By Sarah Lally Brown, Community Gardener, Resident Two Slides Park Neighborhood
I planted my first vegetable garden in the Highlands Vista Garden plot this past spring. It started with a bare rectangle of dirt and right now is a riot of tomatoes and onions, lettuce and beans and peppers and all sorts of tasty things. I had no idea what the climate was going to be like, what plants would work well, or what path the sun and the wind were going to take when I planned my patch. But I didn’t have to guess about any of those things. Because I have a plot in a community garden.
Walking slowly on the paths in the early spring, I spotted a fantastic cold frame with just enough room for an early crop of salad fixings. That told me there would be enough sun early in the season to get a jump start on plants if I protected them. Then I saw a neighbor with grape vines trellised from pots in a line…I never thought of doing that! One plot was a carpet of strawberry mounds. There were lots of tall stands of overwintered kales and other brassica. Even in early spring there were signs of garlic and spring onions coming up strong. Because of the power lines above, gardeners can’t use metal in their plant supports. This sounds simple, but it removes the vegetable lover’s staple: the tomato cage. I walked past each plot looking at new and interesting ways to use PVC pipe to make structures of all sorts.
With all of these great ideas I set to work. I used ½-inch PVC pipe to make a hoop house over a third of my patch. Underneath plastic went ten tiny tomato plants and four pepper plants to keep warm. Then the rest of my patch started filling up with rows of Walla Walla Sweet onions, a long stand of snap peas and pole beans, early kale, lettuce, and flowers to tempt pollinators. Once the nights were warm enough I settled on lashing bamboo together to hold up my newly uncovered tomatoes.
I didn’t do everything right this time. I learned that what I thought was nobody liking squash was really me putting my squash plants in too early. I assumed corn was impossible and didn’t plant any, but the plot next to mine has some late-planted stalks that are growing like gangbusters. I also have learned that I probably should have used PVC instead of bamboo because my tomato plants are falling all over the place under the weight of their fruit. Shortcomings aside, my family has been eating fresh onions and lettuce and just now the most divine tomatoes. We harvested a pillowcase full of snap peas. My kids can’t wait to topple the potato tower and dig through it. I know that much of the hard work in my plot has been mine, but I owe my real success to the gardening neighbors around me.
This is the first of a monthly series by Sarah on gardening for our Living Green section of Connections. October Connections: Tomatoes!