Wicked Gardener

The next cover of

The next cover of “Worst Homes & Gardens.”

My name is Holly and I’m a bad gardener. But let me explain.

Despite my best intentions, the ol’ community garden plot slowly grew into a weed jungle again this year. You leave a piece of land to its own devices for a week and it does its damnedest to erase all evidence of your interference. (Also, you sow your seeds on Labor Day Weekend and then vacate out of state for a week or two, as I have the past few years, and … yeah.) The plot was lousy with the scourge that is bindweed, aka Convolvulus arvensis, a cousin of the morning glory that invades the soil and winds its way up plants, pulling them down, strangling them in the process and blocking their sun exposure. The only known ways to kill bindweed are 1) RoundUp, which is strictly verboten in the community garden and nothing I’m inclined to use; 2) Pouring boiling water all over the plot, which, like a normal garden, isn’t flanked by electric outlets and I don’t own a cauldron; and 3) Covering the 17’x10′ plot with a black tarp or sheets of plastic for, oh, say three years.

The other way to get rid of it: hours upon hours of weed pulling all summer.

Now, let’s stop and think about summer. Just yesterday, the blitzkrieg of weddings, birthday parties, cookouts, campouts, neighborhood festivals, street parties and such had many of us booked up for weeks on end. If you have time for weed pulling in the summer, you are likely retired or an extreme introvert who wouldn’t mind being introduced to this garden plot, thick with accursed weeds, that I waited three years to get.

Did I mention the plot is about 1.5 miles from my house? Definitely not too far, but given a day at work and an evening activity, I generally made it to the garden once or twice a week early in the season to check the weed progress and water the tomatoes, peppers and cabbage.

There were several survivors. Plenty of summer squash and zucchini, a decent amount of kale and rainbow chard, and the odd wild raspberries made stopping by the garden a bit fun. I also discovered two tiny peppers and a lone radish. All delicious. Maybe it’s my agrarian genes, but there is no satisfaction like eating food that you and the earth collaborated on. And I assume the brussels sprouts are still growing …

Out of shame of its shabbiness, I often visited my garden under the cover of night. The weed bed was beneath a streetlight, glowing yellow on the bikepath beside it. I would fill my plastic grocery bag with what I could carry while swatting at the army of mosquitoes intent on inserting their thirsty probiscuses into my flesh.

Next to the the seasoned lifestyle farmers of Madison, Wisconsin, my paltry plot was an eyesore on the verdant landscape. Beautiful strawberries in the early summer, carrots, cabbages, lettuce, peas, green beans dancing up poles and enough tomatoes and peppers to exceed every salsa and marinara sauce canning dream. And nary an unchecked weed.

Madison is a master gardener’s playground. I simply cannot compete. Next season, I’ll plant some store-bought herbs and tomatoes in buckets and pots on my porch. There’s plenty of to sunshine be soaked up around the flat. Plants located just steps away have a much higher likelihood of flourishing.

Until then, I will machete my way through the weeds to recover the wheelbarrow and shovel I bought at the beginning of the season, presuming they’re still in there.

I hope to convert the wheelbarrow into a kayak cart (or bribe a friend to). But that’s another blog post.

Here’s a ’90s video for you. (Before Scott Weiland got too deep into the Layne Staley bit!)

In Which I Fall into Food

This mouse was found in the toy aisles of Target, trying to pass off his bananas as freshly harvested. I don't buy it, food elitist! Unless you're speaking English with a Latin-American accent, you're a food elitist! BUSTED!!!

This mouse was found in the toy aisles of Target, trying to pass off his bananas as freshly harvested. I don’t buy it, food elitist! Unless you’re speaking English with a Latin-American accent, you’re a food elitist! BUSTED!!!

The coming winter will soon find itself in my firm mental embrace and me swathed in layers of materials designed to evade its cold clutches.

But til then, fall is rockin’ the food kasbah. Listen up!

Rainy Saturdays are the best time to visit the Madison Farmers Market. My eyes were relieved to see no more than 2, possibly 1, strollers around the entire Capitol Square! Our haul included 1 medium buttercup squash ($4), 3 small spaghetti squash ($2), a vege-fractal broccoli romano (broccoli romanesco if you’re Americani or simply anywhere but Roma) ($4), one 4-pound, local, antibiotic-free chicken carcass ($12) and one Chai-der from Espresso Royale ($3ish). Yes, that last one is a mix of chai and cider. You need it inside of you. Oh! And the best farmers market find was a Hen of the Woods mushroom, ½ pound at $6 a pound. Local food proprietors claim that this is their season to flourish. A fantastic risotto was made with the chickeny hen and a few shitakes for good measure. The next day found the chicken (roasted), buttercup squash (also roasted) and broccoli romano (sautéed in butter) in tonight’s dinner, inspired by this bitchin’ recipe and wine suggestion compliments of the Willy Street Coop and Star Liquor.

Want to try: “cheddar” cauliflower. It’s orange cauliflower. I uncertain if its taste varies from the uncolored counterpart. It may be a well-engineered Sconnie food ploy… Please advise if you have insight.

As climatical greyness encroaches, I’m picking through what remains of my backyard and community gardens. A multitude of baby kale spurred a stem-in roasted kale chip experiment. Tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and salt and baked at 400F for about 12 minutes, the stem added structural integrity to the wee leaves. Do it! A bunch of purple kale and a generous half cup of Thai basil remain for the backyard haul, in addition to a few green-and-yellow, tiger-striped heirloom tomatoes that escaped the clutches of squirrels who eat one bite and leave the rest to rot. Squirrels …

A jog past the community garden Sunday yielded a cup of Brussels sprouts, a few nearly-ripe San Martino tomatoes and last fresh raspberries I’ll pull from that and surrounding plots this season. The former were toted home in an unused doggie bag donated by a kindly passerby. After a season of mythically proportioned weeds, I’ve decided to give the bit of land another go. A season of late planting and unexpectedly draining travel messed up my gardening groove. And a new job. That’ll do it! I’ll garden more prioritiously next year. The satisfaction of preparing and digesting nourishment from plants coaxed out of the earth with nature’s permission is incomparable.

As the summer slides into fall, I look forward to clearing my plots of the detritus of plants that were born and flowered that year. I’m grateful for the opportunity to interact with nature on a more intimate level next year, with a more knowledgeable, understanding care and respect. With a better idea of what to expect.

TL;DR: Squash is brilliant, as will be what lies ahead.

The Avant Gardener

My first trek into the community garden plot Saturday was glorious! A sunny, breezy Saturday morning. I would like a week of those, please.

It’s time for this farm girl to get reacculturated into toiling in the soil. I’ve developed a bit of a complex surrounding gardening. I grew up on a farm with a sizeable garden. My experience: when you put things in the ground and they get enough water, they grow. I’m starting to wonder if that’s a simplistic perspective or if that’s the truth and I’m actually over-thinking it. Only time will tell!

I’ve waited three years for this coveted garden spot. It’s along a happenin’ bike path, near the cool community center and a block from my fave coffee shop. My plot is 15×17 and slopes downward. I’m not sure yet if I’ll construct some terraforming (my trip last fall to Peru has me intrigued on that agricultural angle) or if I’ll make some large mounds.

I used the rake I hauled over haphazardly on my bike to scrape off last year’s straw. My arsenal of gardening tools is currently non-existant, so I borrowed my plot neighbors’ shovel and  removed some wayward weeds. As my grandfather said, “A weed is anything that grows where you don’t want it to.” Among the weeds were some scallions/onions/leftovers from last year that had formed a sort of uni-union… It made me think of a rat king. It was an onion king. The onion king is dead. There are also a bed of tulips between my plot and the bike path, but they’re not doing so hot. There are no blooms and it appears they weren’t buried deep enough. Their bulbs are showing, their buds are not. I may have to dig them up.

I wheel-barrowed (it was a borrowed barrow) my straw-cetera to the community pile and hauled back a few loads of rich, dark compost. All in all, it took an hour, but then I laid back in the nearby grass and soaked in some sun. It was lovely to make light conversation with dog-walking neighbors who ambled by. One commented on the rhubarb in the neighboring plot. I didn’t even realize it was rhubarb. For farmgirl shame!

I’ve got seedlings growing under my kitchen table, which was the best spot to hang my borrowed grow lamps. Three types of tomatoes are sprouting, as are green peppers, kale,

The green beans are running the show under the table and the peas are strong understudies. There’s some rosemary and Thai basil making an entrance, but not too dramatically. I’ve got designs on some cilantro once the other guys are in the ground. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate with my plans to make that happen on Labor Day weekend, for I’m headed to Colorado for a work/backpacking trip soon after! Then I’ll construct an anti-rabbit fence and employ my gardening sidekicks to vigilantly guard the plot.

May your early gardening be as exciting as mine, and/or may you live vicariously through my gardening adventures. Here’s a little gardening soundtrack for your ears.