Easter Sunday was so beautiful that, before I knew it, I found myself donning gardening gloves and finally addressing the scraggly leftovers from last summer’s patio garden.
As I’ve mentioned in this column before, I grew up in a family who gardens. This had a profound impact on my expectations of what food is supposed to taste like and how otherwise free time is spent during the majority of the year. Unfortunately for me, my patio garden annually suffers from a combination of me being both overly optimistic and slowly learning the profound differences between growing plants in the ground versus growing plants in containers.
Another huge difference is scope. I grew up with an acre-sized garden for my family of four. So I tend to load my small span of steps and patio (the extent of my gardening real estate) with so many planters that it’s a bit hard to get to the front door.
Expectations of how steps should be used aside, each year I try to learn from my past mistakes and cut back on the quantity and variety of plants I attempt to grow.
While parsley and cilantro have continued their silent strike, refusing to communicate their terms to actually grow in pots for me, I’m otherwise doing ok in the herb department. I’ve successful kept rosemary, oregano, thyme, and mint alive for a few years. I’ve also had much success with up to four varieties of basil each summer.
Vegetables, though, are quite another matter. The purple broccoli I planted last summer is still alive and finally has some parts that are looking ready to eat. Unfortunately, it’s only about a quarter of one serving. Last year’s tomato plants produced a grand total of four tomatoes that made it to my mouth. The cabbage and cauliflower didn’t grow at all and I’ve only ever gotten a tiny bit of lettuce greens to grow — not even enough for a salad.
I’ve also learned my lesson and have given up on trying to grow cantaloupe and cucumbers. Strawberries were a disappointment in the past, too — and the few that grew ripe were stolen by now-long-moved-on neighbor kids (but who could blame them?).
So as I was puttering about on Sunday – assessing my dirt and mulch supplies, thinking about how to combine the surviving broccoli plants and little flowery ground cover that has returned, which pot I would dedicate to the sprouting sweet potatoes to give them any chance of at least giving me pretty vines (but not actually expecting them to have enough room to grow potatoes), and moving about the large and heavy clay planters – I was a startled by the sweet and innocent question of my new neighbor’s kid. "Do you grow all your own food?"
It was all I could do to keep from laughing at my pitiful little garden when I responded to him. I told him that my little garden has made me immensely more appreciative of the gardeners and farmers who do grow the food I eat – and that was the beginning of an hour or so of awesome time with a polite and intrigued young person.
He asked if he could help me and where he could put his basketball down. I taught him how to separate plant roots, what mulch is made from, and why some soil was being thrown out and other soil got to be enriched.
He educated me about the school garden that Carolyn Lewis Elementary is growing and how he gets to help tend it because he’s an ambassador for his class.
Of course, I had to learn more, so I reached out to a friend who is working on the USDA Farm Grant that Conway Public Schools received this past winter. Laura Shores informed me that their project is still in the planning phase – they’re scheduled to build the funded gardens in the summer and plant this fall – but that the Carolyn Lewis Elementary School garden was funded by the Conway Public Schools’ Foundation.
According to the CLES website’s blog, the garden project was funded in August and the beds were built in January. While more information isn’t available on either of the CLES or CPSF websites at the moment, the interest and excitement level of my neighbor’s son is a great indication of the power of school gardens.
So if you get the chance, I hope you’ll support these gardens. I will definitely be sharing more information about them and how they’re being used to teach all manner of lessons in the future.
On the topic of not growing my own food, but very much appreciating those who grow and raise it for me, the recipes I’m sharing this week – Arkansas Tacos and a Fusion Pinto Bean Stew with Quick Kimchi and Yogurt Lime Aioli – are full of goodies from Kellogg Valley Farms, Ratchford Farms, Cedar Rock Ridge, Falling Sky Farm, A B C Nature Greenhouse & Herb Farm, Bluebird Hill Berry Farm, and Drewry Farm & Orchards. I procured these through Conway Locally Grown (conway.locallygrown.net). The venison was courtesy of my brother, but could be substituted with some delicious ground beef, elk, or buffalo from Ratchford Farms.
And I did make flour tortillas again, but, going off the recipe I shared last time, I replaced the shortening with butter and then the butter with bacon drippings and added another quarter cup of flour — which I wouldn’t have needed to do if I actually had the lard on hand that I intended to use.
I hope you’ll enjoy and let me know if you make some!