Apr 19, 2016

Growing Food: The Sweet Life

Last summer marked my third season of growing plants for food. It has been many years since I started growing herbs in small window boxes but I have now graduated to growing a range of edible plants in the ground. It is remarkable how satisfying and rewarding this activity has become. I was fortunate to land a little bed in a partly shaded corner of the Robert Clinkscale Playground and Community Garden on West 146 Street in Harlem. That little plot contained a mixture of edible and ornamental plants crowded together to cover every inch of soil. I also worked with a few dedicated teens at University Heights High School in the Bronx. Vanessa, Nicolas, Nebraas, Liana and a few non-regular helpers plugged away weeding, watering and staking plants in eleven long beds. It is a beautiful garden and the group worked hard, even though most of them were preparing to head out to various colleges. We grew corn, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, peppers, peas, beans, strawberries, herbs and flowers to attract pollinators and, oh,  tomatoes. 

                                One of many regular harvests at University Heights High School.

Above are cherry tomatoes, Big German and one named Sun Lump. It is a horrible name but those little orange tomatoes have become my favorite. These are from my little plot of land on West 146 Street. Tomatoes became a regular breakfast item, especially topping toast, cream cheese and blanketed by sweet basil. Yummy! I snacked on cherry tomatoes all day long and gave away quite a bit too. Lots were pilfered by neighborhood garden surfers, some seen stuffing vegetables into the harnesses and cribs, alongside their babies.

                                                                      Sun Lump. Sweet!

At the end of July we were all squash and zucchinied out. Roasted zucchini, sauteed, grilled, baked zucchini, zucchini bread. Zucchini bugs! Yuck! So many of them.


                                                                 Aye mama! Not so sweet.

 The eggs may look attractive but when dozens of whitish-gray hatchlings appeared we had had   enough. We squashed those squash bugs, mercilessly.

Zucchini bugs do not discriminate. They may be partial to zucchini but will lay eggs on other plant foliage and suck the life out of other vegetables if zucchini are not available. They ambushed this watermelon before it was ready to be harvested and won.


                                                The garden at University Heights High School

Plump eggplants are targets for squirrels and naughty children who picked them just for the hell of it.  I managed to rescue some.

                                                             Tomatoes and Lablab purpureus

Got bushels of beans and crinkled-black leaf lacinato kale; good looking as well as delicious. Purple bean pods of Lablab are not for eating but were planted for their good looks. Their flowers are equally lovely.

                                             Praying mantises are welcome garden guests.

The teens harvested lots of cucumbers from handsome vines wrapped around their attractive bamboo supports. Cucumbers were eaten while sipping hot coffee, in one smooth motion from the vine to my mouth. There were stubby fat pickling cucumbers and juicy long bumpy cucumbers. Meanwhile, at my Harlem plot, I waited patiently for uber attractive purple cabbages to form heads, but they were sun-deprived. Very pretty though. Beets were pulled regularly and carrots were small but sweet. I smiled for a full three hours straight after pulling my first 6 inch long carrot. I was so proud.

Pesto! Pesto on crackers, on toast, pesto on spaghetti. Pesto in moqueca and in rice dishes. Can't get enough pesto and have enough dried basil to last through next summer.

With many members of the Robert Clinkscales Community Garden of southern backgrounds, there was enough collard greens growing to feed the neighborhood. Lots of ochro (or okra) for gumbo too. I dried some ochro seed for planting this year along with sunflower and dill seeds.

    Cardinal Climber, Spanish Flag and Lablab. Three flowering vines, three pollinator magnets.

The 2016 garden season has started and I can be found outside whenever I am not bent over a book, a drawing board or my laptop. It is gardening that makes my life a joy and makes all else manageable. Hope you too get some dirt under your fingernails and pop a delicious tomato off the vine and into your mouth this season.

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Russ, a recently added member, has been keeping the paths weed-free and tidy. The black swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs on bronze ...