While doing a walk through the Augusta Park Community Garden this past weekend my eye was caught by bunches of small carrots that had been pulled way too early and then tossed aside in the midst of a carrot patch.
I find it very difficult to understand why anyone would do this. Is it young kids whose parents have been distracted by a Smartphone, older kids who are feeling bored and a bit anti-social, or a bad-tempered bunny?
Backyard vegetable gardeners face many challenges – diseases, insect pests, mammalian pests, too much rain, not enough rain, too hot, too cold, early frost, late frost and on and on. Gardeners in community or public gardens face these additional challenges of vandalism and theft and I have also seen conflict arise between gardeners over things such as perceived trespass over the boundaries between plots, hogging the water taps or perceived petty theft.
So why do gardeners, and most particularly community gardeners, persist in the face of what often seems like overwhelming odds against success?
- My first observation is that many neophyte gardeners do become discouraged and give up the fight.
- My second observation is that most successful gardeners that I have met tend to be ‘glass half-full’ kind of people (or perhaps incurable optimists).
- My third observation is that previous successes loom large in the memory of gardeners that lust after even greater success (or more ribbons in the fall fair).
- My fourth observation, particularly for community gardens, is that there are a whole lot of really great things going on, such as an awesome sense of satisfaction in seeing the excitement as a new gardener that you have been mentoring reaps their first harvest.
I don’t think that the reasons for the vandalism in the Augusta Park garden matter a whole bunch – the important reality is that we have had very little vandalism in any of our community gardens. When we have caught kids in the act of doing something destructive such as pulling up plants that are not ready to harvest, the approach has been gentle, explaining that these gardens belong to their neighbours and will be a source of healthy nutritious food.
This small collection of garden plots in close proximity to each other has lead to community development as neighbours help one another by doing things such as ordering straw or compost collectively and helping in the collective or collaborative beds – part of a larger sense of purpose comes from working for a larger social purpose such as growing food for the food bank. Neighbours feel a sense of ownership of the park and help look after it as they do their own personal space.
Just after noticing the vandalism in the carrot patch, a couple of beautiful yellow flowers caught my eye.
What I was looking at was a few healthy okra plants that a rogue gardener had planted on the edible-shrub berm. I looked around to see if anyone was watching and quickly committed an act of petty theft as I picked and crunched down a delicious two-inch long green pod. The okra has done very well this year no doubt due to the huge amount of heat we have had this growing season.
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus: Malvaceae), native to Africa and a beautiful relative of hibiscus, was brought to North America in the 1600s. This tropical plant quickly became popular in the Deep Southern United States both as a side dish and as a thickening for gumbo and stews. It can, however, thrive in any climate where corn will grow and I have had many successful crops. Depending on the cultivar, the large-flowered, fast-growing plants reach 2 to 6 feet tall (in our area two feet is about the largest that I have seen). Varieties with colourful stems and leaves, such as ‘Burgundy’, make attractive garden borders.
Okra needs full sun. It will grow in ordinary garden soil but does best in fertile loam. While it can be sown directly in the soil around the first of June I have had the most success in starting seedlings indoors under lights in mid-April and then transplanting to the garden around the first of June (depending on weather conditions). It is best started in a peat pot or any other pot that can be transplanted directly into the garden as it does not like to have its roots disturbed.
I use fresh seed as it does not appear to remain viable for more than a year or two. I soak it overnight or nick each seed coat with a file to encourage germination and then plant two or three seeds to each three-inch pot. I transplant these pots into the garden about a foot or so apart. When okra is about four inches tall, I mulch it with straw to keep out weeds and conserve moisture. It requires water during dry spells. Okra seldom succumbs to pests or diseases.
About 50 to 60 days after planting, edible pods will start to appear. They are tough when mature, so harvest daily with a sharp knife when they are no more than finger sized and when stems are still tender and easy to cut. As I mentioned earlier the pods are crisp and delicious raw in the garden – any resemblance between them and the ones you buy in the supermarket are purely coincidental! Pick frequently and the plants will keep producing until killed by frost. Be sure to remove and compost any mature pods you might have missed earlier.
There are no stupid questions!
Hands-on educational opportunities are available weekly throughout the summer.
- ‘Weed and learn’ sessions take place at Augusta Park Community Garden on Thursdays from 9 to 11 in the morning and from 4 to 8 in the evening
- Gardening advice is also available Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30 at the garden in front of the Food Bank at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place.
Master Gardeners will be there to help with your gardening concerns.
Great Veggie Grow-Off
Please remember to drop off surplus garden produce at the Hunger Stop (aka Lanark County Food Bank). All you have to do is bring your armfuls of produce to the Food Bank at 5 Allan Street in Carleton Place and make sure that it is weighed and credited to Mississippi Mills.
The Food Bank is open:
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
9:00 am – 1:00 pm
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Try to drop your produce off first thing in the morning if possible.