Monday, May 17, 2010

Harvest Monday and vegetable update

Thinned out lettuce continues to be my Harvest Monday story. On Saturday midday, I checked in on my Minton Stable Garden plot as I waited to receive a walking tour that a BNAN volunteer was leading. We were one of the final stops of the handful of featured Jamaica Plain community gardens, and by that point, only a few people had stuck with it (my theory: the tour shrank as it passed Doyle's), but they were impressed with the attention many people have been giving to their plots. After hearing me ramble on about the history of the garden and showing them the John Carroll memorial and wildflower area, they were interested in what I was growing. So I showed them the lettuces, snap peas (some about 8 inches high), the Chinese cabbage and broccoli raab I had planted from seed about a week ago that were germinating, the strawberries (with small white fruits budding), and the mound of black-eyed Susans (now the circumference of a large hula hoop and in sore need of thinning). As you can probably guess, I was without my camera, so you'll need to rely on older photos and your imagination.Lunch was calling, so before I left, I thinned out the Summertime Iceberg and Forellenschluss Romaine lettuces. To understand why they need to be grown in the sun, one needs only to compare this harvest (above) to the thinner, wimpier leaves picked earlier this evening (below) from the shady backyard garden my daughter and I planted. The MSG crops seem to have more bones to them, and if we continue to enjoy daytime temperature ranges in the 50s-70s, I'll be posting photos of full, crunchy heads by the beginning of June. If you want to compare these lettuces to others across the country and beyond, visit the Harvest Monday posts listed at Daphne's Dandelions.But I don't want to jinx the situation. Anything can go wrong; today I encountered a familiar-looking scourge on my Tyee spinach. Already. I'm beginning to wonder that the only way to avoid leaf miners is to grow spinach in the fall.At home, I've been hardening off my tomato and brassica seedlings. Last week I transplanted my Black Prince and Rose de Berne tomatoes into larger containers and practiced more vigilance in giving them some time on the sunny front porch, and my efforts are paying off. They are catching up to where they probably should be at this time, and I may be able to plant them out this weekend.I can't seem to achieve the same momentum for my broccoli and cauliflower. One year ago today, my Fiesta organic broccoli was not only twice the size as this year's, but already in the ground. This year, I'll be lucky if I can plant out all six of these: two Charming Snow cauliflower, three Fiesta organic broccoli, and the most advanced, the Piricicaba broccoli. I had started four times as many seeds; if I had had more time I would have moved more into larger pots, but I doubt the results would have been different. Now I'm wondering if I can still plant them out this weekend or if I need to wait for them to fatten up a little more. That, along with the arrival of the community garden compost delivery from BNAN and the purchase of a new camera (I've narrowed it down to a particular Canon model) will hopefully happen soon.

Monday, May 3, 2010

There. A harvest.

Finally, my long absence from Harvest Monday has ended. A week or so ago, I commented to Daphne that I would return soon, even with a yield of thinned-out lettuce plants. And here we have them, mainly the Summertime Iceberg my daughter sowed behind our garage sometime in March, the first seeds of our 2010 gardens. I waved hello to my Minton Stable Community Garden plot yesterday as I rode home from a conference that had kept me indoors most of the weekend. My Iceberg and Romaine lettuces as well as my spinach were not as far along, as they were planted a few weeks later, but because they receive more sunlight the leaves were firmer and healthier. Those seedlings will outpace whatever my daughter and I plant in our increasingly shady backyard. Still, we manage to reap enough greens to make the backyard efforts worthwhile. A few years ago, my husband built some boxes along a retaining wall at the edge of our driveway that gets more sun, so I may try some Chinese cabbage and Quarantina Raab, although I probably should have planted them yesterday.

Since I wrote that first paragraph, the lettuce leaves, shown above, were combined with store-bought Romaine, rinsed with boiled water, and consumed in a salad. I'm looking forward to my locally-grown lettuce and other greens making up a larger percentage of our vegetable intake.

For more (and probably better) harvest news, visit the other blogs listed at Daphne's Dandelions that are participating in Harvest Monday.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Now in bloom at home

I don't know which has been worse: keeping up with the blog or keeping up with the gardens. Work, trips away, and other obligations have prevented me from checking in on the Minton Stable Garden, but using the same varieties of lettuce, spinach, and snap peas growing at home as a guide, I believe that the plot will survive a few more days of neglect. A brief shower on Thursday is better than no water at all. I'm just hoping that the peas are attaching themselves to the supports I fashioned for them and not the strawberries growing nearby.In moments of spare time and dry weather I've been clearing out the perennial beds at home, and it looks like there will be several hours of thinning and digging to do between now and the Perennial Divide, which takes place in a few weeks at the City Natives Nursery in Mattapan. First, I need to scale back the bee balm, seen in the top photo behind my tulips, as it is really starting to take over the front garden, and overcrowding plants may lead to another case of powdery mildew. Until the bee balm come into bloom during the summer, I can get my fix of red from the coral bells.In the shady backyard, the vinca is flowering and spreading, slowly making up for some neglect a few years back (maple seedlings and other unwanted invaders took over).The lamium is spreading outside the raised bed and onto the grass, but it sure is pretty.These last few years I haven't found much for free at the Perennial Divide that I don't already have growing, so I have picked up a native or two from the nursery. This foam flower (tiarella cordifolia) is looking quite at home.

Some of the other perennials in bloom include pulmonaria, lemon balm, and pachysandra, and the hostas, ferns, and lily of the valley are poking out of the ground and starting to unfurl their leaves. After all of the dreary weather and flooding of the early spring, it's nice to see them return. It's too early to tell which diseases or pests will surface from this disruption from the norm, though I've heard we may be visited by an overabundance of winter moths.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Update on my plot

As the temperatures in Boston yesterday escalated toward the 90s, I biked over to my Minton Stable Garden plot in the early afternoon to see if any seedlings were poking through the soil. At first glance, nothing. Then I crouched down for a closer inspection and there, in between the small rocks and stray blades of salt hay and leaves I found them--My lettuce (above) and spinach (below) I had planted on March 28. I photographed them with the same camera I haven't gotten around to replacing (I have been making good use of the crop feature in my photo application to hide the fuzzy left side of my images).And there were the plants that had decided to sow themselves. I had always wanted to grow raspberries, so I kept a few of the volunteers that blew into my plot last year. And those have multiplied tenfold and spread across my plot. Almost as pesky as bindweed, though not as threatening. I'd love to keep them, but they have entered my perennial section and also taking the space reserved for my pole beans. Anyone want to start their own raspberry beds? I have plenty here just for the digging.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Minton Stable Garden Annual Meeting

Despite the rain and the unintentional conflict with the first night of Passover, about 30 Minton Stable Community Gardeners attended the annual meeting, which took place on Monday night down the street in the English High School library. At least one of the lucky former waitlisters was there to pay her $30 dues and sign her contract stating that she will follow the ever-increasing list of rules; new additions for 2010 include a protocol for dealing with people who are at risk of losing their plot (due to not completing hours or other violations), the procedure for those wanting to use the property for their own gatherings, and the opportunity to donate extra work hours into a bank so others who may have some physical limitations or other emergency can have them applied to meet their own requirement (still 4 hours per season). With a few families and individuals having left the neighborhood since last season, a few more plots are being allocated to those at the top of the waitlist (of now over 40 wannabe gardeners).Thanks to Allan for sending me photos; I posted this one because it features almost everyone in attendance. If you click on photo to enlarge it you can make out the Steering Committee members in the back facing the crowd--I'm wearing yellow, Todd is left of me, John is right of me in a white shirt, Asa (in a black jacket with white stripes) is discussing the rules, Terry is right of her (in a maroon sweater). Roxane is sitting on the left side of the table, wearing a light blue shirt and taking notes on her laptop. Jennifer, who usually takes notes and chairs meetings, was taking a well-deserved vacation in Guatemala.

We managed to finish ahead of schedule so I could (as treasurer) process the dues payments of everyone who had brought them. In past years different issues extended the meeting; at least once there were disagreements between dog owners and gardeners over where dogs could roam and do their business, and the year the shed was built there was much discussion about how to carry out that project. But this year dogs were hardly mentioned. Bees were, though, as Joe (one of the gardeners) presented some information in advance of a possible proposal to keep some at the garden, a project in such an early stage that it has not sparked any controversy. One item that members did want to discuss was how to better turn our weeds and plant waste into compost. Right now we don't have the capability and there are sanitation issues as well, but there seems to be enough interest and energy to investigate and implement a plan to change that.

If you are a member reading this post, I would like to remind you that there will be four Steering Committee seats to be filled in the election this May. Asa, Roxane, and I will stay on for the second year of our two-year term, but the four whose terms are ending have decided not to run again. Sure, there is work involved, and decisions to be made, but we only meet for two hours a month. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have (there's a link on my profile page if you want to email me), or you can contact the committee at

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Observing some traditions, forsaking others

Armed with my dysfunctional digital camera, I set out on this last sunny March weekend day to keep up with my growing traditions as well as experience how others respond to plant life. In the late morning I headed over to my plot at the Minton Stable Garden and turned over some of the soil for the first time in 2010. With a few breaks to chat with others passing through, I managed to dig up about a third of the plot, exhume the skeletons of last fall's broccoli, and sow the following: Forellenshluss Romaine Lettuce (a success from last year that I hope to repeat), Summertime Iceberg (for the younger taste buds), and Tyee Spinach (which Fedco sent as a substitute for the Space I had ordered). I repeated the same planting later in the afternoon in my backyard raised bed.Around 2:00 I was back in JP, to pick up my friend Kim and head down to to Mobius, an experimental arts organization in Boston's South End, for an event that had intrigued us, the Alternative Experimental Flower Show. We had attended the traditional flower show on and off for years, but despite the change in venue (Boston's World Trade Center) and main sponsor (formerly Massachusetts Horticultural Society, now Paragon Group), we could already envision the types of exhibits we'd encounter for the $20 we'd end up spending (although I do regret missing a display that Asa, a fellow Steering Committee member, had some involvement in assembling). We were looking forward to spending only $5 to support a great non-profit and not knowing what to expect.

Outside the entrance, we encountered the bouquets of flowers that we assumed that people had brought the past few nights as part of the admission fee to the dances and other live performances. Inside, Kim took advantage of a rare opportunity--she became a plant, potted by one of the artists, Cathy Nolan Vincevic. She removed her shoes, stepped into a pot, then Cathy added some potting soil and greenery. Feet buried in the dirt, Kim sensed what it was like to have a strong root system. She asked how she should behave, a little surprising given her extensive knowledge as a gardener, and her friend Marlo and I suggested that she face the sun. Other works in the exhibit included bananas and banana peels arranged like flowers (by Ursula Ziegler) and Bill Evertson's "Thorns in the Garden," where the visitor watches a looping video of various scenes of environmental destruction through a telescope and has the opportunity to buy fake seed packets with colorful images of mushroom clouds over fields of flowers and maps of chemical weapons storage sites. Deborah Bohnert, who has been giving away much of her art over the course of her career, made sure we didn't leave without one of her elegant pyramid-shaped potpourri pieces.

The installations provided a much-needed contrast to the traditional flower show exhibits. Instead of cordoning plant life off from human contact, we were encouraged to mingle with it in some cases, witness how it must hold up in the face of other forces, whether they be environmental or cultural (such as how they are portrayed in origami and other mediums), and see floral features in other objects.Later at home, as the skies began to cloud foreshadowing a soggy week ahead, I decided to be proactive and start some snap peas indoors. Reading a post from Dan's blog last week, I was reminded how the seeds that had germinated under the grow lights last season fared much better than those that I had sown directly into my backyard garden. I did plant some last weekend but it's still too early to tell how they'll do. I brought my peat pots indoors and added them to the other occupants under the grow lights, including my Black Prince tomatoes (above) and Piricicaba broccoli (below). So far, I feel I should have taken my delphinium seed money and bought a nice cup of coffee instead, but at least most my vegetables are progressing normally.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Don't just garden, advocate

It may have been a gorgeous spring day yesterday, but the 35th annual Gardeners Gathering drew its regular crowd at Northeastern University, with many workshops filled and standing-room-only attendance at the noontime plenary session. I wish I could provide you with sharper photos of the event, but if you have been reading earlier posts, you are aware that I've been having problems with the focus and range finder of my digital camera. My search for repairs has taken me out of state, with a quote of about half the price of the camera itself. So I'll be shopping for a replacement, and hopefully finding a way to recycle this camera without adding to all of the other appliances in our landfills.The organization behind the Gardeners Gathering is the Boston Natural Areas Network. In her address, BNAN president Valerie Burns informed members of its Boston community gardens that compost delivery will be delayed 3-4 weeks; the compost comes from the city's collected yard waste and won't be released until tests reveal that it meets lead-level and other requirements. With that and some other business taken care of, she dedicated the remainder of her speech to the important issue of advocacy, explaining that many of our elected officials aren't aware of the community gardens within their districts. Gardens beautify our neighborhoods, make them safer, and bring people together, but it's simply not enough for us to grow and maintain our plots. With citywide budgetary constraints, it's the silent that are most likely to end up on the chopping block. So speak up at neighborhood meetings about the benefits of community gardens, and write letters to city councilors and other elected officials. According to Burns, for every one letter they get from a constituent, it is assumed that there are about a hundred others who feel the same way.

A gardener in the crowd brought our attention to a bill that was introduced last summer, H.R. 3225, The Community Gardens Act of 2009, which would provide funding for community gardens. Obviously, the Congress is tied up with the health care bill and other matters, but she urged us to contact our representatives to urge them to support it.Later I attended a few of the workshops, including Fresh Tastes from the Garden & Cooking with Seasonal Vegetables, put on by several graduates of BNAN's Master Urban Gardener program. After tasting Patricia's swiss chard with cannelloni and some kale seasoned with garlic and other spices, I am now trying to figure out where I can make room for these vegetables in my garden. Florence showed us different ways to use every part of the cassava plant, a major staple for many in African countries, and Phoebe had us taste-testing various salad dressings made from yogurt, orange juice, and herbs.

At the end, everyone reunited in the plenary room to hear Mayor Menino's annual remarks. In addition to urging everyone to invite him to their gardens at harvest time (which he does every year), he touted an initiative as a testament to his dedication to community gardening. For this year, he described the garden on Long Island (one of the Boston Harbor Islands), where residents of the homeless shelter help grow, harvest, and sell produce at a farmers market. The farm recently acquired 100 chickens, so he kidded the math-challenged by explaining that if each chicken laid an egg a day, there would be 700 after a week. After his speech, he stuck around to bestow awards and raffle prizes. The honored included the Hall of Fame inductee, the Southwest Corridor Parkland (11 gardens along the Southwest Corridor between the Back Bay and Jamaica Plain, including some I passed on my bike on the way home), and the Most Valuable Gardener, CiCi Kwan(sp?) of the Berkeley Street Community Garden. That she has never missed a garden cleanup in twenty-five years would put any work-hour slacker to shame.