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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Plant Friends, Human Friends, & Family

I woke up at 8am yesterday, which hardly ever happens on weekends. Usually I sleep as long as I can before I have to get up for whatever plans I may have. Usually that means sleeping until 10am, a blissful change from my near-dawn weekday wake up time that's required for me to be first in line with my bike for the bus commute over the hill. Perhaps it was easier to get up early yesterday because my body is now fully adjusted to waking up early... or maybe (more likely) it's because I wanted to get some gardening in before bicycling over to Veggielution farm for their Saturday work day. Either way, I was up early enough to get my hands in the soil, transplant plants, plant seeds, water, and enjoy a cup of coffee. It was a much better use of my morning and more fun than sleeping.
Remember the broccoli sprouts I posted about here? They are doing great, although the tomatoes in the other can never showed themselves, sadly (old seeds may be the issue). I have kept the broccoli growing in the windowsill and the little shoots continue to grow, but I had unthinkingly planted them in old soup cans with nailed-through holes in the bottom. I saw this idea online here and thought it was cute. I had painted the soup cans and figured out a way for them to drain onto a cloth towel inside a bread pan so they'd fit nicely on the windowsill. However, I didn't think about how challenging it would be to transplant those little broccoli plants out of the can if they got big enough to warrant a new pot due to the metal lip around the edge. Yesterday I decided to get that process over with before the plants got any bigger, so I transplanted them into a larger container.
They appear to be doing alright, so hopefully they survive the trauma of being pulled out of their soup can home. I put them back on the windowsill and will keep them growing there until they look strong enough to go outside in the crazy heat.
Remember I said I was going to try transplanting my water-only green onions into soil? Well I did transplant two of them into soil, and I also left two of them in the water jar and set them on the windowsill. The windowsill water-only onions grew a lot stronger and longer than they had when they were on top of the fridge. Photosynthesis!
Sadly, the ones I planted in soil withered within a few days. I kept watering them to see if they'd recover, but they couldn't make it. One died immediately, and the other hung on for a bit. Yesterday I transplanted the remaining one into a smaller container that retains more water, but as of this morning, it looks completely dead.
Poor onions. I guess it's time to plant something fun in this strange face cup that I got in Oregon. Suggestions for fun plants to grow into this little guy's hair?
The bell pepper plant is doing well and is by far the most fun plant to watch grow. I just can't wait to eat one of the peppers! I have been fertilizing it every other week and watering every other day. On really hot days, I sometimes come home to droopy leaves and withering peppers. It keeps on growing, though, with only one pepper showing a strange discoloration.
The cilantro has been ailing, and there are little black bugs or something along the stalks. I saw a lady bug hanging out on it recently, so I assume there's an aphid buffet on my cilantro. I haven't taken the time to address this issue, but I did find out yesterday when volunteering at Veggielution why the cilantro plant began ailing in the first place. I didn't prune back the flowers, so the plant went into seed mode and stopped producing new leaves. I learned this at Veggielution because, as you'll see later in this post, we pruned flowers on basil plants. Now I know! When I got home from the farm yesterday, I cut all the flowers off. We'll see what happens...
  
Yesterday, I also decided to plant some nasturtiums, one of my favorite flowers because they're pretty and edible! I have memories of eating nasturtium petals off of the abundant plants growing in my backyard as a child. Like I mentioned a few posts ago, my dad has a very green thumb. Growing up, our backyard was a magical garden with lush green and colors everywhere. Sometime soon I'll post some photos from those days. 

I'm so excited to be growing nasturtiums that I planted them all over the place: in the cilantro pot, directly in the ground, in the painted soup cans on the window sill, and in their own smaller pot outside. I can't wait for them to begin growing! I marked the outside in-the-ground nasturtium plantings with colored toothpicks so I will make sure to water where they are.
I also planted two drought tolerant flowering plants into the ground. They had been growing in their original plastic containers from Home Depot since we bought them, but I decided it's time to give them some space and actually put them in the ground. The rice flower plant has been doing okay, although it appears very dried out in some patches. I'm not sure if I've been overwatering them or what. The Angelonia plant had flowered and then withered into brittle sticks, which I cut back when I noticed some new green leaves popping up. It's been regrowing nicely.
I put the non-edible flowering plants in the ground near each other and put our little hippo-potato-mus between them. I wonder what Green Guy thinks about the strange figures we have in our garden. I'm hoping to find a chicken statue to put out there soon, too...
In addition to planting nasturtium seeds, I also planted some arugula and kale. I looked up companion plants for nasturtiums and both arugula and kale were on the list, so I added some nasturtium seeds to both of these containers. We're going to have more nasturtium plants than we'll know what to do with! To differentiate between the two, I found some old plastic spoons we'd saved and put K and A stickers on them. I might find a better way to label them soon, but for now, it's a simple way to reuse.

After all of this wonderful time spent with my plant friends in the morning, I looked at the clock and realized I had 15 minutes to get out the door if I wanted to be on time to the Veggielution work day. Fortunately, I don't wear makeup most days or really care what my hair looks like, so I just threw on some clothes that could get dirty, put contacts in, and grabbed stuff that would keep me from getting sunburned or dehydrated. The bike ride was 30 minutes or so, taking me past San Jose State University and some cute neighborhoods with narrow streets. I always prefer riding under freeways to riding over them, and fortunately the route I chose this time took me under 680/280 instead of over it. After crossing under 680/280 at King Street, the farm entrance appeared on my right, and it transported me into a different world, separated just enough from the hustle and bustle of car traffic.
Veggielution is a 6-acre sustainable farm, complete with education programs, greenhouses, a CSA program, crops of all kinds, and even chickens, that's juxtaposed beneath the over crossings of highways 680/280 and 101. Whenever you look up from whatever you're doing in the soil, you can see the underbelly of a clear symbol of urban life. For this and many other reasons, Veggielution is a unique place. The homepage of their website states, "Everyone deserves to have access to healthy, affordable food. At Veggielution, we bring people from diverse backgrounds together to help create a sustainable food system in San Jose, while forging stronger bonds with each other and the community."

When I was little, sitting in the backseat of my parents' car, I would look down upon this plot of land as our car went from highway 101 to 680 on our way home from my aunt's house. I remember seeing a historic-looking barn and open land and wondering what it was and what it used to be. Back then, Veggielution was maybe just an idea in someone's mind, but since 2008, it has been a growing reality of increasing acreage and food production. Learn more about the farm's history here.

Next to the farm at Veggielution is Emma Prusch Park, so there's this entire pocket of land beneath the freeways that's open land, a stark contrast to the urban jungle around it. Years after being that little kid in my parents' car, I find myself staring back up at that overpass with the barn behind me and the open land beneath my feet. I love when pieces of memory slip into place with new information and create a more complete picture of my world.
Green Guy and I had volunteered at Veggielution about a month ago with his friends from community college. This time, Green Guy was at work, but his same friend who had organized the last time had brought folks together again. Everyone I was volunteering with in our group yesterday had gone to De Anza (except me), and they are all awesome people who have a shared interest in serving the community. I'm so glad to know them through Green Guy!
We ended up being assigned to prune basil plants so that their flowers wouldn't take over. By cutting off the flowers, it tells the plant that resources should be allocated toward growing larger leaves that can then be harvested. As mentioned above, I wish I'd known about this important tip sooner so that my cilantro wouldn't have become sad, dry, and leafless. We used gardening shears to snip off all the flowers, and the bees continued to buzz around the clippings, which we left in the rows to wither into the dirt.
Once we accomplished that task and took a water break, we moved on to weeding four rows of bell pepper plants. After being instructed on proper weeding method (get the roots!) and which plants were the actual bell pepper and which were weeds, we spread out among the rows.
After spending about 2.5 hours among the farm's rows of plant friends, we were rewarded with a farm-fresh potluck lunch! I had brought a couple dollars to donate in lieu of bringing food to share. We all heaped a ton of delicious, healthy food onto our plates and enjoyed the meal in the shade of their picnic area. Yum!
After lunch, we were able to take some free produce with us, including onions, tomatoes, and some other assorted produce that they had in excess. I also purchased 25 cents worth of chili peppers from the farm stand. I said bye to everyone and hopped on my bike to head home.

Dripping in sweat from the mid-afternoon heat, I unloaded my things into the house and assessed what I needed from the store before my dad and step-mom arrived later that day for dinner. I made a list and headed back into the heat on my bicycle with both pannier bags attached. Fortunately, we have a grocery store just down the street, and I was able to get everything on the list, including flowers! I'm fortunate enough to be the owner of two 40 liter pannier bags that can hold a TON of groceries, which don't feel like much weight when they're on my bike rack. I just love physics when it comes to bike weight distribution!
Even though I had spent my whole morning and early afternoon outside among plant friends, I still had plenty of time to put away groceries, clean, plan out marinading and cooking start times, and take a shower before my parents arrived. I love having people over, and I love cooking for people. It was a real treat to have my dad and step-mom over because they hadn't been to our place since the day we moved in.

We ate yummy homemade pico de gallo with tortilla chips and fired up the grill for chili/lime/garlic marinaded shrimp and veggies. We also grilled some carne asada (not the most sustainable choice, I know, but we are working on this). I cut up jalapeƱos, green onion, cilantro (not from our plant sadly), and avocado and put them in little bowls on a serving tray. I love having a diverse range of bowl sizes for serving food! We also had corn and flour tortillas, wild rice, store bought salsa, Cholula hot sauce, and nutritional yeast. Oh, and of course chilled beers and some red wine that my dad and step-mom brought. We ate outside since our kitchen table is too small for four people and because it was beautiful in the backyard. Great conversation, wonderful people, and delicious food--absolutely one of my favorite ways to spend an evening!
In addition to drinks, they had also brought us a new cherry tomato plant (below on the right), which I'm so excited about! They said they also got a plant for their house, and I promised to send updates about how ours is doing, which I'll likely post on here.
Earlier in the day while volunteering at Veggielution, I had mentioned to Green Guy's friends that Monday is his 25th birthday. He hadn't seemed interested in throwing a party when I asked him about it a month ago, and instead, our plan is to go surfing tomorrow since we both have the day off.

His friends were having a party yesterday evening, and originally I'd told them we couldn't go because my dad and step-mom were coming over for dinner. Then I realized that we could probably just head over to the party after they left since their parties usually last long into the night, so we made a plan to surprise Green Guy with a cake and piano-accompanied Happy Birthday singing. I just had to convince him to stay up long enough to make it to a second gathering in the evening. He is working the 5am - 4pm shift this weekend, so I knew it might be challenging to convince him to rally his energy long enough for that. Somehow I was able to do it, so after hugging good bye and saying thank you to my parents for visiting, we drove over to his friends' house.

Ultimately, he figured out that something fishy was going on. His friend pulled me aside at one point to show me the cake, which was suspicious to him. He also said he heard his name being whispered throughout the party. Secretly, he told me later, he had been hoping there would be a surprise party, and that's why he was so willing to go to the party even though he had to get up so early the next morning. Right before the singing and candles and cake, he told me he knew what was going on, but it didn't make it any less fun to sing to him with many of his friends present. I'm so glad we were able to celebrate his birthday with friends and treat him to a surprise cake. It turned out perfectly that he hadn't been there to volunteer earlier in the day since we were able to come up with this plan in secret. Some day I'm going to throw him a real surprise party, and I'll make sure he doesn't have any idea!

Wow, reflecting on my day yesterday makes me incredibly grateful for all of the friends and family in my life. What a full day of meaningful work, great conversations, good food, and really awesome people. Thank you to everyone--plant friends included--who made yesterday so fantastic!

Thanks for reading! If you have any advice on my plant situation described above, please feel free to add a comment!
~Green Gal

2 comments:

  1. What a wonderful description of a wonderful day! Best of luck with the gardening, and Happy birthday to Green Guy!

    ReplyDelete

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