Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How does your urban garden grow?

Me and Grandpa, in matching overalls, sometime round 1981.

Hopefully better than mine. As the granddaughter of a farmer, instinct tells me I should be a natural green thumb. This year I planted a small garden of herbs and a few veggies - dill, parsley, rosemary, lavendar, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, basil and, just for kicks, ancho chiles. I was delighted when little green sprouts showed up, even while there was still frost on the windows. I greedily imagined a bountiful harvest for summer and fall, with M. and I plucking dinner ingredients fresh each night.

Turns out that instincts can be wrong. Dill and parsley wilted, rosemary never made it past puberty, lavendar didn't bloom, cherry tomatoes were ravaged by pilfering city squirrels and cilantro never showed up. My once green farm, which I'd incubated in tiny, moisture-enclosed houses all spring, dried and browned in the summer sunshine and heat, and all I produced were a few scarggly basil leaves. Ah, the farming life is fickle indeed.

I chucked it all, and resorted to a summer and fall using the same old grocery store dried herbs and vegetables. There's a food revolution under foot but sadly I wasn't going to be a part of it. And, at the rate the global population is growing, my efforts signaled a failure to provide for me and mine, should it ever come to that. I despaired. Until I found this note from my landlord, an avid gardener herself:

What! A real life fruit? I confess that I had forgotten entirely about the ancho chile plant, having left it to its own devices after it failed to thrive on my sun porch.  I had parked it outside, in my landlord's backyard garden, a verdant space practically teeming with life all summer (in stark contrast to the death valley I was harvesting upstairs) and hadn't visited since. Any water it absorbed was due to rain. Any protection from squirrels came from our landlord's tall sunflowers, not my defense efforts.  Surprised, excited and a little guilty, I made my way down to see what was there. And, behold: one, gnarled but green and alive ancho chile:

I plucked it right away and headed straight to the kitchen to - you guessed it! - pose for a bunch of photos with my fruit. 

Me and ancho. Looking creepily in love with the lil guy.
We entertained fantasies of using the ancho for something creative, like ancho-infused alcohol, but ended up just chopping and throwing the pieces in chili. Probably not the best use of whatever flavors the little-plant-who-could carried.

My landlord must have sympathized with my failed efforts, because I found this note attached to the largest cucumber I have ever seen in my mailbox a few days later:

Kind person that she is, our landlord has since encouraged us to take whatever we can use from her garden, which boasts sweet smelling mint and lemongrass, a variety of brightly hued peppers, bushy tufts of kale and swiss chard and basil leaves the size of your fist. 

I'm resolved to try again next year. Maybe I'll see if I can help my landlord out, or volunteer. Or maybe, I'll do the planting and leave the rest up to nature. Farming's in my roots after all.

Any suggestions for cooking kale and swiss chard, or bringing an urban farm to life, send 'em my way!

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