Aside from our one disappointing long weekend of notcamping, my family’s enjoyed a fortunate summer. Unlike poor Lisa’s family, who struggled through a difficult summer of illness and hard work and not a lot of fun, relying — as I would — on the comforts of familiar foods — we were able to explore. We tried new things in the kitchen (zucchini blossoms; homemade nutella; mint stracciatella) and we traveled new places (which I will be writing about in the coming weeks).
But I think my favorite part of this sweet summer was one of our most familiar stops, my parents’ home in Connecticut. Summer is my favorite time to visit because my dad’s garden is always so plentiful. We can never predict whether it’s going to be a good year for apples or peaches, potatoes or green peas, corn or beans, but there’s always something.
This year the harvest looked like this:
Summer is winding down now. School has started, work is amping up, and some worries loom. A new season is beginning. But as I head into the fall and the memory of summer’s bounty starts to fade, I will continue to remember this:
Summer vacation’s here and I’m catching up on ideas I meant to write about during the school year, like our school garden! The kids work closely with their classroom and science teachers to plant, weed and harvest from the various planters that have been tucked in around the school.
This vertical planter is on the stairwell on the way up to the rooftop play area:
These box planters have drop down plastic covers to protect them from errant basketballs:
Do your kids garden at home or at school? What do you grow?
I remember so vividly helping my dad lay out his orchard. I was around ten years old, and my dad hadn’t entirely finished clearing the area, so we both had to tramp through lots of briar and brambles. Dad positioned me where he wanted the first tree and gave me the end of a spool of twine to hold; then he paced off thirty or forty steps in a line, unspooling the twine as he went. After he marked the spots for each tree, he dug the holes and planted the trees, staked and fenced them, and then we watered each one, hauling buckets of water over from the swampy area that’s now a pond. There wasn’t any house on my parents’ land yet — nor even a road to the property — just their vision of what this place could be.
Now Ben is the ten year old, and yesterday he and Eli planted their first trees in my parents’ orchard: a nectarine for Ben (the first on the property!) and an apple — one of many varieties here — for Eli.
they checked the depth of the hole
they stomped the dirt down around the roots
they staked and fenced each one
I think back on the day when my dad and I planted this orchard’s first trees and I wonder, was I patient? Did I complain about the heat (or was it cold?), or about the briars, or about the long walk back to the car? I’m sure I didn’t see what my dad saw that day: a clearing in the woods, an orchard asserting itself, children and grandchildren fed from its trees. It’s an easier vision for my kids –- the orchard is established now, as well as the kitchen in the house in which we cook and eat its fruits –- but still, it takes a certain optimism and a certain patience to plant a tree. I’m glad they’ve shared that with my dad.
It felt appropriate to spend last week’s Cesar Chavez Day of Service on a farm. The first graders know Chavez’ story as well as they do the life of MLK, Jr., and on the drive out to Marin, my car full talked about how our experience on a small organic farm would differ from the experience of migrant farm workers in the 70s. “We won’t get sprayed!” they cheered. And although I know the farm industry still has a long way to go, for this day, we focused on celebrating Chavez and the healthy farm we visited.
The kids helped plant seeds:
They wheel barrowed weeds to the compost pile:
They learned about bees and other beneficial insects:
After which they took some time to draw the bugs they observed on the farm:
We took a lunch break, and some of us added calendula flowers to our meals:
And at the end of the day, the patient farmers sent us each home with a seedling, which one young gardener has established in our own city garden:
We have an old orange tree, and its fruit sweetens late, but when it does, it’s miraculous: sweet, cool sections like jewels; juice that seems the concentration of winter sun. Growing up in the cold, snowy northeast, oranges and their juice came from exotic, far away places. Now one of those places is my home, and it’s still strange to me. For my kids, oranges are absolutely ordinary. For them they, ahem, grow on trees. But for me, that tree is the stuff of imagination.
Now, the fruit is dropping nearly as fast we can harvest it, and it’s getting to be time to juice and zest and make arancello and orange polenta cakes.
Sunday, I asked Finn for help. I gave him a sack, and told him to climb. He grabbed the bag and ran out the back door, then disappeared into the glossy leaves, hauling himself up and up until he was surrounded by the bright fruit. He filled his bag and climbed back down.
I think this is one of the things he’ll remember about growing up in California. The opposite of snow.