Tag Archives: Green Thumb

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

 

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

PLANNING A HAPPY NEW YEAR OF GARDENING

Some people spend months before Christmas mapping out where to put their garlands, trees, poinsettias and stockings.

Others bring a bunch of boxes up out of the basement and put stuff wherever it will go.

That’s me decorating, and that’s me in the garden.

Every spring I browse the local stores and greenhouses at the last minute for seeds and plants that interest me and then show up at the garden with the hodgepodge I found without doing any research about how to plant them, how much room they need to grow, or how to care for them.

Lack of planning works fine for the holidays. A Santa collection that begins to crowd the mantle can easily be moved two weeks later to the bookshelves.

But moving a row of tomato bushes that have been growing in the garden for more than a month to provide more room for sprawling eggplant isn’t so easy.

So as snow is falling outside and I’m storing that last box of ornaments next to the rolled up garden fence in the basement, I resolve to do better in 2015.

I’m going to browse the seed catalog that our community garden angel shared on New Year’s Day, get in touch with the other Green Thumbs and start working with them on mapping out a sample garden plot for spring.

Here’s to a Happy New Year of Gardening!

–cawk

GARDEN DO-OVERS

Now that school has started up again, my trips to the Green Thumb community garden are father between.

Yesterday, I stopped by and was pleased to find several tomatoes, lots of beans, three radishes, one squash and so many cherry tomatoes I couldn’t pick them — all ready for harvest.

My quick stop took longer than I expected. I took half of my vegetables to the Green Thumb gardener who lives close by and encouraged her to go back and pick more cherry tomatoes.

They are difficult to get to because we didn’t stake the plants properly. If I had a chance to do-over the garden this year, I would fix that mistake.

I would also:

  • Plant our golden Marigolds along the fence again, but outside of the garden to give us more room for food.
  • Plant less herbs and more vegetables. An extra row of onions would have been nice or bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, eggplant, butterbeans – something we could prepare for dinner or freeze.
  • Install the fence right away instead of waiting until the deer and critters help themselves to the broccoli and lettuce.
  • Cook and freeze more of the bounty.
  • Be more faithful to my garden visits.

Looking at the harvest moon the past couple of nights, I realized that fall is upon us, and I dread the first frost and the end of the Green Thumb garden.

Until then, I plan to keep picking tomatoes, beans, squash and radishes. When all the crops are gone, I’ll start thinking about next year’s growing season, noting my mistakes and studying more gardening books.

Next year, I’m hoping my thumb will grow an even darker shade of green.

–cawk