A Garden! (Sort Of)

(This will be first of many posts, in the process of checking one of the biggies off of my To-Do List– ‘get a space at a community garden’)

I’m SOOOOOO excited! I finally have a garden! Sort of. Well, what I have is permission, and help to accomplish a concept. The concept being a new bed at an established community garden. This might not sound like much to you, but to me it looks like the light approaching fast from the end of the tunnel. The idea is to start work this weekend!

The bed will be about 4 feet wide by 16 feet long. 64 square feet. Not bad. A good start anyway. And considering I will get two growing seasons a year out of it, it’s like having 128 sq ft in Cordova. I see lots more space at the garden where I could squeeze in other little beds, but I’m not sure it’s fair, seeing as how there’s apparently a long waiting list, which I was (don’t tell anyone) floated straight to the top of.

compost? I think not!
the garden coordinator had pulled his pepper plants up and thrown them on the compost heap, leaving these small but incredibly delicious smelling red peppers attached! my first taste of NOLA gardening

This would be the perfect time to explain my first New Orleans friend and subsequent savior, Bacon Fryer (this is a personal nickname, which he has not exactly consented to). Bacon is the coordinator of the community gardens, citywide. Early this spring, as soon as we found out we were moving to New Orleans, I googled community gardens and found the Parkway Partners site. It took me awhile to get a phone number for the main coordinator, but when I finally called him he was so incredibly friendly and helpful. We emailed back and forth several times over the next few months, I asked lots of questions about New Orleans, and finally I asked him (I had to ask someone) if he knew anyone with a half empty chest freezer who’d trade storage space for Copper River Salmon– I would be arriving in NOLA with two huge, 50 pound coolers of frozen wild meat and fish and would need a freezer immediately.

He took the bait, said he himself had a mostly empty freezer and would love some salmon. We exchanged phone numbers, and he gave me directions and described his place as a “camp,” his was the one with the goat in the yard.

Now, camp means something different here, not involving tents. But still his place was fantastic. A fairly rustic, open airy house right on the river, on 15 ft stilts above the sloped mud bank. Swampy trees all around. Very movie Louisiana bayou style, but not at all what one expects to find in New Orleans! There’s a small row of such “camps” where folks have been living for over a hundred years. The city has lately been trying to kick them out.

Fabulous.

And yes, there was a goat.

Bacon has been super friendly, and introduced us all around proudly to his little enclave of alternative foodies. I was even once (and I hope to be again!) identified as “The Bear Meat Lady” Bacon had apparently been talking me up, even before my arrival. The Copper River Salmon, yeah, that’s good. The wild moose meat, cool. But it’s the bear meat that really wows ’em (if you’re wondering how and why the hell I have bear meat, read this post from my last life blog. It’s about Tamale Pie, yes, but also bears, give it a go)

To get back to the story at hand, there are two community gardens relatively nearby. Both were full, but both had a caveat. One had an available bed that had high lead levels. Very common here. I could build a bed on top and it should be fine, apparently the uptake is not much, it’s more a matter of the dirt you get on yourself when gardening. Still didn’t sound hugely appealing, especially with kiddos. I’d prefer to continue thinking of dirt as good clean stuff that I can let the Toddler smear everywhere with abandon. Also, this garden just had a slightly derelict feeling to it. The beds were almost all overgrown, with very few cared for food crops, and there were two big, barking dogs next door. Bacon had me collect a soil sample and he sent it out to find out just how high the lead was.

The other garden was considerably closer and very inviting, with nicely tended beds growing actual food. The caveat here was dual. There was one gardener who didn’t take care of or even hardly use her bed. The guy who ran this garden was trying to get her to give up her bed. We were sort of waiting to see the outcome. Otherwise, he thought there would probably be room to build a new bed.

I hate waiting to resolve unknowns. As soon as the baby came out and I had half a body back for doing stuff, I was raring to go. But it has been a hurry-up-and-wait scenario. When Bacon called me today to say he was heading over to the latter garden, and did I want to meet him there to scope it out, I was elated. So far all the talk of a new bed had been purely theoretical, and always with the word “probably” involved. I was anxious to see if the idea would hold water, as it were.

The kiddos and I were on a walk when he called, so we just kept walking. It took about 40 minutes to get to the garden (from our house). The garden’s coordinator was there already, spreading some pine needle mulch, Bacon arrived a few minutes later. We stood around and contemplated the garden, laid out kind of poorly if you ask me, just a lot of wasted space. None of the wasted space was big enough for a regular bed (their beds are like 12 by 12 or something, big squares), but along the fence, behind on of the big beds was a strip 4 feet wide, and 16 feet long. Voila! A garden bed if ya ask me!

The coordinator looked pleased, shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, it’s yours!” I felt to be grinning ear to ear, though probably looked more subdued. Bacon and I measured and figured how much lumber we’d need. He’s got several ideas for scrounging it, though I said I’d be happy to buy boards if necessary. He’s also got a line on some big pile of 30 year old manure which ought to make fab-dab-ulous dirt mixed with some delta sand. Oooooo boy (rubbing of hands) I can hardly wait!

Now I get to find out just how hard it is to battle the weeds and bugs in this jungle swamp!

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