A few weeks ago we had our first harvest in our Row for the Hungry. For the last year one of the rows at the Children’s Garden at Green Chimneys has been put aside to grow vegetables for a food pantry in Brewster, N.Y. Its creation was the idea of a young girl a few winter’s ago after being told about how children around the world were going hungry. She said that it would be a good idea if we could grow vegetables in the garden for those less fortunate. And we have been doing just that for the last year. In 2009, we harvested over 100 pounds of food from a single 3-by-35-foot row.
A few weeks ago my students and I made an initial harvest. The morning was clear and crisp as we removed the Agribon cover from the row to reveal lushly growing romaine lettuce, arugula, parsley, spinach and broccoli. The radishes and carrots have not yet emerged, a problem we seem to be having in other garden rows.
We had planted this row only a month ago. The warm weather along with frequent rains have accelerated their growth giving us an early harvest. As we pulled off the Agribon, one of my students wanted to know why we covered the plants.
“It keeps them warm,” I replied. “Then why are we taking the cloth off?,” my young charge retorted.
“Well do you stay in bed all day?” I asked. “No, it would be too hot under the blankets.” I smiled. “Plants are the same.”
I told Bill to be extra careful in removing the cloth as we wanted to preserve as much of the greens as possible; today we would harvest half of the arugula and lettuce. As I surveyed our row, I couldn’t help but feeling proud that I and the children would be helping to feed less fortunate people in a near-by town. But I also felt a bit of discomfort as I modify my teaching methods to maximize the yield of the row as my loyalties are split between helping the students and feeding the hungry.
When I work with a child on the row, we work closely together so that I’m sure that we have straight rows of closely aligned plants. Unlike many of the other rows in the garden, which are organized though not that tightly, I have taken clues from Mel Bartholomew’s classic book, “Square Foot Gardening,” to get my students to plant tightly and well. Typically when I work with children I give them much leeway to encourage independent thought and action. But when we are working with the Row for the Hungry, much of this goes by the wayside and a tighter control is given. It makes it more challenging to weed, though a tighter planting tends to discourage their rampant growth.
For some kids, this is exactly what they need as their actions and thoughts are pure id and without such control would not pay attention to the job at hand. By paying close attention to the child, I hope to serve both clients: the ones who need the food as well as the ones who need help and understanding.
Bill and I washed out a tub for the greens. As romaine will not grow back after you cut it (unlike arugula), I told Bill that we need to cut it near the ground but not below the soil line. I showed him how I wanted to cut the lettuce so we got a head (rather than a bunch of leaves.) Bill had a problem with the first half-dozen or so heads sometimes cutting too high, other times in the soil and too low. With some careful guidance, however, Bill was able to soon cut the lettuce like a pro and was able to take nicely cut heads from the garden with a minimum about of soil. When weighed, we had 5 pounds of romaine.
The arugula was different as we needed to just cut the leaves. This came more naturally to Bill and he was more enthusiastic about that portion of his job. He quickly gathered what we needed for the day. We added 1 pound of arugula to the day’s harvest.
Bill was amazed that the lettuce grew so quickly and fast. He and I had planted it only a month ago in the garden from seedlings. But he was happy that our efforts bore fruit (or in this case lettuce.) To reward his help, we walked over to the asparagus patch and I cut a new shoot for him to have. He knows that we don’t have that much asparagus and such a spear is a real reward. As we walked to refrigerate our harvests, I thought to myself that perhaps I am able to serve both my client bases just fine.