July was another scorcher, with a major storm or two to break the heat and split our cherry tomatoes (fluctuations in water availability cause the skins to burst as the fruit swells). We’re glad they’re growing, though, and I can recommend two new varieties for this year: Dr Carolyn, a ghostly-yellow mid-sized ‘mater, and Tess’ Land Race currant tomatoes, a teeny cousin to the cherries that gives you a handful of sweetness. Squashes galore abound, including some volunteer butternut that came out of the compost spread in last winter’s sheet-mulching. It’s a reminder that we’re humble partners to nature that the vegetables we didn’t plant purposefully are often doing the best out of everything.
Around the horn: summer enrichment programs continue at Richardson Youth Center and Bruce House, though we’re in the last week. At RYC, we’ve been cooking a lot — pickles, quesadillas, and fried rice, to name a few. We also made cement stepping stones for the garden, which was great exercise, smashing old plates into mosaic pieces to decorate and mixing the concrete. Meeche, a YouthLed crew member, taught a pest-control workshop that helped campers identify bad bugs and diseased plants, and we made an organic bug spray to keep out garden invaders. It’s an old-time, all-purpose recipe, tried and true: garlic, cayenne, baking soda, water, and soap to make it stick. We’ve also been working on mason bee houses, to provide habitat for these native, non-stinging pollinators.
Bruce House’s campers had a similarly good time, making pizzas from our tomatoes and eggplant, tending to our terraced melons and pumpkins, and transplanting some perennial medicinal flowers into a new bed. Cavelle and Kendra from YouthLed taught about healthy soil webs and compost bin construction. The program participants prefer workshops led by their peers, understandably, and YouthLed has been learning a lot about successfully conveying their skills to people who are novices and might not yet be comfortable in the garden. Personally, I’m excited about our maypop – a native perennial passionflower – which is bearing its edible fruit on the front fence.
At Dix St, we’ve been working with local kids in the Ossay center’s summer program and others from Lincoln Heights, the next public housing complex over, and have grown a great amount of food. Butternuts, beans, banana melons and beautiful Glaze collards are bountiful. We put up signs to make the garden more inviting, and are recruiting new helpers like our neighbor Nancy, who regularly waters. Squash-vine borers have taken their toll on our summer cucurbits, but we have enough little hands helping replant that we’ve stayed ahead of the freaky devils.
Meanwhile, at ATA, the school garden is weathering the summer with Whit’s help and the massive contribution of Jeter’s Leaders, a service and youth development corps that came for two days. Together we burlaped and woodchipped the orchard, removed an overgrown aborted garden, began construction of a new outdoor classroom shelter, and built a frame to contain the berry patch. The teens were a joy to work with and a major help!
The team at Brookland Manor is working well to maintain the HIPS patch and the community center garden, with assists from droves of children in the summer camp. One all-star helper, Brandon, recently thought for a moment as the other kids were leaving and he continued to water, and said, “I like being a farmer. I like working hard! If we have a little bit of food, we can work in the garden and grow more food for ourselves.” Couldn’t have scripted it better! Kirk, Jackie, and Juice will be looking for his and others’ help with fall planting, which we’ll start soon, and finishing the grape arbor and fence. We’ll put in an herb-and-flower border akin to the one at Bruce House, which we’ve seen make a real difference in ecosystem health by bringing in beneficial insects and repelling pests.
We’ll celebrate the end of all these summer programs with some good eating (curried chicken and peach cobbler on tap!) and move into a new phase of programs in August. Getting ready for filling out the food forest at Richardson Dwellings with fall plantings and more permanently terracing at Bruce House will be my goals. I look forward to a harvest dinner with the community at Brookland Manor, possibly as part of an upcoming Health Fair. Eating together is what it’s all about!