Sunday, February 17, 2008

Longer, More Peaceful Days (Growing Challenge: Pole Beans)

I have two balconies at my condo, only one of which receives any sun. But, I do have friends who love fresh, good food and who rent a place with a back yard; because of their generosity, I have a vegetable garden.

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
  • parrots
  • mockingbirds
  • hummingbirds' wings
What I didn't hear was anger.

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.


Lucy said...

Amen to that.

Your garden is about to get a whole lot healthier, Christina. So will you.

Don't those fresh fava beans, straight from the plant, taste absolutley amazing? Crisp, sweet and moreish.

Rowena said...

So to relieved to hear that those vile occupants are now gone, although I hope they haven't settled next to someone else's little garden!

I'm excited to see what's coming next. Over the weekend we got the necessary lighting and heat source, so I look forward to starting my own garden seeds. Thanks again for that wonderful post! Unfortunately, my order from Baker Creek Heirloom hasn't arrived but I've enough variety right now to make a go of it!

Anonymous said...

I had neighbors a bit like that when I lived in Chico (northern) California. The neighborhood was almost a shantytown if you can believe it. My neighbors house across the street was partly built from corrugated steel, and their 1960's Harley was parked in their bedroom.

I never felt personally threatened by them, but it was a real experience living next to them. In fact we were friends in a very superficial way.

It was a couple with two children, and the guy's brother also lived with them. The brother was addicted to meth, and used to regularly come knocking at our door asking for money. They also sold drugs out of their house, and had a 24 hour clientele coming and going.

The worst part about them was the couple fighting! During all hours of the night they were just shouting at each other as loud as they could. When things got really bad, he took out his gun and shot near his wife (just to frighten her you understand). When she got mad enough she got into her car, backed it down the block for a running start, then crashed it into her husband's pickup truck. So first I would her the tires squeal, then the crash, sometimes over and over.

The neighborhood was a lot quieter by the time their landlord evicted them. I never knew what happened to them after that.

winedeb said...

As they say, "silence is golden" especially when the anger is silenced. Your garden is doing so great Christine! My pole beans were doing so well till we had two days last week of torrential rains and high winds. Alot of the leaves are turning brownish and wilty. I think they got too much water and wind. But, there are baby beans emerging so I may still have a small harvest!
Looking forward to more of your garden goodies and now that you can spend more time with them, they will surely be happier!

Susan in Italy said...

I love that you find morning glories rude. There's something great about the fuzzy inside of fava bean pods. I almost wish that were the edible part.

Christina said...

Lucy: Yes, they're wonderful. I'm so happy to be in the garden nowadays. Hooray!

Rowena: Let me know how it all grows. So far, I've had wonderful germination and growth from most of the plants I seeded, but one variety hasn't germinated at all. I don't know if the seeds are dead or what. Hmmm.

Patrick: What a great story! I laughed out loud as I read it. Now I'm curious about what happened to those neighbors of yours too!

Winedeb: I'm so sorry about your beans. Perhaps if you remove all the dead foliage and make sure they dry out a bit, then follow them up with a nice watering of dilute liquid seaweed, you'd get some good re-growth. Good luck!

Susan in Italy: I know. It's just so pretty. I almost want to cuddle my beans.

Have a great night, everyone!

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

A lovely post, Christina! I'm smiling now just thinking of the newfound serenity in your garden.

Wendy said...

What a lovely post. I'm feeling quite peaceful now. Very glad that your world has become more harmonious too. All that negativity must have been draining.

My fava beans (we call them broad beans) didn't grow at all last year. Looking forward to trying them again.

Anonymous said...

First: I had no idea about black walnuts. That's wonderful knowledge to have under my belt, especially since I kind of like those trees. Second: Are you a fan of the show Mythbusters? I looooooove lovelovelovelovelovelovelovelove it. In their first season they tested the myth of whether or not playing music/talking to plants makes them grow better. Carrie, the red-haired myth ingenue set up a few sets of sweet pea plants. One was a control, one got classical music played to it, one got death metal, one was talked kindly to and one was yelled at. Guess which set grew the best?
Yep, the death metal.

I've never believe them though and feel that you're probably more right, that your plants are now breathing wonderful sighs of relief, just as you are. I'm happy that your garden can now be your happy place. We all deserve one of those!

Christina said...

Terry B.: Thank you! You're so sweet.

Wendy: Had you grown beans in that area before? Perhaps the soil needs an inoculant so the beans will be able to fix nitrogen more effectively.

Ann: I love Mythbusters and I've even seen that episode. Despite the evidence to the contrary, I do think somehow or another, a more peaceful environment leads to happier plants, even if it is just because I'm giving them more attention. I'm glad that you found the walnut information helpful. Black walnuts are pretty trees, lush and drought-resistant, but they are very tough on their neighbors.