Sunday, June 24, 2012

Time for zucchini recipes and tomatillos

Hey gardeners and neighbors! Despite the dry weather, our Madison Street garden has been very productive. On Sunday morning, I noticed the first few tomatillos growing on the vine. 

The tomatillo is an interesting vegetable, used a lot in Mexican cooking and green sauces. But it's not really a green tomato, even though the plants look much like tomato vines. The fruit is green, or one of a few colors, but it grows inside a small sac that feels like paper or parchment almost.

The tomatillos share a raised bed with hot peppers and cilantro, for anyone thinking of salsa when they're ready -- some are chili peppers, some hot Thai.

There's also young eggplant and okra plants in that bed. The eggplant has begun to flower, the okra will be later though. And it'll be hard to miss, because okra plants have such pretty flowers that you'd almost want to grow them for their beauty instead of their fruit. Be sure to check them out when you visit.

Fair warning: It's already zucchini season, so lock your doors. Billy, Ernestine, E.J. and Anne are among those who've been picking and planning to use some squash, though a few other varieties won't be ready until later in the season. E.J. has talked about mixing his with carrots, and Graci talked about making zucchini bread. I've made a decent veggie lasagne that uses lots of zucchini -- but if you have a unique zucchini recipe, please send it to me! 

We're also looking for different ways you fix your collards or mixed greens, and I look forward to sharing those recipes. 

Kale and spinach have been surviving the heat, and there's still a few peas. We've replaced some of the green pea rows with black-eyed peas -- they're a lot happier in the hot weather -- and we hope they'll be ready in late August or early September, when we will switch back to the fall crops.

A few cabbage heads are still available too, as the spring cool weather crops give way to the green peppers, tomatoes and lots of beans. We've already planted green and purple beans, and they're both starting to flower. We added a few new bean rows on Saturday after we removed more of the pea vines too. I saved all of the brown, dried-up pods, soaked them and made a pot of pea soup Sunday. There's still plenty of green pea vine producing though.

We also let some of the radish go to seed and as Valjean helped to weed that bed, we saved the pods. They are edible and have a milder radishy taste that you may like to try in salads or stir fry, especially if radishes are a little too strong for your tastes. There's a few pods still on the picnic table. 

Finally, thanks to Gavin, who has been making friends with some of the younger children and teaching them a little bit of gardening, too. Gavin wants to encourage math skills -- it's among his own strong suits in grad school -- and he's been talking about ways maybe to teach simple math skills based on gardening problems. We try to never miss a teaching moment when kids are at the garden, but we'd love more ideas on how to add value to the children's gardening time so let us know about them. 

Gavin's caught two of those pesky groundhogs as well, so be sure to thank him when you see him. And for his efforts? Gavin has a new catnip plant to go with his adorable new green-eyed kitten.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Tour de Unity and Locavesting

If you're out walking, you may notice bright green route-marker arrows on the pavement. The Tour de Unity fundraising bike ride was Sunday, and featured a visit to the Madison Square Garden site. 

We did the whole 25 miles, visiting the Unity Gardens around town, hearing the stories of neighborhoods and communities growing together. 

Plus, we checked out the new mural on Dave's garage wall. It was painted just in time to greet our Unity bicycle guests to the neighborhood, and we decided a few weeks ago that an urban garden theme on that old barn of his would be a lot better than one of those Chew Mail Pouch fading paint jobs. Thanks Graci Watkins for help with some true artistic talent and beauty!

Tour de Unity riders aren't the only ones to make recent visits to the Madison site. New friend Ira recently stopped by to donate seeds, and Jennifer helped take more of the bountiful peas off our hands on Friday.

We've harvested more cabbage and collard greens, and there's likely a few raspberries. Zucchini is coming on strong -- some almost ready this week -- and many small green tomatoes and peppers have formed well. The heat has been hard on all gardeners, but we saw some much-needed rain.

Other recent guests to the garden included Fred Ferlic, the 4th District councilman interested in how South Bend residents, as ordinary citizens caring about the city's future, can help rebuild and beautify our neighborhoods. About 30 stakeholders and constituents toured the garden and the immediate area, and then met back at the Robinson Community Learning Center to discuss ways that Neighborhood Watch, Code Enforcement, Unity Gardens, private investors and other partners can help local communities do that. There's an ongoing conversation on strategies to improve safety and quality of life. Thanks Gary King for the photos!

I recently read "Locavesting" by Amy Cortese. While many of us are familiar with supporting "go local" movements, like local food or shopping, Cortese takes that local ethos, that local focus on creating vibrancy and resiliency, and extends it into local philanthropy and, mostly, local investing. It's a pretty quick read with some interesting ideas on a "local view" that began to captivate me a few years ago: how to put your money into where you and your neighbors live. And as many of us have come to understand urban gardens, local food co-ops and groups like Sholo, it's a natural extension of "local."

Comfortably sophisticated but really accessible in its writing style, Cortese's book takes a look at how to invest in local businesses and opportunities, drawing from models in other American cities where revitalization is being accomplished by ordinary citizens networking, pooling resources and seeking creative solutions to their economic roadblocks and dislocations. They're bypassing venture capitalists and creating their own adventures. And they are, as I sometimes put it, opting more and more out of Wall Street and choosing to "occupy" Walsh Street -- in quiet, modest, constructive ways at home.

South Bend has plenty of us. For example, check out what Beth Harsch is doing online at this link:, where you can find lots of service opportunities, grassroots ideas and events. I've met Beth, and she made me laugh out loud when she introduced herself as "just a person." 

There's some wonderful stuff getting done by a lot of just-a-persons around town, including the entire Unity Gardens network, the impact the gardens have on neighborhoods and community health, and the endless innovation set into a sense of place they spark as people, disciplines and interests connect.

So I'd love to hear some of your own just-a-person stories, even if you don't want to use your name publicly. 

Tell me what you, or someone you know, does quietly -- OK, quietly except for Felicia and Herschel and his Madison Street drumming, since we all know that's the best kind of not quiet. ... But I'll bet there's other just-us-persons like me who want to know about it and I'd love to put them on the website.

Which reminds me -- we did have some names come up recently, and congratulations to new Northeast Neighborhood Council members, Gary (LaSalle) and both Tim and Rob (Madison)!