Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sanctuary and a garden's pot of gold

A wide hole at the entrance tightens and a gopher determines the outcome of being found. I could almost see his pecks working to push his claw-tipped front legs up toward me, except his two front incisors catch the glare of the sun before he falls behind a layer of soil. Some of the times that his head pokes up, all I can see is his incisors, so white skinny and rectangular. 

The soil covers his head as I walk toward the front gate of the Stony Point community garden and unfasten the bungee chord that fastens the silver links together in case the horseshoe gate latch needs bolstering from a heavier wind if a gardener hastily left.

In Santa Rosa, I don’t see a single person at this garden today, and rows of beds now bloom with beans, melons, tomatoes, strawberries, and onions and marigolds to repel bugs. Maybe I’ll have a chance encounter. In the mulch covered walkways that allow our beds crosswalks for two-legged and occasionally the four-legged, there are days that I arrive and there are community meetings held only steps from the landscape fabric that lines the back of the vertical garden I built from a palette. The memory of them sitting there fills my mind as I recall explaining why we have covered our beans with row covers and what the cloche is that dominates the center of the 8 foot long box of soil. Only a few months ago, the garden boxes peppering the fenced in lot hugged starters only inches high, comparable in height to stalactites, but green and photosynthesizing carbon.

Most everything planted came from seed, although the herbs in the vertical garden were starters I bought and replanted. My husband and I nurtured the seeds into starters in our window and brought them when they seemed ready to brave the conditions. They did, like hulking pirates at soil sea.

If only I could have seen the crime on the squash, maybe I would better understand the behavior of a 7 spotted beetle. Then again, the first day at the garden, they ate an entire squash starter. Would I have seen the holes forming, I wonder if I had watched it or would the neighbors wonder if I had entered some meditative state that needed interruption for their own ease of mind? Now, the beans and the lettuces, eggplant and broccoli all survive and grow tall seemingly bubbly in the carbonated air.

I rarely see the neighbors in the beige homes to the right of the garden. Occasionally, I see a black cat that hides by the olive tool shed or the picnic table that lunges over the fence as soon as I spot her. Now I see the school across the street bustling with kids and I wonder if they are learning how to grow their own food being so close to a community garden or do they just get disciplined or scared into all the pressures of growing up that they will someday face.  Cars dot the road outside of the community garden parking lot, but only on the school side. I don’t see a bike rack.

When it rains here, I picture that the gravel rekindles its thoughts of what it was like lying once beside a stream and the garden leaves must shimmer and slouch a bit.  When it’s sunny, the gravel must feel raw like elbows in a crowd to any obscurely brown gopher.

The garden is my sanctuary even when others tend their gardens and we chat momentarily to share new tips and tricks in the struggle of sharing food with insects – but how much? I added coffee to the soil and that works. I’ve used Sluggo. I’ve surrounded the beets, the tomatoes, the lettuces varieties—spicy mixed, arugula, and romaine—the broccoli, the eggplant, the ever-growing cilantro, and the sage, with onions.  Does cilantro usually grow so robustly? The onions fall out of the soil, tilted and look luscious. One onion flower grows thickly and boldly into the mulch covered walkway where an occasional weed verbosely stakes a claim in living color. Some gardens contain marigolds in every corner of their 8 feet box and I vow to try that one of these days.

As I water the soil, I witness worms, tiny-legged unknown creatures, sowbugs, slugs, and under a cloudless vehement sky, I feel what it must feel like when the soil opens up just a little more by the time I return to make room for a little wider of a vegetable stem.

The cloche that arched over the center of the plot for 6 weeks is now dismantled and where it once gleamed white and PVC held it firmly in place stand tall stems supporting leaves that make you wish you could crawl under them for shade when the heat penetrates and I’ve forgotten my hat. I learned how to build the cloche from an Irish farmer on youtube. The community that built the garden boxes here a few years ago I sometimes see in person and other times I have enjoyed the photos of their building the community garden with open minds and hearts and showing how a little effort can go a long way.

The battle ensuing before me is between the eggplant and the broccoli as both form enormous leaves, but I have never know such a color of purple as the one on eggplant flowers.

My one and only cantaloupe thrives under a row cover, while the others couldn't survive their predators.

A lady bug lands on the leaf of the giant broccoli that is still not producing as a beautiful predator and I wonder how far it can see down below to witness its buggy preys. 

I move the hose and let it soak the soil under the green peppers and marjoram. As I walk toward the vertical garden, I see how much the chamomile has grown.  Already I have popped the heads off so many to help them dry and soon I will pop some more of these heads.

One gardener from Egypt once told me that a friend of his in Marin buries a fish head into the soil and that this has definitely made his vegetables so delectable. I wonder at the practice, but I will try to read up on it, still afraid of attracting a lot of unwanted organic activity that will give the lady bugs upset stomachs.

In a corner of one of the wider beds at the garden sit tools used in repairing a burst waterline. Right about when I heard about the waterline breaking, I thought do I know how I might fix a waterline and I breathed in deeply with uncertainty at another of life’s technical repair things I’d like to learn. I’ve recently joined the local tool library and built the cloche with my husband’s help and built the vertical garden with the help of youtube. Surely, even now, although I am not on the team to fix the waterline, I would learn quickly, the diy’er in pursuit of more hands-on. If I can install insulation at a friend’s house recently, then I can’t get lost fixing a waterline someday.  

I recoil the hose and I stand back from the garden box to see where I will start dolling up the plants. I start to tug old leaves from under the string beans and see that the bottom branch of the tomato plant has dead leaves that should be picked off also. I grab them and I realize how mesmerizing gardening is for me. It’s benefits far outnumber the savings I incur from buying lettuce as a packet of seeds brings so many helpings if well cared for. I routinely only have a single thing on my mind, that these seeds have sprung into 4 foot tall plants. I am reminded of the quote by Robert Louis Stevenson, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” It was just like the author of Treasure Island to tell me where the gold is right in the place that provides me refuge to make a fun garden decoration out of repurposed tape and plastic forks.

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