Sunday, March 14, 2010

Let the Spring Garden Begin!

On Saturday morning, the spring weather led me to contemplate the lush green weed beds in our backyard. Could we transform them into their former gardenhood glory? I needed more inspiration than the weather and the stretch of a long day ahead of us. And then I remembered a post on facebook from Healing Grounds inviting us to a "Spring Organic Garden Workshop."

We had no firm plans for the day, so I looked up the details and after a bit of cajoling, I had the whole family packed into the car and we drove out of Santa Barbara all the way to Carpinteria to Island View Nursery. Despite growing up in Santa Ynez valley and living in Santa Barbara on and off over the last 20 years, I had never ventured down to visit the lush farmlands of Carpinteria--not an orchid farm, not a tulip field, nada. My abstinence is now broken. Island View is a beautiful, rambling rectangular stretch of a nursery. Sculpted figures of fish, deer, sea horses and other creatures are placed throughout the meandering stone paths surrounded by plants for sale. A spacious greenhouse style interior area, with Buddha statues, and other zen garden decorations spans across several rooms with a wide variety of beautiful plants, seed displays and other garden supplies.

I had only seen 5 RSVPs on the facebook invitation, but clearly, word had been distributed in other ways. The parking lot was close to full when we arrived. As if the setting for a garden wedding, wooden folding chairs were lined up, facing a central table with plants upon it placed in the shade of a large oak tree. Oscar Carmona, owner of Healing Grounds stood, ready to speak.

I knew Oscar during my time at UCSB in a past lifetime. We played in a saxophone quartet together, he on tenor, and I on alto. Back then, he talked of starting a music therapy offering, long before I'd heard the idea anywhere else. He always had a penchant for organic processes, and his metamorphoses into a master gardener and wholesale seed and plant business owner is an understandable development. The workshop began. He spoke gently, perhaps even a bit awkwardly at first. But once he was warmed up, the information flowed from his deep well of knowledge. My hand longed for pen and paper to write it all down, but then I remembered the flip camcorder in my pocket. Of course I brought it to record my toddler in action, but capturing Oscar talking so eloquently and effortlessly about Spring gardening was a worthy use of my limited footage. Did you know there are between 200 and 300 varieties of tomatoes?

Did you know that its hard to grow Beef Steak tomatoes in coastal areas, because of the fluctuating temperatures? Did you know that you can grow almost anything in the Santa Barbara area because of our temperate weather? Do you envision your garden as a series of micro climates? One thing that Oscar repeated, as if for me personally, was that he doesn't believe people who say they have a brown thumb. Because gardening is easy as long as you are present and invest the time in being in the garden, observing, paying attention, and taking the time. If you turn your back for a week, or even a few days, you can return, shocked at all the changes taking place. Plants need water for instance. If you forget about that, sometimes they don't make it. Zucchinis can turn into gargantuan squash if you turn your back for a long minute. Mint can take over your whole garden. Lettuces need the cool, shady microcimates within your garden. There are no bad bugs. The bugs we consider as the bad ones are snackfood for the beneficial bugs. The best fertilizer is your household compost.

Other highlights of my visit to Island View nursery were two kids on dirt bikes. They saw us looking for certain plants and they shot us information. "These are all organic," the one kid said. "Hey, grab a tray of kale" the other said to his companion. "How do you know so much about plants?" "We live next door and we grew up gardening." My bigger vision for Ezra's relationship to the earth, the food chain, and his knowledge banks on how it all worked crystalized as I observed these earth loving kids on dirt bikes.

It wasn't until today after church that our family spent the day in the garden weeding, moving soil around, emptying our compost bin and plotting out which plants would go in which micro-climates. Ezra used his largest Tonka truck to load up weeds that I pulled and take them to the "city" and Arie Jan used the pick axe to airate the soil. I tried to appreciate the thick black sludge at the bottom of the compost bin. I could get my head around its value to our organic gardening process, but oh the stench! By 3pm, we had two beautiful beds of tomatoes and lettuce planted and four more beds cleared of weeds, awaiting the tiny organic vegetable plants still standing at attention in their plastic trays, longing to unfurl their roots in a long stretch of soil.

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