Many of you know that last year, I started a garden in E and JCC's backyard that was an 8' by 8' octagon. In that little raised bed, I grew a few varieties of tomatoes, eggplants, melons, chilies, and herbs. Despite the limited space, the garden meant that I did not buy any eggplants, tomatoes, or herbs all summer long; I even put up a few cans of tomatoes and dried others after sharing my harvests with the CCs and other friends.
This fall, a crew of friends helped me pull out more of the lawn and build a larger, shared plot, my portion of which is about 6 1/2' by 13'. In it, I grew all sorts of cool weather vegetables, and because of it, this winter and spring I have not purchased lettuce, broccoli, peas, or other green leafy things. Every green vegetable that ECG and I have eaten at home has come from this garden.
Currently, the fava beans are just getting close to harvest, and each day, I "feel up" the beans, checking if they're swollen enough to pick. I couldn't help myself the other day and had to sample the beans inside. They were like beany peas: tender, juicy and so very green tasting.
Clearly, this garden has been a good way for us to become more aware of what we eat and where it comes from. Like any garden though, it has tossed some challenges my way. First, an evil black walnut tree lives on the same property, so my planting and designing always requires consideration of where the walnut's poisonous juglone won't knock out members of the Solanaceae family. Second, the plot receives much less sun in the wintertime than I anticipated, so everything has grown very slowly this season. Third, someone once thought long ago that morning glories climbing along the side fence would be a lovely addition to the yard. Yes, morning glories are pretty little buggers when they bloom, but they're mean little buggers in just about every other capacity. They don't respect their boundaries: they shove other plants out of the way, crawl over everything, root and seed themselves everywhere, and demonstrate a general disregard for all other living creatures. I find them rude.
The biggest challenge though has been something that has nothing to do with sunshine, trees, or unruly vines. It has been the back neighbors.
Immediately behind the back fence of the CC's yard sits a little house. All this past summer, fall, and winter, angry screaming emerged from that house. The couple who lived there hurled vicious daggers of hate at each other, and when the man would come outside and see me in the garden, he hurled them at me too. When JCC and I spend the better portion of a day cutting out lawn for the larger plot this fall, the man stood outside of his house, just feet away from us, and—as my students would say—"talked smack" about us the whole time. Once, when the walls of the little house shook and the shouting was a constant, ferocious roar, I was so terrified that the two were killing each other, I stumbled inside the CC's house and asked E to call the police.
These were frightening people. Being in the garden alone meant I had to have a cell phone on my person and I had to watch my back. It meant, that though I loved the little vegetable garden, I didn't spend hours there, but just stopped by to do what I had to do before getting out of there.
Two weeks ago, the couple moved out. One day, like an earthquake, they sent shock waves of anger out from their little place, and the next day, they were gone. The neighborhood breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Everyone is happier. Since they've been gone, I've met neighbors who never ventured out to chat before. I've seen JCC run around his own backyard, shouting, "I have my yard back." It even seems like the garden itself is happier, growing exponentially in the last couple weeks—I know it may just be the days getting longer, but it certainly seems like the whole place has a different mood. Yesterday, I spent hours in the garden. While I was working there, this is what I heard:
- kids playing
- a jet fly overhead
- a windchime
- hummingbirds' wings
Now that I feel comfortable spending time in the very back of the yard, I've prepared pots to grow what doesn't fit in the ground. After falling in love with a huge red-glazed pot, I brought it home and put it up against the back fence to grow a winter squash in. I've never had a place to grow winter squash before, and now the back fence is a safe zone, once it gets warmer, I can plant and train (as much as one can train squash vines) butternuts along the chain link fence. Also in the back corner, I prepared pots with sticks pruned from the front hedge for pole beans that I'll plant in a couple weeks. I've never grown them before either, and now I have the chance.
The garden is a lot bigger when it isn't hemmed in by hate.