For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been wrapping up my home container garden and wondered how I would write my last gardening post of the year. I’d enjoyed my patio garden, but it had started to look a little sad now that most of our summer plants were past their prime.
And then I went to my knitting group last Wednesday.
My knitting group is based at my church, and I really enjoy going most weeks. In addition to getting my crafting fix, I learn a lot from the ladies in the group about living well. The group’s members are mostly active retirees who volunteer, travel and work at staying healthy.
I want to be them when I grow up.
On Wednesday, one of them told me that a plot in the church’s community garden had opened up.
A Major Solution to Next Year’s Gardening Questions
Y’all, I’m seriously stoked. This addresses so many of the dilemmas I faced this fall.
I had been seriously wondering what the best course to take for my gardening adventure next year.
- I wanted a raised bed but had no idea where to put it. (Okay, I did, but didn’t think I could convince Jon to get rid of the not-working hot tub yet.)
- Provided I could find a spot, I’d need to build the bed this fall or winter. Getting it properly dug and filled didn’t seem too daunting, but would probably have taken a couple of days.
- Finally, adding a garden bed would mean trying to figure out how to keep the deer and other critters out. They haven’t ventured onto the patio, but I have no doubt that Rudolph and company find anything in the yard fair game.
Now I have access to a ready-made bed. A fence surrounds the garden. Each bed even has its own watering source. Best of all, I have all of these experienced gardeners around to offer advice.
All I have to do is grow things and donate 10% of my produce to our church’s favorite local food pantry, the Interfaith Food Shuttle.
On Wednesday afternoon, my knitting friend’s husband gave me a quick orientation to the garden and showed me my bed.
Later he sent me the contract and written rules.
Our community garden rules are fairly simple to follow. Everything needs to be kept organic..no pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Keep your bed clean and weeded, bring your own tools, follow the flag system. (blue means water, green means pick if you want, red means leave alone.)
One of them states “Gardeners will have responsibility for maintenance of their plot during the growing season from April 1 to November 30.”
I now have a responsibility to use this plot wisely, not just to grow great produce and learn more about gardening but also to grow for others. And while I had no idea what to plant, part of my orientation packet also included a fall planting schedule for NC.
I had a continuing ed class on Thursday, but on Friday morning I picked up a discounted $25 Home Depot gift card. Then I packed up the car with my tools and headed out.
Picking my Plants
When I examined my list of fall planting possibilities, I noticed that I was really about a month past the best planting time for most of the food to grow in the fall in central NC. Nevertheless, I thought, I should do something.
I figured at first I would look for seeds of some of my favorite root vegetables: parsnips and turnips. After looking at the list, though, spinach seemed a better possibility…I was only a week or so late from the prime planting period.
Alas, the only seeds I found at Home Depot were grass seed and birdseed. There were, however, some vegetables I could transplant if my tastes ran to leafy greens.
I was just winging it at this point. I have no idea what will work, but I felt the responsibility to plant something. Not knowing what else to do, I looked through the offerings and picked my favorites: brussels sprouts, red cabbage, and romaine.
Mmm, roast brussels sprouts with bacon and balsamic. Yum. Considering the price for fresh sprouts, if they grow I’ll have made my money back on those alone.
I spent $20 on plants and $4.50 on a new pair of gardening gloves to keep in my car. With fifty cents left on my gift certificate for next time, I drove off to the community garden.
Fall Planting Time
Fortunately, my bed didn’t need too much prep work. While there were a few weeds to dig out, the bed was mostly clear. I wanted to keep it that way.
I spent 30 minutes or so digging out the weeds, getting as much of the roots as I could.
My garden guide had shown me a mound of garden soil I could use, so I brought over a couple of wheelbarrow loads of soil and mixed them in with the soil in the bed.
By this time, it was afternoon and I was seriously wishing I had started a little earlier in the morning. Despite drinking a liter of water, I felt hot and bothered. Evidently, I looked hot and bothered too. When I went inside to refill my water bottle, a couple of people told me that my face matched my bright magenta t-shirt.
Note to self: Next time I do this, I need to remember to go earlier in the morning and not at 11 on an 85 degree plus day. That temperature might feel mild in Raleigh, but not when I’m working in the sun.
I still had plants that needed to get into the ground, though. I sat and cooled off for 15 minutes or so and went back to my plot.
Forty-five minutes later, I had 27 seedlings in the ground and three leftover cabbage plants to try at home. (Evidently, cabbage needs a lot of room to grow. ) I was dirty, thirsty, and my head throbbed.
I quickly watered my plants (thank goodness the garden is set up with spigots for each bed) and went home for a shower, ice water, aspirin, and a power nap.
Meanwhile, Back At the
While the community garden opportunity has me excited for the fall, we still need to wrap up our container garden at home. We’ve still got herbs, carrots, cucumbers, and a ton of hot peppers.
I’ve been preparing a quick pickle with the cucumbers…throwing them in some cider vinegar, salt, and the leftover juice from pickle jars along with red onions. They’ve made a tasty addition to salads and sandwiches, and I’ve even added the onions on top of chili.
Not knowing what else to do, I picked some of the peppers and diced them up, freezing them for later. This time I knew to handle them with gloves, though. I’m not sure when we’ll use them. They’re tasty but hotter than my tummy likes. I need to pick the rest and do the same, although I’m thinking about donating them to the food shuttle too.
Jon’s potato experiment from last month didn’t work. We have no potatoes growing in the big pot. It was worth a shot to plant a few sprouting potatoes that otherwise would have gotten tossed in the compost, though.
We did harvest the last of our tomatoes. I tossed the plants and the soil in our compost bin, figuring that we would have more useful soil by spring. I was about ready to do that with several of our other plants, too, but then Jon told me he wants to move the compost bin. Until he does that, I’ll leave the plants where they are, even if they’re a bit shriveled.
I still need to find a pot and some soil for my little cabbages, so we’ll have a new fall plant too.
How Does My Garden Grow? I Dunno
After Sunday School this weekend, I went to water my plants and see how they were coming along.
As expected, my plants still look like seedlings that just got planted. Compared to the neighboring plots, my little garden looks kinda puny. I’m jealous of the tall stalks of okra, lovely little eggplants, and hardy looking kale and collards growing around my bed.
I need to read up on the plants I put in the ground. One of these days, I’ll actually do my research before I plant rather than afterward.
In that vein, I started a garden journal to document what I’m doing. By recording my activity, I should be able to track my efforts and monitor what works and what doesn’t. Right now it just has what I planted, how long each plant has until supposed maturity, and when I’ve watered. Maybe later I’ll add things like rainfall and temperature.
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the thought of my community garden plot and all the possibilities it opens up. Next year, I should be able to grow water-hungry plants like squash and cucumbers better than I could in pots (and with additional people who can help me keep them watered even if we go out of town.) That will leave me more space on my patio to grow more herbs for the kitchen.
Fall gardening. Organic gardening. A whole new realm of plant possibilities. This community garden opportunity has just added a ton of topics to my reading list. As always, I’ll let you know how it goes.
Are you planting fall plants? if so, what? Have you ever participated in a community garden? What do you know about organic gardening that you can pass on?