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.