Ah, the crisp bite of cool fall air. It’s back. The trees have exploded into a riot of color—crimson reds, burnt oranges and rusty golds. Nature’s harvest ripens with apples and pumpkins. Finally, we’re allowed the luxury again of rich stews, hearty vegetable casseroles, warm squash soup, and crisp Hudson Valley apples.
I glanced away for a minute and summer arrived. The days got hotter and longer; my kids got stronger and picked the first sweet fruits of tomato, zucchini and sugar snap peas. We watched the cardinal nestlings fledge; the baby rabbits devour our perfectly perfect crispy radishes; the catbirds feed their saucy fledglings, the ladybug larvae tyrannize the meadowsweet aphids; the swallowtail caterpillars munch the parsley, and then change from third to fourth to fifth instars.
It’s time. For a few frosty months there, I had completely forgotten about spring. The last frost here in the Hudson Valley will be around April 20. This means big planning must start today. Like, right this minute.
I am no Master Gardener. I could go on and on with current examples to illustrate my point—neglected soil-filled moldy pots on our back porch; shrunken, wrinkled leaves of secondhand orchids on the sill; a yellowed kitchen cactus struggling to flower year after year after year. That said, I have gotten fully wrapped up in local community gardening—mostly working with a petite but powerful gardening team. I help coordinate the Dows Lane Vegetable Garden with Claire Cornish (who actually is a Master Gardener), working with kindergarten through third graders. Our selection of five-star veggies is based on the following characteristics: Speedy Growth, Seed Wow Factor, Easy Peasy, and The Big Yum.
Over the past several years, we’ve mostly settled on planting the following: sugar snap peas, looseleaf lettuce/baby greens, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, radishes, summer yellow squash and zucchini, green bush beans, and annual herbs and flowers (basil, parsley, thyme and skyscraping sunflowers).
You don’t need a farm or community garden to grow fresh vegetables. You don’t really even need a garden. You do need good soil, a sunny spot, a water source and, most likely, a fence. If deer are known to nibble your hostas, the entire woodland critter community will crush your dreams of home-grown veggies.
You may consider simply planting your vegetables in a few containers. Almost all of the above would thrive in pots placed in a sunny place—lettuce (I plant many in hanging pots where deer can’t reach), bush tomatoes (especially cherries like Tumblers or Tiny Tim), bush cucumbers (especially Salad and Sweet Success), radishes (even indoors at south-facing window), potatoes (in bins or spud grow bags), Swiss chard, stubby carrots (in deep pots with light, well-drained soil), and flowers and herbs. Granted, a mini vegetable garden or a container-filled porch may not be enough for subsistence farming, but it may be enough to grow a season of heavenly tomatoes, salad greens and radishes.
Remember, you don’t have to know everything there is to know about gardening right this very minute. Just become familiar with the one or two plants that you plan to grow this year. Once you’re comfortable with those, go find a few more seeds. Just know what you grow.
Harvesting vegetables can be empowering stuff for both kids and adults. Planning, constructing and maintaining a garden involves research, requires decision-making skills and demands teamwork. Preparing soil for planting is hard work. Nurturing and caring for plants and waiting for them to mature requires responsibility and patience. A garden provides an opportunity for you to play a unique and vital role in a little person’s environmental awareness, to introduce healthy eating habits while reducing your ecological footprint, and to potentially empower a child to make a difference.
Anyway, little people live close to the ground. They should be getting dirty.
Marcie Cuff lives in Irvington and is the author of Mossy, a blog devoted to hands-on parenting. http://mossymossy.com