My Garden Life  – July 2013

The Old Farmers Prayer (abridged)

 

Time just keeps moving on

Many years have come and gone

But I grow older without regret

My hopes are in what may come yet

 

On the farm I work each day

This is where I wish to stay

I watch the seeds, each season sprout

From the soil as the plants rise out

 

I study Nature and I learn

To know the earth and feel her turn

I love her dearly and all the seasons

For I have learned her secret reasons

 

All that will live is in the bosom of earth

She is the loving mother of all birth

But all that lives must pass away

And go back to her someday!

 By Malcolm Beck & Robert Tate

 

Those of you that are regular readers on this site know what a difficult year 2012 was for me at my home garden and for my associates that worked with me at Nolan Elementary-Middle School (Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners).  Between the vandalism at the school garden that literally forced us to start over [1] and the oppressing heat that definitely affected farm and garden production across the country (record heat waves in the Midwest), 2012 was nearly a devastating year.  But through all that, my friends and I, fellow gardeners and kids survived and conquered our enemies, natural and man-made, to have productive yields at both gardens.[2] .[3] . [4].  So as the year ended I was feeling pretty doggone good!

One of the last things we did with the kids was a garlic-seeding lesson coordinated by what was then the Garden Resource Program.  We all met at a community garden in Hamtramck to do some clean-up work, drink some fresh pressed apple cider and learn how to plant garlic.  I’ve got to tell you…that cider was damn good…it was cold and tart and natural and cold and sweet and cold…it was fabulous.  One small cup was all I dared to consume.  One small cup…the nectar was addicting!  One cup more would have led to a jug and then just hanging out at the cider press.  This stuff was that good.  Of course we couldn’t keep the kids away from it, but we did manage to get them to focus at what was at hand.  It was a fun day and even I learned something because I was out there.

So I got some garlic from my good BUDDY John Adams and planted it on Nov. 4th along the back row of the garden.  Starting from the West/South end heading north I planted: Music (14); Japanese (13); Kilarney Red (27) and Chesnok Red (30).  Also buried pumpkin shells to add material to the soil.  I was ecstatic because I had a lot of momentum at behind me and I was feeling good about 2013’s prospects.

Two reasons I was feeling good were John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy[5] and Law Academy.  They both became members in the Project Sweet Tomato program.  They both had so much too work with, greenhouse (!!!), a more than cooperative attitude and importantly, the correct vision.  The teacher/coordinator, the newly retired Ms. Gwen Bouler was excellent to work with and when you see her garden you will know why [6].  Another reason for heightened expectations was the development of a fine relationship with the staff of Nolan Elementary-Middle School.  Nolan is an EAA (Educational Achievement Authority) project school and in this new environment there has been considerable growth and improvement in literally all aspects of the program…from administrative staff to the CEO Ms. Angela Underwood (principal) and her Parent & Community Involvement Specialist, Ms. DeAndrea “DeDe” Rogers to the teachers and most importantly the kids and their grade scores.  Wonderful things are going on over there and I am excited about its future.

There’s another garden-related program in the city that initially I was pretty high on.  The Detroit School Garden Collaborative, when I first heard about it I was ecstatic.  Six-raised bed with all the fixins’ would be given to Detroit Public Schools that applied for them.  There would be new jobs for students (paid-internships) and for adult assistants.  The gardens would grow vegetables that would be used in the school’s cafeterias.  There would be classroom programs, horticultural and agricultural education, nutrition, and community outreach.  Unfortunately they have had some problems getting it off the ground.  It is going to be a work in progress, and for it to succeed it will need help from a lot of organizations.

As the New Year started, when I am typically checking out my gear and determining what I want to grow (my seed catalogs were coming in almost daily), I found myself not counting the days, but procrastinating about what I was going to do and when I was going to do it.  The first thing off of my “bucket list” was germinating seeds indoors.  My excuse was I didn’t want to take on the process of converting my dining into a plant laboratory.  So to be sure, I cleaned up the dining area, got it looking regal and all that, but slowly but surely it got loaded up with seed packets and garden paraphernalia anyway.

Then came the cold weather crops distribution courtesy of my friends and mentors of Keep Growing Detroit (a spin-off from the Garden Resource Program) in April.  I thought I was going to regain my mojo but “po’ pitiful” me couldn’t get any traction.  The weather didn’t exactly help either (at this date a token excuse), but I did get out and plant carrots and for the first time since I began gardening here, I will be a carrot eating fool!!!  Yum, Yum Eat ‘Em Up!  That sound you hear is not thunder…nor a earthquake…neither a sonic boom, no that’s me taking a bite from a carrot pulled fresh from the garden.  I planted several varieties like:

  • Nelson
  • Danvers
  • Royal Chantenay

They are all doing very well, the stems, a parsley-like green…tall and flowing.  But, as exciting as the carrots are, I’m still not quite there.

The month of May kind of shot by for me and before I knew it, warm-weather crop distribution, courtesy of Keep Growing Detroit, was upon me.  I was picking up for my home garden and the Nolan School garden too!  I got there and instead of being excited seeing old friends and making new ones, I meandered from distributor to distributor and gathered my plants and split.  It was no big deal…it didn’t register on me then but upon reflection I should known then that there was a different feeling this year.

I shared my thoughts/feelings with several of my gardening friends and surprisingly was told the same thing.  Almost everybody I know, that is into gardening, considers this year to be an off year as for interest and effort.  They will get what they get but they don’t intend to work too hard to get it.  This behavior probably explains the lack of gardening conversations between my friends and I.  Everybody claims a lack of focus this year too.  They’ve got a lot of major projects going on elsewhere and something’s got to give if they are going to get them done in a reasonable space of time.  Something had to give and for many it was gardening.

I think that for myself, I have spent a considerable amount of time assisting the effort to get the gardens going at Nolan and John R. King.  Both of these school gardens got in before mine.  I was fortunate that some veggies that over-wintered in the garden gave me some of my earliest taste experiences.  I had lettuce and scallions in May and June, plus the garlic I planted last November has been harvested as I write this.  I didn’t really get anything in the ground until June 2nd.  I spent the entire day and the two days that followed (between rain storms) putting every plant I had in and planting seeds also.  So in spite of my laxity of energy and desire I have happily managed to get the following crops in:

  • Greens (All Greens Mix)
  • Arugula
  • Nelson Carrots
  • Napoli Carrots (Fall)
  • Lettuce (Mesclun Mix)
  • Spinach, Space
  • Yankee Bell Pepper
  • Early Jalapeno Pepper
  • Italia Sweet Pepper
  • Big Beef Tomato
  • Brandywine Tomato
  • Cherokee Purple Tomato
  • Black Cherry Tomato
  • Green Zebra Tomato
  • Paste Tomato
  • Marketmore Cucumber
  • Georgia Collard Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Belstar Broccoli (Fall)
  • White/Green Cabbage
  • Red Cabbage
  • Tenderbush Green Beans
  • Goldmine Yellow Wax Beans

For a guy that’s supposed to be experiencing an overwhelming feeling malaise this is no small undertaking.  There are 3-20 ft. rows of each bean type…17 tomato plants, 6 varieties14 pepper plants, 3 varieties24 cucumber plants (trellised)4 of each cabbage…6 collard greens…6 broccoli (plus 6 to be planted).  This year I didn’t plant two of my standards, yellow squash and zucchini, as well as a host of peppers (long/short cayenne, ancho/poblano, hot/sweet banana).  I also skipped on the tomatillos.  I guess the several containers of frozen Salsa Verde in my freezer should serve as a reminder of what I should not grow in the immediate future. 

Maybe I am slightly disaffected because there have not been the usual challenges as per seasons before.  I used to get so much fun looking out my office window, keeping watch on the squirrel population as they devastated my garden.  My BB gun has been in the closet now for two years.  Or the times when 50 to 100 birds, black ones with black beaks and iridescent chests, would land in my yard and walk from one side to the other eating and destroying (breaking) everything in their path.  They got a lot of insects but there was a toll to pay.  They would use the garden as a giant dust bath, just flipping and flapping…sometimes fighting around the garden.  Breaking whatever they could…collateral damage, right?  Of course there were the rabbits…my hip-hop friends that nibbled exclusively on young, tender shoots.  All of this has stopped.  Stopped virtually completely!  And I think I know why…my inflatable snakes.  The inflatable snakes from last year.  I haven’t had to put them out this year because no animal…bird or rodent…has come into my yard.  They stopped coming in last year and with the exception of one rabbit and one squirrel hopping quickly across the yard I have not see any pest/varmint in my garden this year.  Maybe they think that the snakes are still out there somewhere…lol.  I do miss the birds, especially the wide variety I did see, but I don’t miss the rest of them that’s for sure.

I ultimately think that I am slowed more than just a little because of the unpredictability of the weather, here and across the nation.  Last year, we were experiencing extreme heat and violent outbursts of weather.  A combination that was not conducive to high output at any level.  This year, with the somewhat mild winter, we were hit by a spring that was somewhat reminiscent of past springs (not as moderate as last year) and a summer that to me was kind of slow to take off.  Last year we had the heat and this year, so far, we’ve got rain…Rain…RAIN and plenty of it.  We have had more than enough rain.  Last year from June 1 through July 30, I hand watered each and every plant on almost an every other day basis.  Because of the heat, unfortunately I over-watered.  So far, this year, I have physically watered my garden only 3 times.  Imagine that…only 3 times (and one of those times it rained afterward).  Between June 1st and July 21st, 61 days…it has rained 29 times!  That’s almost every other day!  Perhaps, I and many others are feeling like we have no control…no control of the weather (how much rain can be too much rain)…no control over the care of the vegetables…no control of the overall outcomes.  All we can do is plants them…put them in that damn ground and nurture them to health and productivity.

Is this what our forefather’s faced?  The Scott’s brand or Miiracle-Gro didn’t exist!  Technology for them was a well that was not more than 10 steps from the garden.  Man, Woman, child, family and friends against the elements.  You didn’t get fancy or waste a space with something that wasn’t going to come close to expectations or needs.  It was about land management.  You had to seasonally rotate and manage crops so that you could eat all year.  Frigidaire?  What was that?  Kenmore?  Come On!  You better get your crops down into that “root cellar”[7] and let them set for keepin’!  Back then, you gardened/farmed with an ongoing desperation and frustration, so maybe that’s what I am feeling now.  As much as I would like to have it, that magically charged green thumb, it’s not going to happen.  I will have to adjust, think smart and adapt to whatever the elements and the environment give me. It looks like in several ways this year will be as good as last year and better too in specific areas.  My bean production should be up, while I am sure my tomato output will be down.  I will take a good bean yield any day! My cabbages are off to a slow start but the collard greens are doing quite rightly so.  Hot banana peppers are looking good and plentiful, jalapeno peppers are at standard and bell pepper plants are flowering.  I will have a good yield from my cucumbers; the plants right now look vigorous and strong.  I will need 101 different ways to prepare this vegetable if they hold to form. 

2013 photo 1

Cucumbers and plum tomatoes

2013 photo 3

All my little bean soldiers standing in a row!

2013 photo 4

2013 photo 5

A row of carrots planted between two rows of garlic

2013 photo 7

2013 photo 8

2013 photo 9

All of the garden scaffolding…can’t wait till the tomato plants fill them out.

2013 photo 10

These pictures were actually taken about 3 weeks ago and a lot has happened since they were taken.  I’ve got beans on the plants and tomato development and growth is improving.  Fall crops will get in next week.  I have come to like this garden.  It’s different…it’s practical…it’s creative.  Like most experienced gardeners and farmers, I will learn from this year, put it in my toolkit, and get ready for 2014.

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