Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Garden Grief

We have been blessed in our garden this year with a beautiful, bountiful harvest despite a great many issues with tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, beans. This in large part due to a abundant quantity of gorgeous leafy collards and kale. When Elizabeth and I planted them, I saw their bounty stretching far into November, December, even popping up next spring. (I plant one variety of kale known to withstand tough New England winters).

This dream is no longer.

(cue funereal music)

Tragically, sixteen kale and collards plants were brutally stabbed and killed this past weekend. They follow five of their brothers and sisters, who were mysteriously murdered earlier in the summer, to leafy green heaven. Investigators had originally believed that this initial act of violence was the work of a mysterious four-legged creature. We are now all too aware that the perpetrator was not only human, but carrying a sharp object with the intent to kill...

OK. So, seriously. I am very upset by this. (It's not improved by the fact that my husband and I also recently had the majority of our winter squash stolen from our community garden).

We would have been able to bring at least 20 (this is a super modest guess) bunches of leafy to the food pantry before the end of the growing season had these plants been left intact.

I have been cycling very quickly through the stages of grief:

1. Denial
- That animal attacked our leafy greens again?
- Well, at least they left some of the stems intact. Leaves will grow out of them eventually.
- Maybe somebody was hungry and didn't know how to pick greens properly. We have invited many people in our community to pick vegetables for themselves.

2. Anger
- Why the @#$% would anyone need 16 plants worth of leafy greens? Did they even eat them? What the %$*#?
- It's one thing to steal from our community and the hungry people we feed, but how dare they be so DESTRUCTIVE about it!!
- There is no way the plants will recover before the end of the growing season.
- Not only is today's harvest ruined, but all future harvests are ruined as well!
- And they took so much of the variety that would have produced in the spring! And so little of the collards which will not last too much longer!

3. Bargaining
- Maybe if I put up some signs today saying how to properly pick kale (so that the plant survives) it will protect the last remaining plants.
- I'll give them more water and extra TLC and they'll bounce back, right?

4. Depression
- Well, I guess we'd better not put any greens in next year. They have been such a target of destruction and nobody really likes them anyway.
- Why do we even do this if our stuff's just going to get stolen and destroyed?
- Maybe I should see what it would take to put that lawn back in. It was nice too... I guess.
- The vandalism's just going to get worse anyway.

5. Acceptance
- Yes, there are things we can do to try to keep this from happening again next year, but absolutely nothing I can do right now.
- Because this happened, the growing season will be over quicker and I will find other things to do with my time that I will enjoy too.
- Giving food to the shelter is not the only important mission of our garden. It is a beautiful symbol of our community's aspirations and hopes and it will continue to be so even without these particular plants.
- Even a possible four dozen bunches of greens loss is very little compared to the problems of hunger in this country and the world. There are other things we can do to help until we are able to grow again in the spring.

What our greens patch should have looked like today:

What it did look like:

Fully uprooted with a second piece of stalk on the far left.

This is certainly not the first time I have experienced garden-related grief. This year, the vast majority of my first attempt at growing seedlings indoors were mowed down by a neighborhood woodchuck. We had high winds that knocked down most of the tomato plants and insured their early demise.

But these griefs are not the same. Woodchucks and storms are acts of nature and I am unfortunately certain that this was the act of at least one human and as much as I hope it was an act of ignorance... I suspect my hopes are wrong.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Feeding the Body

Invitation to enjoy our bean teepee!
We're beginning to come to the end of the harvest season in the First Church garden. The tomatoes seem to putting great effort into many last efforts towards reproduction with tons of ripening fruit, but also tons of brown, crunchy leaves. And everything seems to be growing so slowly. Not like the beginning of the summer with unbridled joyful growth that you can almost see happening from moment to moment.
Our veggies made multiple appearances on Sunday at coffee hour and at our happening neighborhood-oriented block party, so the harvest for the food pantry this week was small, but beautiful.

I am most proud of our broccoli harvest this week. I had to spray tons of aphids off the plants in order to bring these beauties to the food pantry, but broccoli is a finicky (delicious) thing to grow. Check them out:

(Yes, I am FOUR-pictures proud of this harvest!)

We also donated collards, hot and sweet peppers, a little kale, some beautiful tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, parsley and sage:

Another reason that this week's food pantry donation was small was that some of our produce once again went to help the lovely folks who cook for the homeless shelter down the street each month! (Thank you, Megan, Shannon and everybody else!) They made an awesome smelling meal that included a quinoa dish with lots of kale, chard, bell peppers, and basil. Check out their pictures:

Cooking greens
The finished product!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Feeding the Body

Today it was dribbling out, so I brought the veggies into Duhamel Hall to be sorted before bringing a big load over to the food pantry. This was a pretty large delivery, but well within the typical range.
Today we donated the following (listed approximately top to bottom):

- 6 bunches of collards
- 5 bunches of curly kale
- 2 bunches of dinosaur kale
- 4 bunches of purple kale
- 2 bunches of chard
- one small bunch of broccoli
- 17 serrano peppers
- 10 sweet banana peppers
- 12 small bell peppers
- a big pile of green beans
- a pile of yellow beans
- a pile of basil
- 7 cucumbers
- 26 tomatillos
- about 40 small tomatoes
- 1 extra large bunch of sage
- 1 extra large bunch of parsley

Friday, September 2, 2011

What's Growing Today?

The Autumn plantings are doing well!

'French Breakfast' radish seedlings

Lettuce Seedlings

Arugula Seedlings

Carrot Seedlings

Bok Choi seedlings

Tiny bush bean forming

'Scarlet Runner' Bean flower bud
Bean flower bud
Fall pole bean blossoms

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gardening as Co-Creation

I love that my church began vegetable gardening for so, so many reasons. That said, one of the biggest reasons I love our garden is that I consider gardening to be my primary spiritual practice. I am thrilled that First Church Somerville offers others the opportunity to tend the soil and enjoy it's harvests. It was my (nerve-racking) pleasure to offer a reflection on gardening, environmentalism, and spirituality at our intimate, experimental evening service Rest and re/New (every Wednesday, 6:15 in the Chapel) last night. I offered a "sacred text" from Michael Pollan's book Second Nature: A Gardener's Education and then said something more or less like this:

Our questions for reflection tonight are "How can gardening and other experiences in nature inform us about taking care of the earth? What do these experiences tell us about God? How can we tend the earth and change it in ways that will continue to sustain 'every living thing' for many generations to come?"

We began this series titled "Planet in Peril" by listening to the creation story and by discussing what it means to by some biblical translations "have dominion [...] over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (NRSV, Genesis 1:28). We talked about what it means to be good stewards and to care for the earth that was created so long ago.

But the truth is that this story of creation continues on. We continue to have an impact on the earth for better or for worse and the earth is continually changing in response. The world is so different from the one in this original utopian story that its problems seem too big, too impossible.

In Second Nature Michael Pollan describes fighting with two competing instincts for approaching his garden. One instinct is to destroy nature and protect his gardens from it and the other is to allow the so-called natural invasive and destructive plants and animals he encounters to completely take over in the name of environmentalism. He describes a fine line that he and other conscientious gardeners struggle to walk.

Like it or not, we are all gardeners when it comes to caring for our planet. We can't just let nature take over and everything will magically become just "the way it used to be." The environment has been forever changed by time and our presence in it. Even if we were able to return to this former glory, would we recognize it? Would we even like it?

Both my buddy Michael and I find hope, solace, and beauty in gardening on the much smaller scale -- in spaces like our church garden, our public parks, our transforming yards.Gardens are unique places where people's needs and nature's needs coexist constantly.

Sometimes they fight against each other. This past spring, for example, I wanted to grow beautiful baby vegetables in my backyard but the neighborhood woodchuck saw them as a tender, delicious feast. In the garden I've experienced droughts, infestations, infections, winds, and other forces of nature that hurt and destroyed my best laid plans.

Tomato plants devoured by my woodchuck "friend"

But more often, I see gardens as glorious example of humans and nature getting to know each other more intimately and working together to create something far more beautiful than either could create on its own. Through sweat and tears and triumphs I see gardening as an opportunity to co-create with God herself! I can plant seeds, but without the help of so many things beyond my control, they would remain seeds. Nothing would happen to them.

Pea planting (courtesy of Liz D)
 The author of another book I read recently called the Mystic Gardener describes this well. "For me," she says, "gardening is a process that invites me to be fully engaged. It is also a constant exercise in letting go since so much happens that is not in my control. Strangely this duality seems to cultivate a joy that embraces impermanence and finds refuge in the invisible."

We have the opportunity to participate in the ongoing story of creation. What will we do with this opportunity? How can we tend the earth and change it in ways that will continue to sustain "every living thing" for many generations to come?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Feeding the Body

One of my personal hopes for the garden this year was that we could expand the ways in which the produce was being used. In doing so, we also expand the numbers of people who eat food from our harvest.

One group of folks that have been enjoying more veggies this year is people who come to church on Sunday morning! I love that we can give away veggies at coffee hour and use veggies in dishes at coffee hour and still have bounty to bring to the food pantry.

About a month ago, my husband David and I were in the garden after church and had a beautiful head of broccoli that we had just picked (our garden's very first!)
While we were working, we were greeted by Jack, a nephew of a couple of FCS's congregants whom we'd never met. He exclaimed with great enthusiasm how much he LOVES broccoli and asked if he could have it. His sister Hannah joined in telling us how much they loved vegetables of all kinds and of course we gave them the broccoli!

Here's the awesomely veggie-loving kids getting ready to eat their new broccoli:

The big beauty

We also have members of our community who cook year-round for the homeless shelter on our street. They have also been using garden veggies this summer and this month made a beautiful pasta salad with fresh garden peppers, cucumbers, green beans, parsley, and zucchini.

Peppers being chopped

Green beans in the bowl

Zucchini being chopped

Yum! Many thanks to Shannon and everybody involved in making these meals.

Post-Irene: Bad News and Good News!

The bad news about the garden post-Irene is that many, many plants toppled over. We had tomato plants on the ground in bent cages with stakes that had popped out of the ground. Beans and cucumbers were leaning all different directions. The broccoli plants were nearly uprooted like small trees.

We get a lot of wind in the garden in the best of weather, but the tropical storm gusts were a bit much for the garden. I suspect at least branches of the plants (which are now mostly upright) may die prematurely.

I didn't take a lot of time to take photos before trying to set things right, but I'm sure you can get a bit of a sense of what the heavy winds did to our garden from these:

But the good news is that nothing was actually uprooted; we had another great harvest just one day after the storm! I was able to bring a big bag full of more kale, collards, chard, tomatoes, pole beans, cucumbers, bok choi, peppers, parsley, sage, and even a few tomatillos over to the food pantry. Big thanks to Zac and Reebee for helping with the harvest:

Reebee and Zac harvest greens!


Pole beans

Chard stems

Our biggest cucumber yet (those beans are pretty big too!)

Basil, tomatillos, and red and green tomatoes