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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Green Machine

The community garden is a green machine this year. It cranks out leaves and buds and veggies, never taking a break or calling in sick. I feel happy each time I visit. Even if I’ve gone the day before and the garden looks nearly the same, there are always small changes to notice if you look closely. So many things are growing: football-sized zucchini, beautifully bumpy heirloom tomatoes, flowers of many colors.

None of the photos above show things in my plot, mind you. Oh no. These are the fruits of other gardeners’ labors. But I wanted to show them to you because together, everything growing in the garden makes up a mosaic of different shapes, colors, smells and textures, and it’s a work of art.

My own plot is the tortoise in this scenario. (Please refer to the children’s story Tortoise and the Hare if you don’t understand my metaphor.) It’s not the garden growing with the fastest speed or the tallest plants but it is chugging along, pacing itself, and it’s growing. It doesn’t need to come out of the gate quickly, with something to prove. I love my scarlet runner beans. I don’t care if these plants don’t produce one bean, actually! I planted the seeds for the promise of the brightly-colored flowers that grow on the vine. Life is not a black and white movie. The world is a colorful place! 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pick Your Own

Summer fruit. It’s delish.

Maybe summer fruit is a reward for surviving the school year. Summer fruits smell better than winter fruits. Or maybe they have a stronger smell. The moment you step into the supermarket the scent of peaches grabs you with its irresistible perfume. Pyramids of apricots and mountains of grapes beckon at farmers' markets. Plants and trees respond to the warmer temperatures with the same enthusiasm people do, and they produce fruit in every shade of the rainbow.
Our apricot tree didn’t make as many apricots as last year but we had fun picking the ones that grew.
A neighbor brought homemade blackberry jam to us recently.

These gifts mean a lot because it takes time and effort to make them. The jam is a beautiful purply-black color and just the right combination of sweet and tart. It reminds me of childhood visits to the island where my grandma lived, where wild blackberries grew at the edge of the road. During visits to the island we drove on small roads, exploring. When my little sister and I spotted blackberries growing, we’d scream with glee from the backseat, “Pull over!” Leaping from the car, we ran to the wall of berries, in awe of this chance to pick fruit, like real farmers! We were two suburban kids, unaccustomed to seeing blackberries available anywhere except the supermarket. A chance to pick our own berries was like winning the lottery: rare, unexpected, amazing!
Our peach tree has had its best year since we moved in nearly ten years ago. The peaches are the size of tennis balls, the color of orangey-yellow sunsets. Although I had close to zero influence on the outcome, I’m proud of the tree! (I never water it—Hubby does sometimes—and I don’t fertilize it, talk to it, or pay it any attention. Really, I have no right to feel proud of it. It’s thriving not because of me, but in spite of me. Yet I am proud of it, and I am waiting with anticipation for the fruit to be ready.)

Summer fruits. They are one of many prizes in a season filled with good things. Go ahead. Take a bite!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Astonishing Secret Lives of Vegetables

Exciting things happen when you go undercover. No, I’m not talking about movies like Donnie Brasco and cops assimilating into the Mafia for information. I’m talking about something even more heart-pounding and mysterious: what happens under the leaves and beneath the dirt in gardens.

Plants amaze me.  There is no Mensa group for plants, but they are quite smart. They know the season, date and time and what they need to do, all without consulting an Iphone.

Science was never my favorite subject. I liked writing in English class and painting in art class. But now that I am fascinated by plants and gardens, my appreciation for science is blooming. I’m enchanted by the ways of plants. They need so little help from me—some water, maybe some coffee grounds added to the soil—and they produce bright flowers and beautiful vegetables. And sometimes, surprises.

You never know what is happening underground. Plants have unexpected gifts for us beyond what we imagine. Take the carrot I saw in the grocery store yesterday. I’ve never seen one like this. I love it! 
It’s fascinating. Why did it split? (Online I learned that this happens if the growing carrot bumps into a stone or a clod of dirt. It simply grows around it. In this case, it hedged its bets and grew in two directions!)

Years ago, before I joined the community garden, I had an exciting moment when I unwrapped a corn cob from its husk. I’d witnessed something I didn’t know was possible: corn twins! One was much smaller than the other but they shared the same husk. Why and how did this happen? The only information I found online suggested that when a corn stalk grows an extra limb, two joined cobs of corn may grow.

Several weeks ago at a farmers market I came across something I hadn’t seen before. I stopped in my tracks and turned, wide-eyed, to the vendor, full of questions about the green sculpture in front of me that apparently doubled as food. Romanesco Brassica, she informed me, was a variety of cauliflower. Maybe I’d like cauliflower more if it looked this exciting!


Its bright shape was the color of Kermit the frog, with intricately detailed cones that reminded me of something you’d find underwater: bumpy barnacles, the coil of nautilus shells and the defined points of conch shells. It turns out that Romanesco is made up of buds made up of a series of smaller buds, growing in a perfect spiral. This plant shares the same growth pattern as the nautilus shell: growing at a constant rate so that the spiral that is formed grows without changing its shape. (Geometric progression, for anyone who loves math terms!) Its spiral growth pattern reminds me of a pinecone’s shape as well as the structure of certain succulents. Apparently there are numerous natural creations that grow this way. Maybe kids would be more excited about eating their veggies and doing their math if lessons included captivating visuals like the Romanesco!

There you have it. We thought we knew a few things about vegetables, but there are many new facets of the plant world to discover. The amazing world of growing things: there are surprises around every corner, and under every leaf. You never know when a plant has a trick up its sleeve (corn husk).


Saturday, June 1, 2013

You Never Know

Oh, I get so much joy from the unexpected. (Well, let me qualify that. Not unexpected parking tickets, head colds, or floods in the garage. Those unexpected things stink.) I’m talking about happening upon something surprising, delightful or funny (or all three, simultaneously).

Take yesterday, for example. We had a picnic dinner with Chris, whose birthday was earlier this week. Suddenly, one of us spotted it. It was trotting along the bike path behind its owner, enjoying a sunset walk. It was a pot-bellied pig.

Mind you, we don’t live anywhere near a farm. This was at a big park in the suburbs. You’d have to drive an hour to find a barn. Maybe more. So pigs were not high up on my list of things I thought we might see. A kite? Sure. There was a tiny breeze. Boats? Yes. Dogs, strollers, picnickers? Absolutely. These are what you expect at parks.

I grabbed my camera and raced after Piggy. When I caught up to Piggy and Piggy’s Parent I asked if I could take a photo. Piggy’s Parent offered Piggy a treat if Piggy would sit. Piggy sat.

After a very short break, Piggy’s Parent said it was time for Piggy to resume jogging. Jogging? "Oh, Yes,” the owner replied. I jokingly asked if Piggy was planning to compete in the Rock and Roll Marathon, which is tomorrow. There are projected to be 32,850 runners, 55 live bands on 30 stages, and you never know, maybe a potbellied pig or two.

Pamplona, Spain has its Running with the Bulls festival. At Sea World you can swim with dolphins. Why not jogging with pigs?

In defense of Piggy, though, his legs were awfully short. And his tummy grazed the grass as he jogged along. I’m not sure that a 26.2-mile marathon is a safe or reasonable challenge for him at this time. When your legs are that short, running 26.2 miles would be like an average human running 200 miles!

I won’t be at the marathon tomorrow. There is a barn-sized pile of laundry I need to lasso and 26.2 different kinds of chores for me to catch up on (if I can stop blogging and sewing long enough to do them). But you’ll let me know if you see Piggy at the marathon, right? Anything’s possible. Around here, you just never know what you’ll see…