Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Kitchen Garden Accomplished - Part III

Out there in the once hardscrabble piece of dirt there is now a healthy array of edibles. Over the course of 3 weekends I planted my little corner of the world with the types of produce I love most. With a little bit of sweat, and not too much trouble the new kitchen garden has come to fruition.

During the last week of February, after the side yard had been cleared and the raised beds had been built, I got busy sewing the first batch of seeds. I devoted one whole 4' x 4' bed to vegetables of the green leafy variety - an assortment of lettuces, spinach, and chard namely. I intentionally planted this entire bed with plants that would mature and be consumed early in the season. I am always on-board for a taste of instant gratification.

I planted an assortment of herbs this first week also - some from seed, but most as transplants. I limited the seeds to an heirloom Lemon Basil and a Slow-Bolt Cilantro. I have read that the "Slow Bolt" varieties are the only cilantro varieties worth planting here in Central Texas, as cilantro is notorious for its intolerance of the blistering heat. But I've also been told that even the slow bolt types won't do particularly well if they are planted too late, or if we experience a hotter-than-usual month of May. I have to say I feel a certain empathy for the cilantro. Over the course of just two summers here in Texas, I have also gained a near-infamous reputation as being particularly intolerant of the Texas heat.

I shouldn't have to worry about the rest of my herbs; they are tougher, and more tolerant of the heat. My collection of culinary herbs includes all the usual suspects- both a Garlic and an Onion Chive, Greek Oregano, Russian Tarragon, Sweet Marjoram, an English Thyme and a Mother of Thyme, Golden Sage, and some Curly Parsley. I love to cook with fresh herbs and immediately started to take advantage of the fact that they were now so conveniently available to me - a few sprigs of Thyme for a potato leek soup, and some fresh-cut Chives as a garnish. There is something so deeply satisfying in walking out the front door, scissors in hand, and returning with ingredients you will cook with that very minute.

I have missed this sense of satisfaction.

And finally, this last weekend in February I planted my first batch of Radish seeds. They were, of course, the first thing to sprout, and strictly speaking, the first harvest from the new kitchen garden. When I thinned the seedlings, I saved to sprouts, carefully washing and trimming them. The sprouts have a mildly peppery flavor very similar to the actual radish, and I enjoyed them on my salads and sandwiches for a week.

The next weekend, the first weekend in March, I got out of bed extra early on Saturday, and postponed my run until Sunday, so I could attend the Sunshine Community Garden Annual Plant Sale. The sale is the annual fundraiser for the garden, and as I was later informed "a classic Austin endurance test". I wanted to be supportive of the community garden, but apparently so did every other gardener in the city of Austin. When my partner and I arrived I was both shocked and disappointed to discover a sea of people. And oddly enough they all seemed to be just standing around - there was no milling about or browsing. My confusion must have shown because I was promptly approached by a helpful volunteer who very sincerely asked "are you looking for which line to choose?" I was speechless, and slack-jawed. He politely pointed out that the "...line for herbs was there. Line for tomatoes there. Peppers and eggplants there. And then the line to pay is way back there." By my estimation it would have taken 3 to 4 hours of standing in slow-moving lines to buy a few veggies. I wish that I had the virtue of patience, but I do not. I left empty handed.

Because I was up early and had sacrificed my run, I decided to spend the rest of the morning downtown wandering the Farmer's Market with my partner instead. Only one farmer had transplants available - from him I purchased a Roma Tomato, an Anaheim Pepper, and a Basil plant. A small, but reasonable consolation for the Plant Sale gone bad.

On Sunday, still in need of plants, I went to my favorite nursery and was able to find most, but not everything, I want to grow. For Tomatoes I picked a Sun Gold, and a Viva Italia. For Peppers I chose Red Beauty, Golden Summer, Sweet Banana, Habenero, Gypsy, and a Cubanelle. What I didn't get was eggplants, and a few additional heirloom tomatoes that were recommended to me by a friend. The nursery had not yet seen any of the heirloom tomatoes, and had already sold out of eggplants, but they were expecting another shipment mid-week.

All of these transplants went into the ground on Monday morning, along with another batch of Cilantro seeds, Bush Bean seeds, and a small hill of Summer Squash from seed. I was hoping to take advantage of a forecast that called for rain, although I didn't entirely believe it. I've learned to not hold my breath when the forecast calls for rain.

But, it did rain. It rained steady for 3 days straight. It was the most rain we have seen here in Austin since August of 2007, with totals that ranged from 3-4 inches. It was gloriuos. Sadly, it is not enough to provide much relief to the ranchers or the rivers, but it was certainly enough to feed my new garden.

I made one last trip to the nursery on one of those rainy days, after the mid-week shipment had been predicted to arrive, and before the weekend crowds. I was able to find all that I was looking for to complete my garden, and little bit extra to boot. I have the 3 heirloom Tomatoes - a Mr. Stripey, Cherokee Purple, and a Rainbow BL. I filled out my pepper collection with a Jalapeno and a Serrano. And they had indeed received another shipment of Eggplant - I picked two each of Calliope and Ichiban. On impulse I also added some Pickling Cukes, Garlic sets, a small army of Basil plants, and Marigolds and Cosmos as companion plants.

The skies cleared up, and I planted all of this, along with a second sewing of Radishes and some Shallots from my kitchen, on Monday, March 16th, the day before St. Patrick's Day.

My new kitchen garden is densely and diversely planted. It is a well-stocked 112 sq. ft. and I am hopeful that the harvest will be plentiful. In some ways the effort to pull together this new kitchen garden was substantial - the tilling, the construction, the truckload of soil, and the multiple trips to multiple suppliers for the plants. But there was also a healthy amount of pleasure in these efforts - time spent with my sturdy helper, gifting the extra soil to a friend, and time spent outside enjoying the weather and getting to know my community. Overall, the effort, and certainly the money, are a small price to pay for the continued enjoyment and the fresh organic produce it promises to provide.


  1. Mmm, those radish sprouts sound great! What a nice touch to a salad.

  2. I love your raised beds. What kind of wood did you use? Did you use something that was pressure treated or did you use cedar? I'd like to build a few of these next year (too much going on this year). I'm a little wary of using wood that might contain chemicals.