What we found when we arrived; and how we transformed it.Emilie, my gardener daughter and mentor
I got involved this spring in a small community garden a block and a half from my house. I’d passed by the locked gate and seen the sign several times walking home from Eileen’s. There was still snow on the ground. By the way, scroll down if you want to skip the story and just see pics.
A month or two went by and I was getting antsy. This is the year, I was telling myself. I want to garden. My daughter Emilie was a big inspiration. Her tomato plants the year before, all those ground cherries in her freezer, and that pesto, fresh from her own garden. I wanted to try it myself.
The host of Digging in the Dirt at WPKN held a workshop for gardeners at the station in early spring I attended and received a gift of tomato seeds. Then one day, while volunteering to answer phones there I told Steve about the garden down the street, and he said, “Oh yeah. Talk to Bob about it. He’s the organizer.” Wouldn’t you know that Bob would be the next caller on the line. Destiny took my hand and opened the gate. Another reason to thank WPKN, a constant inspiration musically and otherwise!
That was the beginning of April. Here it is the beginning of August, and I’m planting a second time for a fall crop of beets, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, and chard. The little bed I was assigned to has been cared for daily, after being set up by my daughter, who showed me how to prepare the soil for planting, and then gave me my first seedlings and sowed the first seeds. She set the design from the beginning, and I realize that’s what you have to do.
The heirloom pole beans were the first to sprout. They have taken over an entire trellis, and then some.
The trellis has been added to several times to make a place for all the exuberant growth. Now it resembles a rather rustic wedding arch with more recently planted pole beans coming up from the other side. They should be meeting sometime in the not-so-distant future.
How cool is something that comes up every year without you having to do anything. Everything you see below are things we found already in the garden from the year/s before. They bring an abundance of early spring beauty, and lots of hope for a good year. I was so busy cleaning up and organizing that I forgot to take pictures of the mint, tulips, raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb, mulberries, and currants.
I still don’t know the names of everything, including the weeds. Learning is a process. And I’m taking my time. The photo above left is a dill plant, found all over our garden, and above that is a patch of garlic scapes, which I learned can be cut and eaten when they curl. In this picture they are just starting to curl. I ate scapes this spring, and then harvested the garlic a month or so later. Fresh garlic!
Our garden is FULL of red and black raspberries. They are quite the propagators, and need to be kept in check or they will take over the entire garden. A lot of people wouldn’t mind that I suppose. This is a particularly healthy and happy black raspberry bush. Still waiting for the fruits to ripen, while the red raspberries are all picked, and a second harvest on the way.
These are gooseberries. I have an old bush in my bed. Most of us have never seen one before. When ripe, they become pink and translucent orbs. I collected a bagful while they were still too tart for the other gardeners and took them up to Emilie. She’s the master of pie-making with fresh fruits. We made a rhubarb and strawberry tart, and ate the gooseberries all by themselves- they were too good to cook.
We also have some big mulberry trees hanging over the garden, and people shake them down to catch the fruit on a big tarp. Currant bushes bore a rather sour fruit this year, but it’s all edible.
You might say I’ve discovered rhubarb this year. I’ve taken a lot of stems over the summer, and I’m probably the only one in the garden who knows how great rhubarb is. Right now I have a bunch of chopped stems in my freezer so I’ll have some vitamin C source in the dark of winter. I also combine it with apples to make a tart applesauce. Yummy.
THE EDIBLE GARDEN
Some of the fruits of my garden: Kolrabi, which my daughter introduced me to, finger eggplant, and the winter squash Mr. Yee gave me to plant.
Chard, kale, bok choy, lettuce, chives, garlic, raspberries, basil, and tomatoes…I’m eating a lot of greens every day. Gently steamed, and mixed in a large bowl with beans, nuts, onions, berries, an egg or a small piece of meat, some sauerkraut, and topped off with sesame oil, and a sprinkle of vinegar – OMG! This food makes me feel good and I’m slimmer and spending less. What’s not to like?
Harvest seeds for future gardens, and pickle the cucumbers to enjoy right now. Dill seeds are what give dill pickles their distinct flavor. Who knew?
CABBAGE AND SAUERKRAUT
A fermented cabbage is a tasty and healthy addition to almost any dish. Like a Korean, I don’t want to live without it anymore. I’m still waiting for the cabbage in my garden, so I’m making sauerkraut with store-bought heads. Combining a red and a green cabbage makes a beautiful pink-colored kraut which can be added to soups and salads, or piled onto a hot dog of course.
Our garden beds are not huge, and there’s so much more space to plant if you go vertical. Tomatoes were my first experiment with vertical gardening. Thanks to Youtube I found lots of tutorials. In the end, I create my own style, and it becomes a fun building project. This is my first trellis. It’s about 9 feet tall, and the tomatoes are almost at the top now. I built it in a rush right before leaving town for 2 weeks, knowing that those plants were going to need the support.
Emilie brought me 4 of her tomato seedlings to get me started. Unfortunately they got hit by the very last of the cold days in May and didn’t survive their first night in the garden. That was a heartbreak, but one of the things I’ve learned is that a gardener learns from mistakes.
The tomatoes she replaced them with have been my first fruiters, and have provided me with all kinds of pleasure caring for them. In all I have 20 tomato plants in 3 different beds, most of them planted from seed. I really enjoy entering the garden in the early morning and spending time with them – building trellises, training them to climb, pruning – it’s focused, creative, and good for the mind. And the tomatoes are delicious!
This is my second tomato trellis. It’s higher and had to be sturdier in order to support 10 plants. The seeds of theses plants were given to me by Kevin Gallagher from WPKN. They’re taller than this now, and have been bearing fruit. I’ve been radically pruning them, as per youtube tutorials, and spending time with them is my greatest pleasure. It’s calming and meditative, and they respond well to my care.
This morning when I was checking the tomato plants I saw some strange berry-like stuff on several of the leaves. When I looked closer I suddenly saw a huge caterpillar. It was 4 inches long – HUGE – but I almost didn’t see it, it blended so well. My first instinct was to cut it off immediately, but I went home instead to google it. It’s a life-form after all.
Turns out, it’s a hornworm caterpillar that is a very serious threat to a tomato garden, and the black stuff is the poop, a very nice tell-tale sign to alert a gardener to its presence. Too bad for the caterpillar. He was duly removed, and given to a neighbor who thought his 14-year-old boy might be interested in watching it grow. If not, his grandmother has a chicken who would enjoy it.
Potatoes are almost ready for harvesting. We have pumpkins and maybe a watermelon or two will make it. Lots of peas and carrots. Someone planted 3 or 4 rows of corn. The camomile I mistook for parsley and picked was given a new start and hopefully will survive. Bell peppers and hot chili peppers, and a few onions that survived my first planting. My beets didn’t make it the first time so I planted some again on Aug 1st – two rows of them. See below left. They’re coming up this time.
COMPOST AND MULCH
Another thing to mention is the importance of compost and mulch to keep the soil nutrient rich and moist. Already on our 5th mulch delivery from local tree cutters, we’re making more soil everyday. More about that in the next post.