Saturday, May 9, 2009

Food, Memories, Gardens and Families

Food from gardens is something near to my heart. For a few reasons. One my great grandmother, Lillian Finn, went to college and became a nutritionist when she was 35. Second I split my time between the East Side of Buffalo where I was born and my home which was the old Singer's Orchard in the South Towns. We raised apples, cherries, pears, plums not to mention the the 16 garden beds and a 40 by 40 veggie bed. Third, I was raised on PBS. Who often interjected about the importance of community, health, and loving life.

The east side of Buffalo and our orchard near the Boston hills were worlds apart. I got to see both sides. I participated in events like the Love Joy Halloween parade on the East Side. Yet, I was throwing nets over cheery trees so the crows didn't steel them all. I would take a quarter my great grand mother Lilly Mae gave me, cross Filmore Ave as she waved me on from her second floor apartment, walk to the corner vending machine, and out fell a frozen carton of milk. Then again harvest time meant climbing into the plum tree and eating the purple drops of lushness while bouncing on a branch.

I remember my mom making cherries jubilee lighting the flames and presenting it to the table. Or the rhubarb crisp, apple pie, and mammoth berries off the rod. All pies were made in sheet cake pans about 16 by 24 inches. They last longer that way.

The wild animals loved the food. And the deer were kept healthy all winter long digging up the apples that were left on the ground. Which brings me to another thought. Farming and gardening is done differently in the city.

Last year, as people walk by my wild front garden, they would point to a plant asking for its name (which I often do not know) or comment on how much it has changed from two years ago. Even a seasoned "Garden Walk" participant asked how we got the plants to maturity in only two years. As I watch other gardeners I began to realize that many of the gardeners in cities and suburbs are different then in small towns and small farms. I have a few rules of I follow mostly because they worked for my mom. Much of what I know has been past down in my family. And every time I listen to my mom I am reminded of how little I know.

For example here are some things that are different between city and country:

1. If you want to remove a vine from a building cut the vines at the based from the roots. Let them die over winter. Then you may have a chance at scrapping them off the wood.

2. Rake your leaves ONTO your garden before the first frost. It should not be a foot thick or you can get rot. But a healthy 1-2 inches allows normal microbial breakdown, sustains nutrients in the ground and it is free.

3. Never ever KILL the microbes in your garden. You are better off with a few grubs and a ton of good fungi and bacteria then a sterile garden and or lawn. Sometime I walk by a lawn and I see a pretty green lawn with short dandelions. And sometimes I see a lawn that obviously has damage soil. These are the lawns that are deep green in the spring. They suffer from synthetic fertilizers and even pesticides. The owner thinks the deep green is a sign of a well maintained lawn. Deep green like that usually means the plant is pumped up on chemicals, will be short lived, die back, get sun burn, and only causes more work. Most of these lawns I see are homogeneous which is a lawn made of one species of grass. This is an odd thing to do to a lawn. A healthy lawn will have about 15% minimum of weeds and at least a couple species of grass. Some "weeds" are good for gardens as well. The lawn is an easy and obvious example.

4. Do you need to kill off grass? Spray vinegar ! The type you can get from a grocery store is perfect and then cover the ground with a tarp. If you are only killing grass and dandelions, a few weeks will do it. You also do not get the die off of the beneficial microbes. But if you have a creeping plant, with runners, you can over the ground in fall and come spring the ground should be ready to go. That is what I did with a front section of my lawn. It had an invasive weed that would choke out other plants. Now I have perfectly cleared ground to work with. I did get some weeds growing on top of the tarp but they popped off the ground when the tarp was lifted up. I also did no harm. My yard is carcinogen free. It is safe for children, dogs, my friends, family and me.

I have also been learning a lot about family. Right now with a toddler I can only work in the backyard or risk her running into the street every time she sees the neighbor's dog when in the front yard. But sometimes I get to go out and just work on the front garden. I enjoy working on my garden. It is not very old. Developing a healthy lush garden does not happen over night. I sometimes just focus on what I am doing. Other times I think about my relatives back when they had farms and what it was like for them. I have recorded the foods they grew and where they were sold. I have recipes from each relative that came to live in Buffalo whether they were from Italy or North Carolina. I have my great grandma Lilly Mae's southern cole slaw and biscuits. I have my Great grandma Lucy's Florentine mint cheese over sized ravioli. I have my mom's pizza, cherries jubilee, and sheet cake pan apple pie. And my Dad's lasagna. Though I am a vegetarian I have my... let me think here, yeah, great great grandma Maria's Abruzzi lamb/beef mint meat ball recipe. Wow, food is good. I just realized I have a food associated with each person in my family. There are more but I'll stop the the flashbacks now. It has been 4-5 generations since anyone made farming a living in my family. But we always maintained land, gardens and trees despite our careers. The foods and recipes each family member favored is reflective of the farms and places they were from.

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