Monday, July 25, 2011

The Growing Time

In spite of all of the innovative gardening techniques I keep seeing, I'm still impressed by how creative people can be when it comes to growing food. Like these guys in Vancouver, who've devised a way to grow food on a wall. Sure, there are people who are doing living walls already, but this one is outside, and with the express purpose of expanding the food production areas. I like it.

The caretaker of my town's "Memorial Park" has done some amazing things with growing food - right under the noses of the visitors and citizens of the town. Tucked in among the ornamentals throughout the park are food plants. In fact, there was one red cabbage that was so pretty and so perfect, I had a hard time not snatching it up and taking it home for sauerkraut. His efforts are proof that planting food does not mean that aesthetics need be sacrificed. The gardens are beautiful ... amazing!

I spoke with him a few days ago, and we talked about growing edibles instead of ornamentals. Around the memorial, he told me, "they" wanted a vining plant, and so he planted cucumbers ;). I had to grin at his good choice of plant. Beans would have been good, too ... scarlet runner beans, in particular, which have a beautiful (edible) red flower that produces a yummy, buttery bean. He's planning to plant a grape vine on the tennis court fence, which will be awesome, and maybe he knows, maybe he doesn't, but having the plants vining up the fence will also make the court cooler for the players. I hope they will appreciate his efforts.

I told him that he should host a dinner at the end of the season for the Town leaders to show them what's possible with regard to a community "food" garden that could be planted throughout the Town on all of the public land. He said they wouldn't care or appreciate what he's done. In fact, he seemed to be trying very hard not to say that they might even be a little annoyed.

I think what he's doing is incredible, and it will be people, like him, who guide us into this new world into which we are headed ... fast. If food security and food scarcity are going to be issues, my town's gardener will be the kind of person who shows us the solution ... something as simple as tucking a cabbage in among the hostas or growing a tomato plant on the fence between the black-eyed susans and coleus.

For the kids' Summer Reading Program this year, I helped the kids plant a garden at the library. The gardener who tends Memorial Park has been watering our garden, too. The soil we used was donated, and after we planted our garden, there was a lot leftover. The gardener planted another, little food garden near ours. The radishes he planted were ready to harvest, and his peas are thriving (and delicious!).

When I talked to the librarian about what to plant in our Kids' garden, I suggested a Three Sisters garden. She thought that was a grand idea, and so we did.

But I also planted the Three Sisters at home. This is my 5' x 5' Three Sisters garden.

Colored popcorn, pie pumpkins and black beans. It looks crazy and overgrown, but the beauty of it is that each plant has different needs, and so they can be planted all bunched together, but they don't compete for nutrients or space ... and they help each other. Plus, planting so close means less work for me, because there really aren't very many weeds to worry about.

We've already counted ten pie pumpkins (I think there are only three pumpkin plants), and there are tiny beans already, too. The corn is almost as tall as I am. It's beautiful. Someone I talked to described the garden configuration as "symbiotic."

I can hardly wait to see how much food comes out of that 5' x 5' bed.

In his book, Notes on a Lost Flute: A Field Guide to the Wabanaki author Kerry Hardy includes a diagram that shows what the natives in my part of the country ate through the year. Most of their diet was wild foraged, and when they could get it fresh, they ate it fresh. During the coldest months, though, like February, when there's a lot of snow on the ground and moving around is difficult, they ate their stored food - beans, corn and pumpkin - the Three Sisters.

I think the Three Sisters is symbiotic for us, too, and if I had to choose from the vast array of possible crops we have available to us the absolute best for a survival garden, I'd pick those three - corn, beans and pumpkin (or Hubbard Squash ;), because they're long keepers, they're nutrient rich, they're easy to grow, and they're versatile.

And they're good for growing in small spaces, too ;).


  1. Yes, we have an entire book dedicated to this with stories, crafts and more - I think its called The Three Sisters Garden or such... yours looks fab :)

  2. Our HOA is fairly easy to get along with as long as nothing outrageous has happened. On the other hand, who would suspect that this was not an ornamental plant and was summer squash in the front?


  3. Nancy - so cool! Your garden is very similar to what the gardener in the park did - and just as beautiful :).