Gardening Together, Apart
There seems to be an agreed-upon quarantine checklist which we are all adhering to as we safely keep our distance. On it are many activities including: daily walks, baking bread, Zoom calls with friends and family, binge-watching TV shows and gardening. Of all of these, gardening is the one activity that is really new to me. Gardening is a welcome activity right now because it allows you to be outside while still remaining at home. It provides food. It allows you full control over something, minus the occasional rainstorm. And it lets you take care of a living thing outside of your own household.
I have always wanted an herb garden, and thanks to social media, I now have one. During the early days of quarantine, my husband Jesse’s cousin Dina Glasser posted that she had some mint to give away. I did a porch pick up and replanted the pieces that still had roots. It has been nice adding fresh mint as a garnish on Asian noodles and muddling it into cocktails. I used homegrown thyme to make this Herby Cabbage Salad.
Learning in a Garden
Gardening has also led to science lessons in our home. My son Eli has experimented with citrus tree grafting in our backyard, by cutting and reattaching branches from one fruit tree onto another. We now replant every scallion root we have after using the green part. My preschooler Ezra loves to pull out the celery stem I replanted and say, “Look, I found an onion!” So far, the scallion growth has been the most successful.
Sharing from a Garden
Another person who offered to share in her bounty was Renee Clary. She thought she was buying dill at the nursery but ended up with a giant fennel plant! Not sure of what to do with it all, she gave some away to neighbors, including me. As she tells the story, “It was labeled as dill when we bought it. Once we went to use it, we quickly realized it wasn’t dill, and it was fennel!” She admits she and her husband Ryan are not avid gardeners. But Ryan does well at growing basil, mint, scallions and lemongrass.
“The truth is that the farther I stay away from the plants and let my husband take care of them they do much better!” She shares that they eat the basil, mint and green onions weekly and share the rest with their neighbors.
Building a Garden
Maria Itkin said she has always wanted to have a small garden to grow produce and flowers. She shares, “I grew up in Russia where it is very common to own a tiny patch of land where you grow potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and a few berry bushes or apple trees.”
She has never had the time, until now, to set up an urban garden on her townhouse patio. A close friend of hers sent her information about building a sub-irrigating (watering from below) planter and gave her a huge bag of planting mix.
Maria realized, “I did not have a choice but to get all the necessary supplies and get down to business.” She and her son Simon, in fifth grade at The Shlenker School, borrowed some tools, and after a couple of hours they had built two planters. They are now growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other plants. The flowers they planted make Maria happy to look at from her current home-office window.
Harvesting a Garden
Every spring, Melissa Brams plants herbs and vegetables in her garden. This year, she is glad to make gardening a family activity. Her daughter Abbie, in sixth grade at Trafton Academy, loves sharing in this project. Together they are growing bell peppers, celery, eggplant, hot peppers and herbs. Melissa shares, “I never knew I had a green thumb, but we are spending lots of time gardening while being stuck at home, and it really has become an escape for us.” This year they have perfected making pickles with the Kirby cucumbers they planted. See their recipe here.
Melissa’s friend, Supriya Ramanathan, loves cooking with her family, especially with ingredients that they pick themselves. The vegetables that they grow include bok choy, eggplant, okra, peppers and tomatoes. Garlic bok choy is a favorite dish in their home. They also grow herbs, including chives, oregano and rosemary, which they like to include in pasta or other Italian meals.
Supriya’s three children, Tarini Kumar, a sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin, Roshni Kumar, a junior at Bellaire High School and Chandni Kumar, in eighth grade at Pin Oak Middle School, have grown up gardening with her, and now she leans on them for help. “I can’t do it all myself,” she shares. And she says her kids get such a kick out of seeing the results of their efforts.
At the beginning of the quarantine, Supriya was not sure she could safely get this year’s seedlings, but once she knew it was safe, she got them. She did not want to lose a season of gardening, which has proved to be a fruitful decision in many ways.
Editor’s note: For more on vegetable gardening, read Kitchen Garden: An edible little yard in the city by Cheryl Ursin.
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