The Garden in Back

For a blog named Garden Gastronomy we have been fairly light in the garden category and so in the spirit of spring, I though I’d give a little tour of what we’re working on in the backyard.

There’s a squirrel that lives among a row of cypress trees which grow along our fence line.  I imagine the squirrel is a “he” and know him to be a bold creature.  He’s the one who  braves a yard patrolled by dogs and cats to get to our persimmon tree during the winter. He’s the one who has been caught in bags of chicken feed I have left open.  And he’s the one who runs along the tops of aging fences to get from one yard to the next.  If I were to take the time to study this squirrel I suppose I would have a name for him and could tell you the meanings of the different noises he makes.  Instead I am content to know him in passing, besides it’s spring now and the creature I have known as a solitary man has made a close friend.  While he’s busy with that I am busy tending to the small garden I grow for Jessica’s kitchen.

This garden is partly a continuance of tradition.  You see, in my family everybody grew something in their backyard and we children were encouraged to work these modest plots.  We’d push seeds into the ground, pull out weeds and would spend hours getting lost in the spaces created by bushes, vines and fences.  It was in the gardens of my family that I learned most of what I know now, simple lessons that culminated into a rich knowledge.  When I decided to plant my own garden a couple of years ago, I bought the same tools my father had hanging in the shed and I carved furrows out of the ground the way he showed me to.  When I planted onions all around my tomato plants I was trying to recreate the dense garden my grandmother grew, where there wasn’t a patch of bare earth. And now, when I’m alone in my garden if I find myself acting out all the other things I saw in the gardens of my father, my grandmother and my aunts and uncles.

I think that if I am really to continue this tradition that it is important that I extend it.  That is why I take to this garden as an experiment as well, a chance to try new things and test them for my specific place under the sun.  I planted broccoli and brussel sprouts this year and they grew into plants.  Unfortunately, they haven’t grown much that looks like brussel sprouts of broccoli.  Conclusions: try again next year, plant earlier and move on to the next experiment. I have been seeing vermiculture and composting systems for sale in every nursery I go to.  The idea intrigued me but didn’t feel like paying for a worm bin. Then I read about Will Allen and saw how simple his composting systems were so I built my own out of scrap wood and chicken wire.  The compost has now turned a handful of worms into a horde all working tirelessly to convert what would be trash into piles of fertilizer.  Conclusion:  you don’t need to pay for a worm bin.  Another experiment of mine has been the backyard chicken project. Across from the garden we have a chicken coop where Penelope, Rosie and Lucy live.  This experiment has been simple: Can I keep chickens alive and not piss off my suburban neighbors?  Conclusion: Yes and I think so.

You may say, well I cant grow a garden, I don’t know how, nobody ever showed me and I have no tradition.  To this I’d say that we humans have an agricultural instinct – our hands know what to do when we put them in the dirt.  If you say you don’t have the space than check out check out square foot gardens and see how you can grow a few weekly salads in a space the size of a balcony.  And if you say you don’t have the time than I say stop watching commercials and find the outdoors in your own plot of land, whatever size it may be. Plant the flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds, recruit ladybugs to help you fend off pests and get to know the squirrel that makes his home next to yours.  By doing this you will find what I found as a kid and have recently found again, the simple joy of bringing your own food into the kitchen.

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