Amidst the Construction

Here's one of the greatest things about gardens: Even in the face of neglect, they keep growing.

For most of the past three weeks, I laid the overalls aside to complete a home renovation. In preparation for my sister's belated wedding party here in Tallahassee (she lives and was married in the Seattle area), our family frantically renovated both our kitchen and bathroom. On more than one occasion, I found myself at Lowes before the sun came up and worked well past midnight in order to achieve some semblance of order before the party. Needless to say, I didn't have much time left over to garden. And yet, things continued to grow and to ripen.

Below are a few pictures from my own food garden. The bounty astounds me; I find myself surprised that so much goodness could self-create outside my windows while I struggled to refinish old cabinets. Take a look.

Turnips. We ate greens at my sister's party. Last night, we ate some of the roots in a stir-fry with onions and left-over barbecue meat.

Collards. These are just coming on line. I'm looking forward to feasting on these. Collards were the first kind of green that I ever grew. Whenever I visit my grandmother, collards are always on the menu.

Cayenne Peppers. This plant has been putting out three to five peppers a week for the better part of three or four months. For seasoning greens, meat, potatoes... chop 'em up and drop them in the oil before everything else; that way, the flavor distributes evenly, and you're not kicked in the mouth by a wallop of spice.

New Herb Garden. Oregano. Rosemary. Thyme. Basil. Dill. Fennel. Garlic Chives. Sage. Nasturtiums. Lavender. And I've got a few lettuces growing in there too. Last night we ate purple mustards seasoned with garlic chives. Last week we used a bit of rosemary to cook homefry-style sweet potatoes. And today at lunch, I ate egg salad with some fresh dill.

Pomelo (or Pummelo). This citrus monstrosity has only been in the ground two seasons and already we've got a batch of fruit: three 5 to 8 pound fruits that taste like the best grapefruit you'll ever come across. In case you can't tell, these citrus "melons" are eight inches in diameter. They'll be ready for picking within a month or so.

Amber Sweet Orange. Third season in the ground and the first year we're getting any fruit. The tree is only about three and a half feet tall. I remember tasting this one at the nursery: super sweet, easy to peel, great sections... and cold-hardy down to sub-20 degrees.

Satsuma. Look at this itty-bitty-baby tree. Only been in the ground two seasons, not even three feet tall, and it's bent over with fruit. My kind of tree.

And the bananas. The trick with bananas is that your typical grocery store banana requires two years to go from flower to ripe fruit. With our freezes here in north Florida, that would never work. These finger bananas, however, take just nine months from flower to ripe fruit. So, assuming the tree times things right, we can enjoy local bananas. Who would have guessed? Four years in the ground, this is the first year it's looking as though we'll be passing over the Chiquita stand at the grocery.

Note #1: If you're still looking to grow food and don't want to wait on spring and as it's getting a bit late to start your fall veggie garden, you've still got a few options: a)It's a fine time to start your herb garden from potted varieties available at Tallahassee or Native Nurseries. b)Winter is the best time of year to plant most fruit trees as it gives them a chance to get rooted before the fierce heat of Florida comes back around. c)Go ahead and start your fall veggie garden with plants. (Gramlings still has collards and kale and cabbage and chard and broccoli for sale.) Just know things will grow a bit slower because of the shorter days. d)Ready your garden for spring by banking it with leaves and grass-clippings.

Note #2: Just Fruits down in Medart is where I purchased all the above fruit tree varieties. If you want to blow your pre-conceived notions about what fruits can and can't be grown in north Florida out of the water, it's worth the trip.

Note #3: As a little side project, I undertook to fundraise a bit of money for the Damayan Garden Project using this personalized Damayan fundraising webpage. Already folks have chipped in $390. I'm looking to raise $500 as that's a rough estimate of the cost to install the new Damayan community garden at the Tallahassee Housing Authority site just off Orange Ave. Just like my garden, even amidst my lack of attention and solicitation, the fundraising total kept growing. Thank you for your support of Damayan, an organized piece of the Tallahassee Food Movement.

See you around town.