decibel levels. Or the worker across the street welding a fence and grinding away with his metal grinder. Or the neighbor out trimming his lawn with his electric lawn trimmer. Or the passersby passing by on the sidewalk, shouting into their cell phones.
At one point, a curious postman walked into the middle of us filming a clip. "Are you on TV?" he asked.
Come to think of it, there's a lot of noise we just grow used to living in the city that makes a cameraman on a film shoot want to tear his hair own.
There was a scene transplanting a tomato plant that I completely muffed. I bought this tall, lanky thing at Whole Foods and after explaining that it was a perfect candidate for laying on its side in a trench, I went ahead and tried to dig a deep hole for it anyway, explaining that the hole would be a great way to get compost down deep into the soil. Well, when I put the tomato plant in the hole, it was still too tall and lanky and just flopped over. Dang.
And how are you supposed to film the seasonal movement of the sun across the garden plot? The point is, you really do have to think about where the sun is going to be at any point in the growing season. It can easily be shaded out by a big tree that was bare in December, but now is casting a long shadow over your squashes.
There I was, waving my arms at our tall house, trying to explain how it figures into our planting scheme. The cameraman trained his lens on a row of peas that runs east to west. The easternmost plants are in bloom, the westernmost plants several days behind, all because of the hour's difference in sun they receive when the sun disappears behind our roof.
And what kind of vegetables do you film the first week of May? Well, my mustard greens have come up in a riot of greens and reds. I've got patches of lettuces, incredibly tall garlic, some very happy potato plants and blooming favas and chives. But you won't see any big, juicy tomatoes or record-size zucchini. That's all months away. Instead, we filmed me planting a tomato seed in a peat pot for a section on starting seeds indoors.
Being a garden guru is physically gruelling. There's me on my hands and knees harvesting rhubarb. There's me on my hands and knees spreading mulch. There's me on my hands and knees transplanting a jalapeno pepper. Filling buckets of compost. Digging holes. Running after tools and the water hose. Up, down, up, down, up down.
And that wide-brimmed hat that was supposed to keep the sun out of my eyes? The camerman never ceased to remind me to push it back on my head. It was creating too much shadow on my face, he explained. So now I'm squinting into the sun, feeling like some sort of gardening Pancho Villa.
By the end, the cameraman and I were both a little loopy. Three Ibuprofin later, I'm still aching all over. And this is all done on a volunteer basis, mind you.
I'm counting on digital editing to perform a miracle.