Playground to Farm


The strip beside our alley driveway is bounded by an old chain link fence that has been mangled  by the trunks of  mulberry trees (thankfully now dead).  By mid-June, it  gets overrun by mile a minute vine, wild roses, poison ivy and about every other pernicious weed trying to take over the East Coast.  

Since we bought the house 9 years ago, the strip has been part playground and part veggie bed.  All that time, I’ve been waiting for the kids to get old enough to take down the swing set.  They may not feel old enough this year, but we took it down anyway, and over the past week, we’ve built a 300 square foot kitchen garden.  Yesterday, we were able to plant peas in the garden and asparagus in the new raised beds along our alley.  (Which means we’ve actually got 348 square feet of vegetable space beginning next year when we can start to harvest the asparagus).  This morning, I woke to the sound of rain on the roof and one less garden chore.  We’ll install soaker hoses in a few more days. 

The goal:  beginning in 4 weeks, get all our produce from these 300 square feet in our backyard.  We get to buy onions and garlic until our crop comes in, and maybe some fennel, and really, I am not going to grow avocados or artichokes in Maryland, so these are exceptions too.  Ok, so the truth is, we are harvesting most of our produce from this narrow strip along our driveway. 

Oh, and we are also allowed to buy fruit.  On the other side of the driveway, we do have 1 Fig tree, 6 blueberry bushes, raspberries and blackberries, and a Meyer Lemon that is older than our youngest child, but I’m not skilled or brave enough to try raising organic apples, pears and peaches. 

Nor do we own an orangerie.  Every fall, we look over the Meyer Lemon for scale, pull out random weeds, shoot it with insecticidal soap, and then my husband and I check to see that our life insurance policies are up to date before we start rolling, lifting, dropping, cursing, and straining to get the tree in it’s large terracotta pot up our narrow stairs to the sunniest bedroom in the house.  This winter, I could buy a 4 pack of Meyer Lemons at the grocery store for $2.50.  But who gardens only to save money?  I’m in love with the peace you get from spending time in a quiet yard listening to birds, the sense of surprise when you dig a potato out of the dirt or find carrots that have stored themselves in the garden all winter,  the smell of lilacs in your bedroom that have just been clipped from your back yard, and the traditions gardening engenders.  We’ve been making Meyer Lemon tarts from this tree for Christmas Eve dessert ever since it started producing fruit. 

When I was a little, our family’s first vacation was a trip to Pennsylavania Dutch country.  After we visited an Amish farm, I looked at my mother and said, “I want to be Amish when I grow up.”  “Not a job,” she replied, so I became a teacher. 

It’s taken 40 some years, but now that the swing set is down, the teacher gets a turn at becoming a farmer.