fall gardening

Handsome and I acquired a 20×20 garden plot at Sunshine Community Gardens back in October. For those of you not familiar with the concept of a community garden, they’re a way for urban people and apartment dwellers (like us) to garden without having to buy a house with a backyard. In Austin, a single-family home is cost-prohibitive for a lot of folks, and young couples seem to wait longer to buy their first home, which frequently is a condo, townhouse, or duplex that may not have space for a garden.

I like this trend toward smaller living, especially in my peer group. It’s very easy to worry about what those Joneses are doing, but the expectation that we will live in the houses of our parents at the ripe old age of 25 is pretty silly. I, for example, live in a much more expensive city than any of my parents do. I also took a different educational path, one which I don’t regret but has resulted in my having my first “real” job in my mid-twenties. There has hardly been time to save a down payment amidst finals, research papers, and ramen noodles.

But I digress. Our community garden in particular places emphasis on the fact that we are a community, so part of the contract is that we will do one hour of service per month that benefits the garden as a whole, plus put in some extra time to help the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which owns the land we work on. Our garden maintains a well-kept stock of heavy tools, we compost our own vegetable matter, and we are provided with wood chips  and leaves to use as mulch.

The garden plot itself was not set up at all for us, and previous gardeners had let most of it go to weed, so the process for transforming the entire 400 square feet into usable, arable space has been tedious. Instead of clearing the entire plot (which would have put us long past any planting season), we cleared one 4×8 space at a time, enough for a raised bed, and went from there. We now have four beds.

The first, and most successful, holds herbs (most of which were transplanted, not planted from seed). We have three varieties of thyme, two of nasturtium, two of sage, one oregano, marjoram, savory, dill, chamomile, parsley, basil (which has died for winter), and rosemary. Our other plots have had mixed success. We have three varieties of broccoli in one, which are doing fine, but they share space with turnips, radishes, and beets, none of whose seeds have germinated at all. Our brussels sprouts, in another bed, are pretty hardy so far, and the shallots we planted with them are trucking along. But we also planted two varieties each of spinach and mustard, and have had decidedly mixed success. One variety of mustard is slow, but growing, and I seem to have killed the other, while I think the spinaches just grow at different speeds. The final bed holds peas, which are doing fine, and carrots and onions, which refuse to sprout.

Part of the problem, we’ve been told, is that we may not have kept the ground wet enough for the seedlings initially, so we’ll try again in the spring. We’ve also heard from other, more experienced gardeners who have had trouble with getting some vegetables to sprout. In January, we’ll be able to try the beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips again. I’d also like us to try our hands at leeks, kale, and bulbing onions (what we attempted initially were green onions).

For the past month, our gardening attempts have been admittedly lame, mostly because we’ve been out of town each weekend. There’s been a few inches of rainfall in the past week, which will assuredly help, but we’ve hardly made time to water, much less to tend. I would not be surprised when I go out to the garden this afternoon, to perform my service hour, to find that the few successful things we have are on death’s door. I’ll resurrect them as best I can this weekend, and we’ll start the gardening new year fresh on Sunday, with renewed spirit and an eye toward keeping our things alive.

It’s a work in progress, and mistakes are part of the deal.

Still, I’ve never had a garden. Never cared whether the bean sprout between the paper towels grew, never watered the seeds I would get as gifts in some sort of set as a child. I’ve never kept anything green alive. It’s a unique challenge for me to both maintain interest in this activity and find the time to put effort into it. I enjoy gardening, but it’s so easy to stay home and go “tomorrow.” The garden is several miles from my home, but it needs to be an extension of my home. I need to treat it as I would my kittens, who need affection and nourishment every day, and as I do my house, which needs to be cleaned and maintained regularly.

Then, I might get my carrots to sprout.

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