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.




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.


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.


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.


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.




When my family returned from our spring break travels, the house became a place of catch-up and chaos. Hampers of dirty clothes lined up outside the laundry room like planes ready for take-off. The pots and pans we used to cook our Easter meal were stacked in the sink because someone needed to unload the clean dishes from the dishwasher to replace them with the dirty ones. Piles of mail needed to be opened, and every room I entered contained small bursts of clutter none of us wanted to tackle.

While the kids retreated to finish their last-minute homework, I planned to visit the one spot that always feels in order — the community garden.

After running errands the next day, I scooted over to see the empty patch of tilled dirt prepared for us garden-renters, who will be moving into our spaces soon. A local farmer recently plowed the field. He volunteers to do this for us each year, which is greatly appreciated. In addition, while my family was out of town and celebrating spring break, several fellow gardeners turned the precise rectangle of dirt into a grid of garden plots, each marked by corner stakes and numbers. The perfect lines, measured equally with walking paths in between, radiated a sense of order and a peaceful place to grow vegetables, fruits and flowers.


I found one gardener already putting up his fence. He also gave me a tour of some of the improvements recently made near the compost bin behind the plots. The area along a tree line, which in previous years was overgrown, has been mowed and carpeted with a layer of mulch. I used to dread walking my buckets of debris to the compost bin. I worried that snakes might be hiding in the tall grass. My kids made fun of me because I chanted, “Go away snakes,” with every step.

“Mom, that’s not going to do anything,” my oldest son once said as he helped me carry the garden trash to the back of the gardens. He was right, but saying the words made me feel better.

Now that the area has been cleaned up, which is another act of kindness much appreciated, any snakes lurking nearby now must look out for me. A patch of mint has a presence along one edge of the space. In addition, herbs have been planted on each side of the pathway leading to the compost bin. Gardeners can pass by fragrant patches of rosemary, oregano and other familiar useful plants as they clean up their space. The improved site adds more order and beauty to the gardens.


I returned down the path and back through the dirt gardens to my car knowing that slowly, the grid of earth will be outlined with more fences over the next few weeks. The Green Thumbs plan to join the mapped-out grid with our green and orange fencing on the third weekend in April. As gardeners begin to plant their crops in rows and perhaps patches, more straight lines will be added to the grid, enhancing the space with more beauty.

And hopefully, with acts of kindness from my children, I’ll get my house in relaxing order, too.

— cawk



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Coming inside from the frigid outdoors and standing in the warm office of the town’s administrative building, my fingers felt so cold last week that they could barely grip an ink pen. The stiffness relaxed as I read the back and front of a community garden contract, paid the fee and signed my name on the dotted line to once again rent two plots with the Green Thumbs.

The agreement’s pledge was clear. We will take care of our spot and respect our fellow gardeners, their tools and crops.

The oath was simple to make on a blustery day when the snow-covered ground remained frozen and unplowed. The work of maintaining a garden was still months away as I returned home with plots 6 and 16 secured, and the bitter wind gave no indication that winter was loosening its grip. My daffodils by the front steps were short green stalks too cold to bloom and standing awkwardly stiff like my fingers.

But almost a week has passed since I paid the garden rent, and spring feels possible. The weather has done a 180-degree turn, warming the neighborhood with highs in the 70s forecasted over the next few days. Yesterday, I carried my lawn chair from its spot in the basement next to the rolled up garden fence and metal posts, and sat in it on my front porch, which overlooks the thawing daffodils. A robin hopped on my front lawn, and joggers waved to me as they passed. Feeling comfortable in my bright pink, long-sleeved turtleneck sweater, I started to read Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book, edited by Edwin Morris Betts, for inspiration. A tiny gnat distracted me as it crawled on our third president’s words: “But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”

And so are the Green Thumbs.

We rented our first plot in 2013, and immediately faced the problem of deer among our unprotected rows. The animals left behind brazen footprints and ate our broccoli, which probably wouldn’t have survived anyway because we planted it too late in the season. Nonetheless, the invasion was a setback until we added a flimsy fence around our square and forged ahead.

At the beginning of the next gardening season in 2014, we admired with pride our three rows of abundant strawberries planted securely inside our fence. Never had such a beautiful patch of fruit been grown. We dreamed of all the short cakes and pies we would eat. But a week before harvest an unexpected hail storm damaged and broke the healthy plants and their berries. We nurtured the crop as best we could, but the strawberries hardly recovered. I didn’t even freeze one pint for the winter. We were left to wait another year for a satisfying berry harvest.

Last year in 2015, the deer stayed away. The berries bore fruit. And the Green Thumbs planted popcorn, something my youngest son had wanted to do since we started gardening. I was thrilled watching the popcorn grow, until he reminded me that he had gotten braces on his teeth and was not supposed to eat popcorn. We harvested the cobs of corn early because the summer was so dry and decided to cut the cooked popcorn into small pieces so my son could have a taste. We placed the corn, cob and all, in a brown paper bag inside the microwave oven. We could hear the kernels popping and had salt nearby and a stick of butter ready to melt and pour on the white puffs of corn. But the microwave cooked the snack too long. The cob of corn became burnt, black and inedible. And the kitchen smelled terrible.

Despite our minor setbacks in the garden over the years, the Green Thumbs also have had annual successes. We have grown enough lettuce and radishes, tomatoes and peppers, eggplant and onions, beans and carrots, watermelons and cantaloupes, potatoes and squash, and pint after pint of cherry tomatoes to feed our families and share with others.

Each year our planting knowledge and experience grows. We have aged many years at the community garden, but if Jefferson is right, the mysteries of farming will keep us young forever.



We took down our fence last month and cleaned up our garden, leaving the tidy square of dirt void of vegetables and abandoned until spring. But the unusually warm fall has evoked a feeling that we closed up too early.

I’m left with an orange pumpkin and a few unusual squash that have been taking up space on my kitchen counter since way before Thanksgiving because I can’t decide if I should and how to cook them.

The calendar says December, but I’ve barely worn my winter coat. My gloves and hat have gone untouched. And snow has yet to be forecast.

Cold or not, a parade of holiday red and green has swapped autumn’s orange and yellow. Evergreens and Santa figures have replaced picture for blogcornucopias and pilgrims. The seasons have changed from harvest moon to twinkling lights. Still that pumpkin and squash hang on like our garden turnips and radishes did after our lonely first frost.

The pumpkin doesn’t fit in with my holiday décor, and topping its round shape with a Santa hat won’t help.

My goal today is to bake gingerbread cookies. But after I roll out the dough and release the smell of warm spices from the oven, that pumpkin will still be sitting on my counter next to the mixer and reminding me that fall will continue until that annoying orange vegetable gets cooked.

So move over tiramisu and fruit cobbler. This year’s Christmas dessert is going to be pumpkin pie.




When the summer began, I planned to walk to the garden and back each morning to get more exercise. Thirty minutes there, thirty minutes back — it was a fool-proof strategy. In addition to eating all of those garden vegetables that the Green Thumbs planted, the routine of walking everyday would help melt away the pounds and get myself in tip-top shape before fall.

Now that the summer is half-way over, I can sadly report that I’ve made the trek on foot only twice.

It’s not a bad walk. Sidewalks and a paved path provide a pleasant surface for most of the journey. The last few paces require a short distance of walking on mowed grass before the sidewalk reappears. Electronic signs help guide pedestrians across two major streets of traffic. Pine trees, crepe myrtles and other beautiful landscape grow along the winding walkway.

The first time I walked to the garden from home, I made the trek alone early in the growing season.

I carried a cloth bag packed with my cell phone, a pair of garden gloves, a bottle of water and two additional cloth bags in case any vegetables were ready to pick. I wasn’t sure how long the walk would be, but the weather was pleasant early in the morning. Other Green Thumbs were meeting me at the garden, so a ride home, if necessary, would be available.

Not many people passed me on the sidewalk. People on their way to work dominated the adjacent steady traffic. Overall, the walk was a positive experience. I returned home with a few vegetables in the bag strapped over my shoulder, a good feeling about getting my exercise for the day and a determination to make the journey a part of my daily routine.

But life got busy, and my trips to the garden continued by car until this past week. My son agreed to wake up early and walk with me to the garden. This time, the traffic seemed lighter, and the walk went by faster with our conversation. I was feeling pretty good.

We weeded two bucketsful of debris from the garden. We raked the rows. We plucked dead buds from the marigolds. We filled two bags with ripe tomatoes, eggplant, beans, onions, zucchini, squash and cucumbers.

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Then it was time to go. I picked up part of our harvest, but the bag of vegetables was too heavy for me to carry. My son transferred some of the vegetables into a day pack to carry on his back, and he lugged the other bag of picked-vegetables home for our entire walk.

When we got home, he weighed the harvest using our bathroom scale. The bags together weighed 25 pounds.

Next time, I think we need to bring a wagon.




My refrigerator crisper is full of cucumbers.

The vegetables are growing much more plentiful this year than in years past at The Green Thumb community garden. Some of the vegetables are thin and bumpy. Others are smooth and fat.

My current diet is heavy on pickles as well as cucumber sandwiches. The secret to a good sandwich is spreading both the top and bottom slices of bread with the right amount of mayonnaise so the cucumber slices will stick instead of fall out when the sandwich is lifted off the plate.

I peel my cucumbers and add salt and pepper to the rows of green circles arranged on a piece of white bread before gently pressing a second slice of bread on top. Sometimes I sprinkle the cucumber slices with oregano, too, but I didn’t grow up fixing the sandwiches that way. My sons add crumbles of feta cheese. My daddy used to eat cucumber and tomato sandwiches.

My favorite appetizers at wedding receptions and graduation parties are the open-faced cucumber sandwiches presented on bread spread with a dab of cream cheese to secure the cucumber slice, which is usually topped with salt and pepper and a sprinkle of paprika. I love the way the sandwiches are elegantly cut in round cookie-cutter shapes or squares with the crusts removed so you can eat them in one bite. One of my co-workers occasionally brought a refrigerator container full of these sandwiches to share in the office. She never went home with leftovers.

Despite all of the cucumber sandwiches we have been eating at home, my crisper remains full of the green vegetables from our garden. I’m adding diced cucumbers to pasta salads and to green salads. I’m serving peeled cucumbers with a side of ranch dressing for snacks. And I’m making continuous batches of refrigerator pickles and serving the kids afternoon appetizers of cheese and pickles on toothpicks.

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I’m beginning to understand why almost every summertime meal that my family ate while I was growing up included a bowl of sliced cucumbers covered in apple cider vinegar with a touch of salt and pepper and why so many people brought their family version of Cucumbers and Onions in Sour Cream to the covered-dish family reunions and church picnics in June and July.

The vegetables are so plentiful that I’m thinking about eating Chilled Cucumber Soup for breakfast.

Biting into a cucumber this time of year brings back childhood memories. I can’t remember a summer when we didn’t have fresh cucumbers from the garden.

Sadly, my sons aren’t big cucumber fans, but I’m hoping to change their minds one family recipe at a time this summer – at least until my refrigerator crisper is empty.

pickle crop


Sliced onions and cucumbers

Sliced carrots and green bell peppers (if desired)

4 cups sugar

¼ cup salt

1 1/3 Tablespoons celery seed

4 cups apple cider vinegar

1 1/3 Tablespoons turmeric

1 1/3 Tablespoons ground mustard

Put sliced onions in bottom of jar. Fill with sliced cucumbers, carrots and green bell peppers. Heat remaining ingredients to melt or dissolve sugar. Cool. Pour over cucumbers. Eat after 4 or 5 days.



½ cup sour cream

1 Tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon vinegar

2 medium cucumbers, thinly sliced

2 small onions, thinly sliced

Combine sour cream, sugar, vinegar and salt; add cucumber and onion, tossing gently. Cover and chill 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

Yield: 4 servings.



4 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 3 pounds)

3 cups buttermilk

1 (8-ounce) carton plain yogurt

2 green onions, chopped

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon pepper

Process all ingredients, in batches, in a food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl; cover and chill 2 hours.

Makes about 8 cups.




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Last week, my sister sent me a picture of a split cherry tomato labeled: first fruit from the garden.

I never know if I should eat the split ones.

But she ate it flaw and all.

A few days later, I received another picture. “Here’s another one.” The fruit in this picture was perfectly round, red and appetizing. She ate that tomato, too.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

I read on the internet that if cherry tomatoes are splitting, growers can pick the fruit before it is fully ripe and let the tomatoes ripen at home.

For now, I’m looking at plenty of yellow flowers on the Green Thumb tomato plants. We’re still a long way from coming home with the red vegetables. But we continue our chores.

The plants are full of promise. But it feels like forever since we planted them

We’ve delighted in their progress from seedling, to flowering, to tiny unripe vegetables. We’ve been weeding and raking and watering and checking for bugs, but mostly watching and waiting for the plants to produce.

The thrill of harvesting strawberries is over. Not much fruit can be found on those plants anymore. This was our third year of strawberries. We are trying to decide if we should pull them up and plant more next year, or let them be while knowing they might not produce as much fruit in the fourth year.

A few days ago, I went for the usual garden check. As I watered the radishes, the stream from my watering can washed away some of the dirt underneath the radish tops, and I saw a new splash of red. I gripped the green leaves and pulled to find my first vegetable of the garden – a huge radish. I was totally surprised. The root beside it needed picking, and the next one, too. When I left the garden, I had a harvest of 12 fresh radishes to eat and share. I was thrilled. I also found two ripe strawberries, a banana pepper and a yellow squash to pick.

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Going to the garden no longer feels like a chore now that the vegetables have started coming.

And our community garden neighbors are generous. Last night, my family feasted on a stir-fry made with a large zucchini left on our porch. The gift was from a fellow community gardener.

My son and I stopped by our garden plot last night just before dark. The rows were neatly raked, so we didn’t go in to explore. But from the side of the fence, I saw a few blueberries that looked blue enough to pick.

I’m eager to get to the garden today in hopes that I can taste one of those blueberries. Who knows what else I will find ready to harvest.



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One of the lessons I give my sons is that the man has got to kill the bugs. But this may not be true when it comes to the garden.

Yesterday morning, I went to the vegetable patch with one of the Green Thumbs and her daughter who is home from college. We were greeted by our garden angel, who oversees the community gardens. He told us to check our tomatoes and eggplant for Colorado potato beetles and any eggs they may have left on the leaves.

He removed a few of the bugs from our neighbor’s garden and held them out in the palm of his hand. They were pretty insects, like ladybugs are pretty, with black stripes down their yellow body. But their heads and legs were lanky and menacing. I didn’t want to touch those bugs, much less kill them. They looked like they would release lots of nasty bug juice if squished.

“Can’t we just declare the gardens a bug-free zone?” I asked.

But that’s not possible. We watched our garden angel squash the bugs with his fingers and drop the flattened insects to the ground. Then the three of us were left to inspect our plants.

“I teach my boys that the man has got to kill the bugs,” I told my friend and her daughter. But the men of plot 6 were at work and the boys were at school, so if any Colorado potato beetles lurked in our garden, they were about to be squished by two stay-at-home moms and a college student.

Armed in green garden gloves, I took a row. My friend took another. And her daughter took another. We turned over the leaves.

tomato plant

“Something’s been eating over here,” my friend said, after finding holes in the leaves of one plant. We continued our search, but the bugs had moved on or were hiding from us formidable ladies who were ready to protect our food.

I was relieved not to find a beetle invasion. My bug rule can stand another day. But if the neighbors have those bugs, we’ll find them, too. My wish would be that the beetles stay away until the end of school, when my sons can do the morning bug inspections.

But I chose to be a gardener. Unwanted bugs are going to show up to eat my plants, and if I plan to grow tomatoes and eggplant, I’m going to have to squish those Colorado potato beetles and other unwanted pests between my fingers and get bug juice on my favorite garden gloves whether I want to or not.

New rule: just kill the bugs.



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The soil was so dusty at the garden this evening that my son and I felt like we were cultivating plant life on the moon. Each scrape of his rake over the dry earth created puffs of choking, brown dirt clouds, and the bottoms of our tennis shoes left pock marks and craters resembling the moon’s surface.

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Underneath all that dust must be rich, moist soil because the radish seeds we planted less than a week ago have poked up out of the ground, and two volunteer melons have started to grow. The tomatoes and beans have a great start, too.

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“There are so many rocks,” my son observed as we watered the plants and watched our alien shadows – long and lean – dance over the rows. My son started making shadow puppets of birds on the dry field background. I marveled at the shadows flowing from the fence.

shadow puppets

One thing we have avoided so far is weeds. A couple of neighboring plots have been inundated with the unwanted green, but our surface remains chalky and brown with only a few mystery sprigs scattered amongst the rows.

“I feel like if I weed now, I might pull up some of the plants we are trying to grow,” my son said, browsing our moonscape.

I agreed. It’s difficult to distinguish the difference between a potential vegetable and a nuisance at this stage. I handed him a rake so he could erase our footprints from the paths. Raking is our favorite defense against weeds.

While he worked I got curious and took my own moonwalk – not the Michael Jackson kind — from the cucumber mounds over to the popcorn. Neither one of these crops were showing signs of growth.

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“Mom!” my son exclaimed seeing where I walked. I thought I had stepped on important plants the way he called my name. “I’m going to have to rake that half of the garden again.”

Puzzled, I looked down. My footprints covered much of the rows he had raked already. I apologized and moved outside the fence.

“That’s okay,” he said. “It’s an easy fix.”

And I figure the dusty surface of our moon-like plot is an easy fix, too. It just needs some water. Come on rain. Help us out.