The First Day of Summer at the Community Garden


Last night, on the eve of summer, our community garden had its first happy hour of the season. As the sun set, we shared locally brewed beer, sliced apples and strawberries, pie from the bakery up the street and my first attempt at goat cheese. Besides congratulating a newly married couple, and toasting another gardener’s birthday, we talked ideas: a pizza oven modeled after a community dining experience my plot neighbors’ had in Martha’s Vineyard, a shared chicken coop (or Group Coop as I dubbed it), a bee hive. How many of these might come to fruition and how quickly was unknown, but we knew anything was possible: we had coaxed food from the barren ground together, year after year. As the light waned, I thought about how much I appreciated this community of neighbors who might never have met had it not been for our shared green space.

Our gathering also helped me reflect on the growing season thus far. I had been visiting the garden most days to water or weed, and more frequently to start harvesting, but hadn’t given much thought to how lush the garden had gotten in the past month or so. It took my community of gardeners, taking collective stock of our individual spaces on the last day of spring – asking questions and offering advice – to help me realize the miracle of growth that we had experienced in such a short time.

The above picture was taken in the past week, and shows the very lush horseradish in the foreground. The edible root is underground, but I have read that the leaves can be eaten as well and I intend to try them soon. The horseradish leaves became very huge very fast, and I decided to take advantage of the shade they would provide by planting my lettuce beneath and around them. Even since this picture was taken they have grown enough to start harvesting. Behind the lettuce is fennel, kale, chard and tomatoes, most grown from seed and all days or weeks from harvest.


The picture above was from mid-May and shows the garden from the perspective of a different corner. The small (probably) squash seedlings are in the foreground next to the always prolific mint. I say “probably” because these sprung from composted dirt in pots in my backyard. They looked so healthy that I thought I would transplant them to see if they might make it – it is now a month later and they are doing very well. This also shows the healthy strawberry plant in the center-back of the plot, which has already produced a few quarts of berries and will likely keep going for another week or two. This plant was another “volunteer” from a few seasons ago that I couldn’t bear to pull up, so I’ve left it to mature and this is the first year that I have gotten a real strawberry harvest. Which was a nice reminder that it pays to be patient with plants. I’ve been exercising that same patience with rhubarb plants in the back left corner that have taken two seasons to flourish and should be producing enough for a spring harvest next season.



And lastly, a picture taken around the first day of spring. The sprouts are garlic, planted last fall. This is taken from the same perspective as the top photo, as a nice comparison (and reminder) of how much can happen since the start of spring. I remember the day I took this photo – it was an unusually nice day for March, maybe fifty degrees. I recall being excited for my first glimpse of my plot for the year; that was the moment that I could finally imagine that the especially cold and snowy winter might be behind us.

It is now that I realize that even then I was thinking of the garden as a group. We all had survived the same winter and would start to look to each other for cues on what to expect next. Even if our paths did not physically cross until last night on the eve of summer, I felt my community’s presence: I could see my neighbor’s garlic sprouting alongside mine and shared extra seedlings in the designated spot alongside the shed. While from one perspective the season of bounty is just upon us, in other ways I realize that it had never ended.


After foolishly looking through seed catalogs for horseradish seeds throughout the month of February, it took a New York Times article to set me straight: one grows horseradish from root stock. So I promptly ordered 5 from the nearest purveyor mentioned (only about 70 miles away – still local!). They arrived promptly, wrapped in damp newspaper and tucked for mailing inside a plastic bag. They look like fingers, really. Like $20 of cold, clammy zombie fingers. One end is cut flat and the other at an angle. The brief instructions say to plant them 1 to 2 inches beneath the surface of the dirt at a 45 degree angle. Jeesh. I didn’t think I needed a protractor for this. But, I headed to the garden on this unseasonably warm day, dug an 8 inch hole to accomodate the long root, and tilted the horseradish appropriately before covering it all with dirt. By fall, I was told, I might be able to harvest a bit, and by next spring after its first dormant winter in the cold northeast ground, I will certainly be able to cut some root away to shred, perhaps mix with vinegar and eat.

“Just be careful,” the woman from the farm had told me on the phone. “You have to process the horseradish outside. It burns – like mustard gas.” Hot and spicy – just the way I like it. I can’t wait.