Tag Archives: Garden

A PLACE OF ORDER

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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.

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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.

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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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RENT PAID

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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.

–cawk

CHRISTMAS PUMPKIN ENDS THE PARADE

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.

–cawk

HOMEGROWN ENTERTAINMENT

Less than a week into summer vacation, the Green Thumb moms have discovered something that entertains children more than electronics.

It’s a garden.

Instead of spending the evening hours thumbing texts on their I-Pods and phones, our kids have opted to Green Thumb their summer evenings in the community garden.

The children range in ages from pre-school to college. Attention spans run the gamut. But somehow, each finds something of interest when they step through the gate and into the non-virtual landscape.

Take beans, for instance. On the dinner plate, the vegetable evokes feelings of disappointment for some diners. But in the garden this week, they were a great find to one fifth grader.

“I just moved some leaves and found two boss beans!” he said, squatted next to me as we searched a row of plants along the fence for the skinny vegetables. “I’m finding some awesome beans!”

He was right. The plants were full of green beans, making them easy to locate and pick. The vegetable bowl between us was filling up quickly.

“Wow!” he said, eventually standing up and raising two fists full of beans into the air. “I shall call myself Bean Master!”

A few rows over, his younger brother, a first-grader, found a small green cherry tomato that had fallen to the ground.

“Can I plant this?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “But I doubt it’s going to grow.”

Before long he had created a mound in the middle of a walking path. I watched him stick the round tomato into the center and cover it with soil.

“How can I mark the spot?” he asked with concern that someone might unknowingly step on his effort. We put two garden statues – a skunk and a Cardinal – next to the tiny hill.

A few rows down, his mother and older sister were contemplating whether or not they should pick a head of the romaine lettuce. They leafy greens looked ready to pick, but as novice gardeners, none of us could be sure. In the end, we each cut a head and went home with fresh salad.

Onions were a separate matter. Although the stalks looked thick and ready, the vegetables underneath the earth were not emerging yet. The curiosity was nagging at one of the children, who asked several times if we could pick the onions. The urge to grab those green sprouts and pull wouldn’t go away.

So with my permission, the child yanked up the vegetable, which was way too small. With disappointment, the child tried to re-bury the onion somewhere else in the garden. The green stalks no longer pointed up. They lay flat on the ground unlikely to survive. But the sacrifice will be worth it when the child pulls a full onion from the row in a few weeks and learns the benefits of patience.

Other discoveries peaked interest in the garden. A tiny purple eggplant, a prickly cucumber, bright yellow squash and smooth green zucchini were bubbling from various flowers. Heavy tomatoes were starting to turn red. A handful of blueberries were ready for harvest, enough for each of us to eat one.

We talked, laughed, compared and explored amongst the plants until dusk kicked us out and the garden show ended. We exited the gate wanting to see more. Lucky for us, we can return tomorrow evening for the sequel.

–cawk

STRAWBERRY TASTE TEST

I recently went with my friend to pick strawberries at a local farm. The color and scent of the berries were tremendous. She went home with three plastic containers full for her family, and I filled up a bucket and a mixing bowl for mine.

 

After transporting the fruit home, I spent a few hours washing, topping, slicing and freezing about 5 quarts of the juicy red berries and saved some to share with my sons for their after-school snack.

 

Before they arrived home on the bus, I also scooted to the community garden that we share with three other families and picked a few of our own strawberries. Because they were damaged by a recent hail storm, the harvest was puny, but I did find three plump berries ready to pick.

 

When the kids came home from school, they plopped their book bags on the floor and headed straight to the kitchen.

 

“What’s for snack?” asked my ninth grader, who was washing his hands at the sink.

 

“Oooooh, strawberries,” said my observant sixth grader, who admired the red berries I had saved.

 

“It’s a taste test,” I said.

 

On one set of saucers, I offered them each a berry from our garden. On a separate set of saucers, I placed a berry from the pick-your-own stand.

 

The results were inconclusive.

 

I favored the farm stand berry. My sixth grader liked the community garden berry. And my ninth grader couldn’t tell a difference between the two.

 

Although this unscientific experiment produced indecisive results, two facts remained. All three of us like the taste of fresh, local strawberries, and we need to pick more.

 

–cawk

A MOTHER’S DAY WISH

Late on Mother’s Day afternoon, my sons squirmed when I asked them if they would like to go to the community garden with me. We share a plot with three other families who call ourselves The Green Thumbs.

My children were sprawled out in the family room. My older son was on the couch reading “To Kill a Mocking Bird” for school, and his younger brother sat in the leather recliner reading “Ender’s Game” for fun.  I could see thoughts of alarm bouncing around in their sweet heads as they avoided eye contact with me and pretended to continue reading.

I imagined my older son was thinking to himself, “Oh no. Not the garden!” as he flipped through the remaining chapters of his paperback. He was stalling to find an answer to my question and hoping to devise an excuse not to go.

I assumed his younger brother was saying to himself, “We gave Mother breakfast in bed, what more does she want?” as he began fanning himself with his narrow green bookmark.

Yes, I enjoyed the charred fried egg on a saucer; the sage sausage and spicy tomatoes mixed with – I would never have thought of adding this ingredient — corn Chex cereal; strawberries from the freezer that got too hot when they tried to thaw them in the microwave so they had to put them back in the freezer to cool before serving; the leftover cinnamon baked apples, which I had made (they were delicious); and for dessert – yes, at our house on Mother’s Day, breakfast comes with a dessert – Rice Krispy treats made without marshmallows. The creative, yet appreciated, five-course meal also came with coffee, which bless their hearts, came upstairs cold twice (Did they put that in the freezer, too?) and had to be reheated.

I truly enjoyed the meal, only the way a mother could. But the best part of the experience was staying upstairs in the bedroom and listening to the chatter and laughter as my sons prepared the meal downstairs in the kitchen. They enjoyed digging in the cabinets for pots and pans, raking through the refrigerator and freezer to find possible food to cook, chuckling at their discoveries and discussing the meal plan together. The sounds were delightful.

My sons presented the final course of their meal with a lit birthday candle and sang “Happy Mother’s Day to You” as I made my wish.

With closed eyes I silently asked whatever grants wishes: “Can the three of us go to the garden without any complaints or whining?” Then I blew out the flame on the tiny candle.

Hours later, I began cleaning up the kitchen for my cooks.

“Thanks, Mom,” my older son said, as he and his brother headed with their books to the family room. “We tried to clean up ourselves, but only so much could fit in the dishwasher.”

Once the kitchen was back together in sparkling shape, I stood before my precious sons with my request.

“It’s such a beautiful day. Don’t you want to go with me to the community garden to check on the vegetables? The rows might need raking, or the tomatoes and eggplant might be thirsty.”

Both boys put down their books. They furrowed their brows.

I waited for their answers.

They scratched their heads. They looked at one another.

Surely, they wouldn’t refuse my request on Mother’s Day. I had successfully blown out the fire earlier on the pink candle they had stuck on the crumbly Rice Krispy treat. My wish was supposed to come true.

Like I said, the kids were squirming.

“Can we stop for water ice afterward?” my older son asked with a confident grin.

His younger brother perked up and shook his head yes. Then the two siblings locked eyes across the room. I could hear the silent message soaring back and forth — “good one!” – and hear the slap of an imaginary high five between the two.

Water ice is my weakness. I can always stop for water ice.

So we piled into the car and headed to the garden where I watched them rake and water rows of newly planted beans, squash, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce and onions on Mother’s Day. I listened to their chatter and laughs again as they explored the garden like they had explored my kitchen earlier in the day finding ways to make it their own.

My Mother’s Day wish had come true – with the added bonus of a stop for water ice. I sent them to the window with money and a request for cherry flavor. They went rogue and ordered ice cream for themselves.

They returned to the car with change and no napkins. I held their cups as they got buckled into their seats.

“Instead of sprinkles for a topping, you should have requested Chex cereal,” I said, looking at the melting treats.

Their response was more laughter and chatter.

Yes, I had a Happy Mother’s Day.

–cawk

WINDS STRONG, PLANTS STRONGER

   Visiting the Green Thumb community garden last week, I was totally blown away.

   It wasn’t the growth of the plants that blew me over – none of the seeds have produced any sprouts. It wasn’t the beauty of our spot – the plot is pretty much a boring rectangle of brown dirt at the moment.

    It was the steady 30 mile-per-hour winds that nearly knocked me over as I stood gazing by the fence.

    The pipes of the wind chimes in the nearby tree were flipping noisily and clanging into each other. The swirling dust stung my throat and eyes. And the pie pans we had hung over the line of last year’s strawberries had broken loose. All but two of the silver dishes were scattered and tossed throughout the flat rows of the garden.

   I’ve always considered strawberry plants fragile. But the ones in our garden were already flowering. The dainty white petals that will turn into seeded red berries flopped and fluttered with the wind gusts but didn’t fall apart. The green spinach leaves that are easily snapped off for salad bounced and waved but didn’t cave to the elements. The stick branches of our lone blueberry bush remained sturdy and didn’t curl or break.

   As I stood getting slapped with the cold air, I realized how strong plants have to be to survive the weather and what an amazing job roots do anchoring the growth in the soil.

–cawk

A JOB TO DO

     Members of the four families that make up our Green Thumbs gathered at the community garden on Saturday to put up a fence and plant spinach, beans, snow peas and onions.

     Together, we are 7 adults and 14 kids. Not all of us are gardeners. But the ones who came out on Saturday were eager to give farming a try.

     “This isn’t what I expected,” said one of the kids in elementary school who was leaning on the handle of a child-sized shovel and watching a flurry of activity around her.

     “What do you mean?” I asked as her siblings unloaded rolls of fence from the trunk of a near-by mini-van and put the bundled green mesh next to green metal stakes and twine that lie on the nearby grass.

     Adults were mapping out a strategy to successfully secure a fence around the 20- by 30-foot Plot No. 6. They had rakes, shovels and a rubber mallet along with bamboo, sturdy sticks and thick wood.

     “It’s much bigger than I thought,” said the little girl looking at the garden.

     But she didn’t let the size of the job intimidate her, and neither did anyone else. No one was in charge. But everyone found a job to do.

When the adults needed help digging a trench around the patch to secure the bottom of the fence in dirt, the kids rallied with shovels and rakes in tow. They were careful with their tools and worked with focus on the task at hand. Once the fence was in place, they put on their garden gloves and got down in the dirt to push soil back into the trenches.

     They squatted with a ruler to measure where to plant the bean seeds, making thumb prints two inches apart along the fence. They took turns writing their impressions in a paper journal that the Green Thumbs keep in a plastic bag inside a Tupperware-like container at the garden site. They listened as the manager of the community gardens offered tips and fun facts about growing vegetables.

     Together, the group engineered an entrance to the space and solved problems such as unexpected holes in the fencing. They used string and wooden stakes to create straight lines for planting. They tied pie pans above a row of strawberries to scare off critters and birds.

     Adults and children alike paused in unison to watch a bluebird as it perched on a pole in the adjacent garden. People laughed, chatted and reminisced while they worked. They shared stories about relatives who had gardens, about the weather, and about themselves. Some of the Green Thumbs had never met before, but by the end of the chores they already were good friends.

     When most of the work was done, the families lingered. One of the kids had made Chex Mix and shared the treat in plastic cups with those who washed their hands. The kids sat on the back fenders of a tan mini-van and white Suburban parked at the edge of the garden to eat their snack.

     The Green Thumbs plan to plant more vegetables on Mother’s Day after the threat of frost passes. But as a group, they’ve broken the ice and gotten off to a great start. The garden project already has surpassed expectations.

–cawk

 

 

MOTHER NATURE SETS THE SCHEDULE

A weird weather pattern has settled upon our area in the past couple of weeks. Each day the forecast has included showers and thunderstorms, interrupting our pre-arranged garden routine.

My calendar is full of scratched-out plans. I should have written our daily intentions to visit the Green Thumb community garden in pencil not pen.

Some mornings my two sons and I are dressed and ready to leave the house, but then as we finish up the last few bites of our pancakes or cereal breakfast, rain starts to spill from the clouds. In the evenings, our plans also have been squashed by the rumble of distant thunder or severe weather warnings announced on the radio or TV.

Normally, working in the garden at mid-day would be impossible with the hot sun pouring over our shoulders. But recently, my 11-year-old and I seized an opportunity to head to the garden for an unscheduled visit before the afternoon clouds dropped more buckets of water.

Sprinkles fell on the car windshield as we drove over, but not enough to force me to turn on the wipers.

As gray clouds loomed overhead, we grabbed our tools from the boot of the car and went to work.

“This is great!” I said, raking the rows to prevent unwanted weeds.

The sprinkles were just enough to remind us that more rain was coming, but not enough to soak our clothes. A breeze was blowing. The sun was behind the clouds, so the temperatures were pleasant and the humidity was manageable.

“I guess we don’t need to water the plants,” my son said.

We were relieved to see that the garden wasn’t flooded. Driving through the country roads, we had seen many fields spilling soil onto the road in swirls of water and puddles burying planted crops.

We did have to fight a mosquito or two, but the breeze kept most bugs away.

The calm in between storms gave us a chance to pluck dead Marigold blooms and remove weeds. We pulled out unfruitful broccoli with battered leaves and a withering cilantro plant that had topped out. We tightened strings holding up staked tomatoes, evicted a few caterpillars, and adjusted the fence that supports our string beans.

We also picked ripe cherry tomatoes, lettuce, onions, beans and a jalapeno pepper.

“This pepper fried up with the onions is going to be good,” my son said as he dropped it into our garden harvest bag.

As we were just about ready to leave, another Green Thumb mom arrived impromptu to take home a head of lettuce for supper. She was on her way home from the grocery store. As we talked, our garden plot neighbor arrived with her granddaughter to satisfy a last-minute decision to pick a zucchini so they could make bread together.

My son and I were so energized and relaxed from our work in the garden that we decided to go to the local high school track for a walk.

“It’s not on the schedule, but this might be our only chance to spend some time outdoors for a while,” I said. Rain clouds thickened in the distance.

Throughout all this crazy weather, we’ve learned that gardeners need to be flexible. Work has to be done, but Mother Nature is in charge of schedules, not Mother Green Thumb’s calendar.

–c

DEAR IN THE GARDEN

Now that summer vacation has begun, there’s middle school and high school “dear” in our community garden.

Instead of using the obvious fence door, my “dear” ninth grader keeps running down the garden rows and jumping the fence like he’s a hurdler running track.

He accidentally steps on Marigolds while he’s watering the tomatoes.

He finds ladybugs and tries to put them on his “dear” sixth grade brother.

“Did we plant tomatoes?” he asks, standing in front of plants that need staking.

“Yes,” I say, looking at all of the green fruit weighing down the plants he has just landed next to after hurdling his long legs over the fence while carrying a milk jug of water in his arms.

“They don’t look like tomatoes,” he says, looking at the long thin green fruit on some of the plants. “They’re not round.”

“We planted Roma,” I say, although that might not be right.

What did we plant? It was so long ago.

After closer inspection, I’m not sure myself if they are some kind of peppers or tomatoes. I know they’re not ripe.

“Just keep watering them,” I say.

“Watch the Marigolds,” I add as he steps to the side. “Next year, maybe you can be a ‘dear’ and help us label what we plant.”

–c