Ok folks! I FINALLY have an update on my little Victory Garden with the Peterson Garden Project. You see, we’ve been a bit behind schedule but no worries. That happens when you’re working with a lot of donated stuff. After my initial buy in, several weeks passed in which lovely wonderful people volunteered to help clear the lot, build raised boxes, hold various gardening seminars and provide really excellent support. I did none of these things. Yes, I suck.
While we were waiting for the weather to warm up and the official go-ahead to plant, I started some seeds at home. Would there be enough time? I wasn’t sure but I did it anyway in the spirit of the project. I started tomatoes and a few other things but then later, during a farm tour, had second thoughts and bought some wacky heirloom tomato starts from a wonderful little place, Brightflower Nursery. If I wanted to harvest anything this year, I figured I better give them a head start. I also played around with the garden planning tool on the Gardener’s Supply website. I changed my layout 256 times as indecision crept into my head. How many tomatoes is too many tomatoes? Would cucumbers fit or just take over the whole plot? What else could I possibly squeeze in my 26 square feet? In the end, with the help of this tool, some good advice and a ton of research … I had a plan.
For the last two months, I had a slew of little seedlings plugging away on my dining room table waiting for some news. Then last week, came the word – the raised beds were complete, plots had been assigned and soil had been delivered. Hooray! It was time to start planting!
I gathered up all my crap and decided I should really find out where this garden was. Yes, it’s true. I signed up for a garden plot without really knowing the location. I’m nutty like that. I knew it was on Peterson somewhere (it is called The Peterson Garden Project after all), not far from my home but hadn’t yet taken the time to find out exactly where. A quick iPhone google search to GPS and I was off. (See how easy that was? No worries.) I fully intended to get an early start but with my typical morning lollygagging, I got to the garden around 11am, just in time for the heat and sun – yippee! – but it was overcast so I didn’t think much of it. Mistake #1: never underestimate the sun and never misjudge your pale winter skin.
Heidi, the helpful volunteer on duty, helped me find my plot off in a far corner, filled me in on how things work, what I needed to do and made me feel a little better about not volunteering. Sigh. I trotted off to check out my plot – looked good to me but what do I know? I liked that I was along the edge with a building, rather than additional boxes, on one side. Room to plop my stuff without getting in anyone’s way. A gardening neighbor pointed out that I would have late afternoon shade from the building to the west which would be perfect for evening weeding and such. Too bad I work nights. I’ll think about how lovely that evening shade is in the mornings while I’m watering my plants with the sweat dripping off my nose.
First things first: fill the bed. With a borrowed wheelbarrow and shovel I started carting loads of soil/compost to my little plot. Me being me, of course my plot was the 3rd farthest plot away from the compost pile. Of course it was. Story of my life. A quick consultation with my gardening neighbors revealed that I would need 10-12 loads of dirt depending on the wheelbarrow. One quickly pointed out that the red wheelbarrow was best - thank you thank you thank you. Man, I had some hauling to do and a short time to do it as I had to go to work in a few hours. I looked around for teenage boys willing to make a quick 20 bucks to no avail. Where are those little devils when you need them??
Now I am a shoveler of Olympic caliber, having honed my skills over many snowy Chicago winters with a very small car that weights about 5lbs and gets no traction, oh joy of joys. Navigating a wheelbarrow, however, is another story. My ineptitude became apparent within minutes as I stumbled over the gravel, wobbling and weaving in and out of the rows of garden boxes. I may have even dumped a load prematurely (you’re welcome gardening neighbor to the right.) But with some practice, I got the hang of it and filled the bed fairly quickly, in my humble opinion. I am woman, hear me roar! I then handed the wheelbarrow off to another gardener and wouldn’t you know it, the wheel promptly fell off on her first load. Egad. I felt kind of bad about that. I felt worse that my first reaction was “thank god it waited until I was done.” Very un-community like. I told you, I suck.
The thing is, for every two shovels that made it in the wheelbarrow, one went in my shoe. I need to work on my accuracy. At then end of the day, I emptied a gravel yards worth of rocks from my shoes and decided I needed to throw my socks away (seriously – ick.) I also decided to come back the following week to plant. Turned out to be a brilliant idea, you know to avoid the weekend crowds, let the soil settle and all that. And get a nap in.
When I left last week, about half the boxes were full of soil and some had been planted. I came back this week to an entirely different landscape – so green and full of life! It was quite lovely. So much had been done over the weekend – nearly every box was full of soil and almost all of those were fully planted, some with full grown plants that were fruiting. They looked like they’d been there for months! I carted in my sad little seedlings, floppy tomato plants and packets of seeds to sow directly in the rich black dirt.
I noticed other folks marking off their plots with string, and being a visual linear kind of gal, decided to do the same. It made me feel more organized than I really was. Funny thing is rather than regular ‘ol string or gardening twine, I used baker’s twine. I really like how the classic red and white striped combination sasses up my little plot. Hey, it’s what had on hand. So with my 26 even 1′x1′ squares, I laid out my plan, lined up my floppy plants and droopy seedlings, got my seed packs ready to go and started digging.
In less than an hour I looked up and a sense of pride and joy made me smile wide. My straggly tomatoes were bright and upright – if not a little leggy – in their silver cages. Teeny droopy seedlings of cucumber, melon, peppers, jalapeno, chard and kale were planted with care and a prayer (truth be told, I’m not sure about these. I may hightail it to a garden center for transplants anyway.) From seed I planted more kale and chard plus pak choi, carrots, beets, onions and various kinds of lettuces. Most of these will come in for a fall harvest, which is fine by me.
While all this is fine and good, I had a major dilemma. I had started too many seeds because you just don’t know what will germinate and grow and what won’t. So I usually overcompensate. But this year, I was going to stick to the strict guidelines of my online plan. I promised myself for the success of this little plot – no overplanting. For most varieties, this meant only one plant per square foot marker to make sure they have enough space and sun to flourish. But choosing which one seedling will go in the garden and which won’t is like picking which child will survive. Argh! Sophie’s Garden Choice. It’s agonizing! You pick the fattest, chubbiest, heartiest – the one you think will do the best – and put the others to the side. I swear I saw the rest of the unchosen visibly droop at not being picked. It was the saddest thing. My friend Amanda, trying to make me feel better later on said “Thinning is a vital part of gardening. You gotta do it.” While I know she’s right, it didn’t make it any easier. I ended up taking some extras home to plant on my back porch. How silly am I? Though I did toss a few. Sigh.
I went back today to water and looked around. My plot needs some time to fill in but I’m hopeful. I’m still not sure about my seedlings – they look pretty sad – but I’ll make the call this weekend. Many of my neighbors bought rather robust transplants and others are doing the whole plot from seeds. It’s interesting – we all started with the same 26 square feet and it’s fascinating to see what everyone has done with the same space and how it varies so widely. Some folks are extremely creative – most had plant markers of some kind but I love what this woman did with stones to mark off her plants (and yes, I’m assuming this is a woman. A dude wouldn’t take the time to do this.) I’ve seen a lot of kids happily digging away, which is pretty cool thing to see when you live in the city. I can only imagine how excited they’ll be to harvest (hell, I’m excited!) I’ve even seen some fabulous garden fashion – some of the most fantastic hats, I tell you. Gotta get me one of those so I don’t look like such a schlub. And I think I’m going to name my plot “CeeCee”. She is in the “C” quadrant of the garden after all. And yes, she is a she. What else would a garden that gives forth fruit be? Male? Uh, hello.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: EXTREMELY HIGH. There’s a couple of things happening here. The sense of community that comes from working a project like this is lovely – everyone says hello and gives helpful encouragement. The physical exertion involved in digging and carting dirt and plants around is fantastic. There’s the sense of accomplishment on seeing these little things grow. Constant daydreaming about what I’ll potentially make, bake and share with my windfall. And hell yeah, the harvest. That’s the best part!