Tag Archives: Green Thumbs

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

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WISHING FOR A LAZY SUMMER

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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

LET’S FACE IT, GARDENERS KILL BUGS

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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.

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“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.

–cawk

MOVING-IN DAY

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Moving-in day is one of my favorites at the community gardens.

I like to see what everybody is planting. I like to hear the chatter between folks about where to make rows and how far apart the seeds should go into the ground. I like to hear the memories and comparisons to past gardens. And I like to rekindle friendships with the veteran growers as we welcome the new ones to the space.

This year, all 44 plots are rented, and a new gardener has joined The Green Thumbs. He’s in fourth grade, and he fits right in with the crowd. On Saturday, as we gathered to plant a long list of vegetables, including popcorn, tomatoes, beets, radishes, beans, peppers and jalapenos, we gave him a tour of what already has been planted – a thick patch of strawberries, a blueberry bush, and a few rows of potatoes, lettuce, snap peas and onions. Then we put him to work side by side with the other adults and kids.

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He arrived carrying a packet of cucumber seeds to grow in mounds along the edge of the side fence. But he didn’t plant just cucumbers. He helped the other kids dig holes and plant marigolds around the outside of our fence to deter bugs. He carried a heavy watering can to and from the water tanks to douse the popcorn seeds planted at the front of the garden. As the newest Green Thumb, he asked the adults good questions and listened to their instructions. And when we finished for the day, he grabbed a rake with some of the other kids and swiped away our footprints to discourage the weeds from growing.

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Like everyone in the garden, he helped establish a patchwork of food that he might or might not want to taste. Some of us like beets, others detest them. Strawberries are a favorite, but okra not so much. The spicy food eaters look forward to the jalapenos, whereas those with more sensitive stomachs welcome the rows of simple tomatoes. We are there to make everything grow whether we help ourselves to the different servings or not. The leftovers will go to friends, family and the local food bank.

We still have to add zucchini, squash and eggplant to the empty spaces. But the 2015 garden is established. We’ve finally moved in.

–cawk