Remember returning to school in September and being asked to write an essay about what you did over the summer? Some kids went on great vacations or spent the summer with grandparents on a lake or something cool like that. My family lived on a farm. During the summer we grew food and preserved it in a number of ways. My family routinely canned 200 – 400 quarts of any given fruit or vegetable to preserve that food for the winter months when those foods were not available. Canning was a family affair and my younger sister and I were pressed into service by the age of three and this continued each summer until I was about 15. By the time August rolled around, my sister and I were eager to get back to the classroom. Summer on a farm was TOO DANG MUCH WORK!
Ironically (or is that karmically?) I engaged myself with FOUR gardens this summer. I have mentioned them in previous blogs and spoken about the organic vegetable broth I’ve been making from the excess vegetable matter. As the summer progressed, I began to make jam from whatever fruit or berry became available and then I started canning (with the help of my able-bodied assistant, Tomas) — peaches, apples, tomatoes, tomato sauce, apple butter — and one more round of apples coming up. Oh, did I mention pesto and sauerkraut?! We didn’t can that but we did preserve basil and cabbage.
I learned early in life that I had a responsibility to respect and appreciate all forms of food. When you live off the land, as my family did, you learn to take great care in handling the plants and the animals that are to become your meals. You don’t just harvest lettuce or beans and leave them lying around wilting on the counter. No, once you get them into the kitchen, those fresh veggies at least need to be wrapped up or put in a crisper to maximize their freshness.
And so it has been this summer. Three or four days a week I have brought home fresh (and often enormous) vegetables that needed to be washed, sorted, spun dry and bagged up in order to honor the lifeforce they would be giving me and Tomas at some future meal. And because we honored the food, the food has honored us with one exquisite meal after another from May until present — we’re still going strong!
So rather than bore you with further words, I will show you the fruits of my summer labors and ask you to please forgive my absence from the WordPress forum. It’s been a really fun summer for me — extremely fulfilling — and this year I don’t even have to go back to school. How cool is that?!
I really wanted the experience of growing some food close to home — like right out my front door. But our landlord did not want to disturb the lawn. I began growing starts from seed in my living room, on a card table. The idea came to take the table outside and deer proof it with some bird netting.
A friend of mine told me she grew her lettuce in Crystal Geyser water bottles. It works just fine. My sidewalk garden was the fourth and final garden I started. It provides accents to our salads about every 3 – 5 days.
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The first garden I planted was in my friend, Anna Maria’s, backyard. She has an extremely green thumb and has created a mini-paradise of fruits, berries, veggies and flowers over many years. She offered me three 4′ X 4′ plots to play with over the summer and I successfully grew peas, beans, beets, carrots, peppers, and various leafy greens. Here are a few of the special veggies that came from “Anna Maria’s Garden.”
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Our local elementary school has a nice 24-bed garden with two greenhouses, fruit trees, berry vines, bushes and plants. I volunteered over the summer to help weed, water and harvest to keep things growing so the kids could enjoy the garden experience when they returned to school. One of the summer projects was entering the “Giant Cabbages” in the county fair. I think we took first place and I took half of one home and “krauted” it. YUM!
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The largest garden project I engaged in is a commercial organic farm run by my friends, Aaron and Maya. Sweeter Valley Farm has been in existence for four growing seasons but this year was far and away the highest volume of production. Aaron and Maya sell to local restaurants and set up shop in a downtown lot every Wednesday afternoon. I’ve been going out on Wednesday mornings to give them a hand with “whatever!”
As the season has progressed, that has meant more and more harvesting, cleaning and bagging the vegetables for the afternoon market. Here are a few of the beauties we harvested recently.
Aaron grows quite a lot of food in his greenhouse — especially the plants that prefer a warm climate, such as tomatoes, peppers and basil. The tomatoes are supported by fencing. He is growing about 300 linear feet of tomatoes that are taking hours to harvest at peek season (September.)
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The garden projects are winding down now. Only a few more Wednesdays at Sweeter Valley Farm. Only three pepper plants left at Anna Maria’s. My card table garden is now a front porch version still producing lettuce, chard, radishes, beets and basil but definitely slowing down as the season has turned. The kids have returned to Riley Creek School and I’ve helped with a couple of “tasting parties” for the new classes. Next week we’re harvesting the pumpkins for a “Pumpkin Parade.”
But all winter long, we’ll be remembering the bounty each time we partake of the produce that was preserved from the summer harvest.
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And then there’s the broth!
And the broth bowls!
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One more project: The Gold Beach Letter Writers.
I began a monthly group through our local library to write words of encouragement on cards and spread the spirit throughout our community. Our group is still growing but enthusiasm is strong. We create cards and letters, making use of a vast array of papers, stickers, ink stamps and pens of various colors. I drew the line at glitter and had to forbid the use of liquid glue after we created a glue lake in the middle of the table at one of our meetings. The cards are works of art and inspire smiles even before they are opened. Here is a display that the librarians did to introduce the community to our project.
A sample letter. What’s not to like?!
I hope to be back more regularly now that the summer projects are coming to an end. I feel blessed beyond words to have engaged with the plant world in such an intimate way. I intend for my blogging to reflect and convey the gains I have made during my summer away from my WordPress community. Happy Fall!