CABBAGE MIGHT BE MY CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS TREE

My mission today was to find a pot of white pansies to place next to my front door for the winter, but from my first stop to my last, the garden shops overflowed with mini-fir trees, holly bushes, natural swags, gift centerpieces, and pinecone wreaths.

The greenhouse shelves lacked room for pansies.

The only color in the flower area was green – green branches, green needles, green leaves – with touches of red bows or gold adornments. I felt a jolt realizing Christmas comes in 34 days.

I crumpled up the paper scribbled with “something white to put in the planter next to the front door” and decided to start my holiday decorating early.

But then I remembered Thanksgiving.

The trees in my backyard have blanketed the ground with brilliant yellow, brown and maroon foliage. Each leaf that gently helicopters down reminds me that as soon as I scoop up the fallen mess with my rake and fill a wall of brown paper garden bags lined up by the curb, I’ll be seeing plenty of white by my front door, back door, roof, and garage in the form of snow.

Still, I like to display a white plant at my home’s entrance year-round. I have a system. Spring and summer, I choose Petunias, Vinca, Geraniums, or Impatiens. As fall arrives, massive mums replace the dainty buds and move into the planter. Then, I seek white pansies to bloom throughout the winter.

One year when I missed the mark, similar to this year, I resorted to putting a fake poinsettia on the porch and left the bogus white plant on display until spring. Winter lasts too long to be disappointed each time I stand in the cold, fiddling with my key, trying to get inside the front door, and looking down to see a plastic plant.

My last stop in search of pansies was at a greenhouse full of blooming Cyclamen that are supposed to be “easy to grow,” but not outdoors in the bitter cold. They are indoor plants. I wanted one.

I ventured further looking for anything white that could survive the bitter winter and came across Poinsettias in festive reds, marbled pinks and winter whites. Again, they are indoor plants. But their beauty was stunning. Then I came across a table full of hot pink Poinsettias for sale. Their color had the clarity and glow of LED lights. I reached out to grab the pot, and then I remembered.

Thanksgiving.

“Can I help you?” the garden worker asked.

I reached inside my purse, and smoothed out the wrinkles of my crumpled paper.

“I’m looking for something white to put in the planter next to the front door,” I read and asked her for pansies.

But the plants had sold out.

“I have a white cabbage,” she offered.

I reluctantly left the warmth of the glowing Poinsettias and followed her through the green house, out a sliding back door, and into the cold afternoon. A few plain cabbages in black plastic buckets lay on the ground next to our feet.

They reminded me of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree if it were a cabbage.

I remained skeptical.

“They are a dollar fifty,” she said, willing me to take one and maybe them all.

The white cabbage wrapped in its own circle of pale green leaves needed me, and I needed the cabbage. I brought the bargain home and planted the vegetable in a decorative pot to replace the dry and stiff brown mum that had faded in its treasured spot underneath the doorbell next to the front door. If by chance I find any pansies, I can plant them in a circle around the cabbage.

As I fiddled with the key to get back into the house after arranging the cabbage, the colors of Thanksgiving popped into my head again. The cabbage seemed right for the season, and hopefully I could enjoy the unusualness of the plant greeting me at the door until spring.

But as soon as my family has eaten all of the turkey, stuffing, string beans and sweet potatoes on Thursday, I’m heading back to the greenhouse to get one of those hot pink Poinsettias before they sell out like the pansies. Christmas is going to be bright.

–cawk

Advertisements

WHO PLANTED TOMATO JUICE?

I heard a story on National Public Radio yesterday about how cannon balls have become a potential problem in Charleston, S.C.

Alexandra Olgin reported that these possibly dangerous relics from the Revolutionary and Civil wars become unearthed during construction projects, after hurricanes and sometimes randomly in someone’s backyard. Some of the artifacts contain black powder and need to be detonated.

Digging in the dirt at the community garden, I often wonder what else has happened in my spot. Did settlers centuries ago try to grow a garden in the same location? What conversations have taken place on the land where I now discuss where to plant my corn and beans? Did anyone ever build a house on the property? Did someone famous like President George Washington ever step through my garden? Maybe he slept there.

Every spot has a history. My dad used to talk about looking for native American arrowheads in fields near his house when he was a boy.

In our rented garden, mostly I find plastic garden tags, zip ties and pieces of string that surface from previous growing seasons. One summer I unearthed a tomato juice can, and I’ve removed buckets of pebbles and rocks. But I’ve never found anything historic such as an arrowhead and thankfully nothing remotely as dramatic as a cannon ball.

Each year, I try to keep our plot clear of debris, not only for my present-day neighbors, but also for those who might pass through my spot in the future. Inevitably I’ll probably lose a button or drop a coin in the soil without knowing. If I do, I wonder who will find them.

–cawk

LET THE SPRING THAW BEGIN

Last week, snow and ice glazed the local ground and trees after a Nor’easter rolled through, reminding antsy gardeners like me that winter wasn’t over.

After town crews cleared the roads, I drove by the community garden to look at the plots. Snow roughly blanketed the flat vacant fields. Statues looked like someone had dipped them in ice. Fringed sleeves of clear frozen water dangled from the brittle tree branches and bushes.

A few days later, conditions improved. The sun emerged and melted away the winter scene. I drove by the community garden again on my way to rent a space for 2017. St. Patrick’s Day with its promise of green seemed like a great time to sign up. The ground remained frozen, but the outdoor scene free of snow radiated with simplicity and sunshine.

Tonight, the Green Thumbs are getting together to make plans for this year’s garden. I envision growing rows of beans and flowers, maybe an old-seed patch, and staples such as peppers, tomatoes, onions, and zucchini.

Whatever we decide to plant, the ground can start to thaw now and temperatures can warm up. The calendar says spring, and we’re ready to garden.

–cawk

MORE THAN ONE COMMUNITY OPTION FOR VEGETABLES

vegetables-from-csa

In addition to growing our own vegetables each summer, my family likes to join a CSA. A medium share each week from the Community Supported Agriculture complements our harvest and insures that if our novice efforts at the community garden fail, we will still sit down at the end of the day to a meal made from fresh, locally-grown food.

The Green Thumbs have had success each year with the familiar crops of cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, beans, squash, and zucchini. Our onions and lettuce have had good years and bad. Our corn quality was phenomenal last year. But our potato quantity fizzled.

I like the security of knowing that a professional farmer is backing us up with the basics and growing vegetables less familiar to our garden such as broccoli rabe, beets and Bok choy.

The weekly surprise of the CSA menu also interests me. Whereas I know what our family plants and how far along the vegetables are growing, someone else tends to the CSA farm. The grower sends us an advanced email of what to expect, but on busy weeks my first glance of our share is what’s written on the board in the barn at pickup.

My youngest son likes to experiment in the kitchen, so the mix of vegetables from two different places offers him a creative challenge. He turns kale from the CSA into chips, and strawberries from the community garden into dessert. In between, he mixes vegetables from both places to create a tasteful stir-fry dish.

A notice came this week that registration has opened for the community garden. In addition, my local CSA is accepting members. Our family plans to sign up for both.

–cawk

DAFFODILS A MESSENGER OF SPRING

billies-daffodils

I failed to give my Southern sister a valentine this year, but the earth presented her with a row of bright, sunny daffodils.

Happy Valentine’s Day sent from Mother Nature!

On the edge of my sister’s yard, the upright, yellow flowers sway in the wind and give the thawing February landscape dots of warm color.

But I live closer to Punxsutawney Phil, and the daffodils here are slower to bloom. Heeding the groundhog’s common prediction of six more weeks of winter, the flowers annually pace themselves, teasing me in February by poking their sturdy green stalks up from the ground but refusing to add their dainty yellow flowers until April.

img_7276

Still, the green stalks and this weekend’s record-breaking warmth remind me that April will be here soon. I best spend the next six weeks thinking seriously about the garden because once those daffodils begin to bloom in my yard, Valentine’s Day will be long gone and planting season will be here.

Then I can follow Mother Nature’s example and bury seeds in the community garden to add my own dots of color upon the landscape.

–cawk

REVIVAL IN THE KITCHEN

img_7253

The stomach flu took me out last week with an intensity that convinced me I would never eat anything ever again. Even the fresh ice water with a straw that my two children took turns bringing to my room and leaving at my bedside posed a threat to my insides. I wasn’t sure which was louder, the wicked Nor’easter that rattled my windows or the intense migraine that pounded inside my head. Crackers, ginger ale, chicken soup, applesauce – I wanted no part of any traditional get-well-soon food. I told the kids to leave it all in the kitchen.

But after a three-day, self-imposed quarantine, I emerged from my room feeling weak and cautious and ready to get water on my own from the kitchen tap. Sipping from my cup, I glanced around the room. Evidence showed that my teen-aged sons lived off cereal, Girl Scout cookies and take-out from the local gas station/convenience store while I was sick. In addition, their hunting and gathering for food must have left them no time to put dishes in the dishwasher or to take out the trash while I slept.

Not wanting to face the housework, I considered another self-imposed quarantine to hide from my responsibilities. But then I spotted the Kalanchoe on the windowsill over the sink. I previously thought the plant was dying because it had produced nothing new – no leaves or flowers – for the past two months. Despite its stagnant existence, I had continued to water the plant, not expecting much to happen. But a small orange blossom, previously undetected, was quietly nestled within the thick green leaves of the plant. Its presence gave me a breath of hope.

I sipped more water and felt the liquid’s coolness. I admired the dainty flower that thrived despite the consistent gray clouds of January. This blossom was strong enough to rise and join the living earth. If I wanted to follow suit, I would have to start by loading the dishwasher. I began by scrubbing the sticky cereal bowls and ignoring the overflowing trash can at the end of the counter.

My orange Kalanchoe had revived, and so would I with more tiny sips of water.

Still, my sons would have to take out the trash after school to ensure my full recovery – and the kitchen’s own revival, too.

–cawk

WISHING FOR A LAZY SUMMER

img_7252

My first seed catalog for 2017 arrived in the mail on the same day my winter CSA delivery came this week.

Opening the Community Shared Agriculture box was like unwrapping a gift. Inside were spinach, potatoes, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, apples, and carrots.

As I washed the crisp purple and greens leaves of the lettuce and admired the sleek, fresh skins of the cucumbers and zucchini, the convenience of having the healthy food dropped off at my doorstep each week became apparent and appreciated. I didn’t have to pull any weeds, worry about temperatures or rain, pluck bugs or get my hands smudgy. I just opened my door.

I scrubbed the potatoes underneath a weak stream of water. Dirt washed away revealing a thin skin on the spuds that didn’t need peeling. I gave the carrots a bath, too, discovering a fresh orange color. I scraped the peel off, and a brighter orange was revealed. The carrots were thick and ugly, not at all shaped like typical bunches outlined in a children’s coloring book. But they tasted sweet and easily could be cut into edible discs.

I washed the apples and spinach leaves and put away the red and yellow cherry tomatoes. Several salad combinations came to mind.

Then I sliced the potatoes, adding onions and pats of butter to the dish, and set the oven to bake them for an hour. Soon, the smell of comfort food filled the house, and I sat down to browse through the pictures of vegetables and flowers in my newly-arrived catalog while the potatoes baked.

The magazine enticed me. Images of healthy peas lined up in fresh pods, red tomatoes sliced in half, slick and round deep-purple eggplant in bunches and smooth yellow wax beans displayed in a sieve filtered through my fingers as I turned each page.

I wanted to grow almost every fruit and vegetable that passed by my eyes.

Then I viewed the flowers. Visions of Pansies, Petunias, Snap Dragons and Gaillardia captured my attention. I browsed through several pages of sunflowers.

Words describing the flowers as “glorious,” “fragrant” and “easy to grow” jumped off the pages.

“Easy to grow” is what I wanted to find. Descriptions of “disease resistant” vegetables also coaxed me to look unsuccessfully for “bug resistant.” I started to circle pleasant descriptions with a neon blue highlighter and dreamed of an “Easy Peasy” and “Perfecto” kind of summer garden this year.

Soon, my potatoes were done. I put down the catalog and fixed myself a small serving. The baked potatoes tasted so good.

I started thinking about the potatoes the Green Thumbs grew in our garden last summer. I picked bugs off our potato plants week after week leading up to a disappointing harvest. The potatoes were small and scarce. We could have bought a much better product at the local farm stand, although what we harvested did taste good. The experience, which fell short of expectations, made me hesitant to plant potatoes again, although the blue and purple potatoes I saw in the catalog raised my curiosity.

I went back to circling descriptions such as “unstoppable productivity” and “produce in abundance.” Could a bean described as “easy to grow with no serious pests or diseases” be for real? I highlighted the description with two neon blue circles.

My wish is for a lazy summer and a garden planted with simple-to-grow vegetables and a nice patch of low-maintenance flowers. Anything difficult to raise, I prefer to buy at the local farm stand — or have delivered to my door.

But the idea of taking it easy is only a wish no matter what food the Green Thumbs choose to grow. Gardening requires dedication, persistence, and hard work.

I’ve never met a successful lazy gardener.

–cawk

FREEZER STINGY

grandmas-harvest

My teen-aged son has been filling up the family crock pot the past few days with different recipes for the new year.

We worked together on his grocery lists.

“Put down green peppers,” he said, turning the pages of my favorite cookbook.

“Look in the freezer,” I said, hovering my pen over the scrap piece of paper and waiting for the next ingredient. “We have plenty of bell peppers from the garden. They are diced and ready to go.”

“Ok, add chopped tomatoes,” he said, moving his finger down the page.

“They are the freezer,” I said.

“What about squash?” he asked.

“It’s in the freezer,” I said, putting down my pen.

“Maybe I’ll make Eggplant Parmesan, too,” he said.

“The key ingredient is in the freezer.”

I also have zucchini, beans, onions and potatoes — all frozen from the summer garden. Digging past those foods, he will find packages of sauce, vegetable soup and stewed tomatoes made from our 2016 harvest and more freezer pickles than we could ever eat made with cucumbers from the garden.

Looking at how much food we have stashed in our refrigerator freezer, with more in the basement freezer box, I realize I’m a garden hoarder. Most of the food we put away from the garden remains uneaten along with the pick-your own strawberries and blueberries we collected at local farms and frozen cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving.

Maybe it’s good that we have those vegetables and fruits stored away as we resolve once again to eat healthy and exercise in the coming year.

But it’s time for me to stop being freezer stingy.

While others welcome 2017 with a Polar Plunge swim in the frigid sea, I plan to dive into our freezer and surface with some of the food I have been stockpiling. The taste of summer could provide great hope and comfort in the bitter days of winter when I don’t want to venture out into the cold to go to the grocery store.

Here’s a toast for 2017: May the new year bring the taste of homegrown vegetables to everyone’s crock pot. May people everywhere share an abundance of desserts made with fresh local fruits! And may we all have successful gardens and good help in the kitchen throughout the coming year.

–cawk

STRAWBERRIES OBLIVIOUS TO PAIN

IMG_5855

For the past few weeks, I’ve been dealing with a painful pinched nerve that has given me sleepless nights, doctor visits, uncomfortable steps and one trip to the emergency room.

But try telling that to the garden.

While I have been down and almost out, the garden has continued its progress. The beans are starting to cling to the fence; the cucumbers are spreading on their hills; the corn plants are swirling out of the ground.

I limp, but the plants stand strong. I can’t squat and pick, but the strawberries continue to ripen. The garden needs daily attention that my body has been unable to provide. But my children and the Green Thumbs have come to the rescue.

On many afternoons as I have moved uncomfortably around the house, my sons have gone after school to check on the garden.

They return with reports such as, “We raked all the rows,” or “We decided not to water because it rained yesterday.”

They tell me who they see when they visit — our neighbors, the garden angel who coordinates the community project, other Green Thumbs.

One afternoon, they helped fellow gardeners plant more rows of peppers. On a weekend visit, they helped water the garden after one of the Green Thumbs fertilized the plants. They posted an American flag in the garden.

In addition, they have come home with containers full of strawberries. My oldest son has a special bowl that he likes to fill with the harvest because its bottom fits just right in the car cup holder, which prevents the generous amounts of berries from tipping over as he drives home.

Twice, he has spontaneously offered Solo cups full of the freshly-picked red fruit to others. One cup went to a farmer who shared her spinach, onions and radishes with our family. Another cup went to a friend who helped my son plant azaleas.

My youngest son added some of the strawberries that he and his brother picked to a spinach salad that we took to a cookout on  Memorial Day weekend.

Watching them enjoy and share the harvest makes me feel like I’m missing out. I want to dig in the dirt and be a part of what’s growing, too.

My sons plan to pick more strawberries and tend to the garden again this afternoon before they tackle their homework.

My pinched nerve still bothers me. I can’t squat or lift, and I’m not sure if I can rake. But I’m pretty sure I can stand and hold a water hose. So I’m going with them to the garden today to do my small part.

The strawberries won’t wait for me to heal, but observing their beauty and tasting their juice just might be the best medicine for my pinched nerve. The visit to the garden itself should make me feel better. Hopefully, I’ll be back to picking and weeding soon because, like the strawberries, the vegetables in the garden won’t pause for pain either.

–cawk

GARDEN REVAMP COMPLETE

IMG_5610

When I bought my first house decades ago, all I wanted to do was to move in to the home. But the floors needed refinishing. The windows had to be repaired. The walls required painting. Weeks went by before I finally settled into my new spot.

A similar situation occurred this year as I waited to move into the community garden. After the Green Thumbs paid our rent in March, I was ready to enter and plant. But prep work needed to be done, and the tasks kept us busy the entire month of April.

First, the 20-by-60-foot garden plot needed enclosure. To get the job done, our families met on a sunny Sunday morning with tools and fencing. Our teen-aged sons were a great help measuring, digging and hammering in various wooden, bamboo and covered metal posts. They worked diligently with zip ties, string and special knots to connect the plastic orange and green netting to the posts.

We took breaks, sitting in lawn chairs underneath a nearby shade tree, and shared snacks of raisins, granola bars and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The younger kids beautified our fence line with a homemade rock garden that should delight our neighbors as they walk along the path to their own spots this summer. With pencil and paper, we mapped out a grid detailing which vegetables we plan to plant and where they will go in the garden. We took pictures and met new people.

IMG_5671

When our chores ended about mid-afternoon, I was too tired to plant even one seed. But the delay was okay because after several years of growing food in the same soil, we decided to add compost to the garden before we plant. One family took care of the first few rows and planted corn.

Then over the next couple of weeks, the Green Thumbs dropped in when they could to dig trenches and fill them with compost from a bin near the back of the gardens.

During several trips to the site after school, my sons helped me measure and align straight rows with stakes and string. Then we started an assembly line of sorts. While my oldest son fetched compost with a wheelbarrow, I dug a small trench. My youngest son used his own shovel to perfect what I started until his brother returned, and they filled the trench with compost. We left the newly-filled rows open with plans to cover them with dirt once again during planting.

IMG_5735

The prep work steadily progressed, and the Green Thumbs finally began moving into the garden this past weekend. We planted onions, beans, carrots, potatoes and peas. Intermittent rain has kept the crops watered. We plan to add other vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, watermelon and lettuce, after Mother’s Day when the threat of a late frost has safely passed.

IMG_5741

Our garden home looks great. I’m glad we didn’t rush into the space. Looking ahead, we have the rest of spring and all of summer to enjoy our revamped spot.

–cawk