For most of this summer and fall, I head out every Tuesday morning to volunteer at the Food Bank garden plot, in our community gardens at the Howard County Conservancy. Besides putting together the bags full of ripe vegetables, it has been a real learning experience for me as a gardener. I am of the opinion that we are never too old to learn new things, so whenever I can benefit from someone else’s knowledge, I jump at the chance.
This summer I learned about many new vegetables. New gardening techniques. New recipes for some of the new vegetables. I also learned while there, that a small unselfish group of people come out almost every week to give their time, and/or to add personal garden items to our donations.
This year, we have already surpassed our previous grand total. I think we are at about 3/4 ton of food donated. We have some vegetables that keep on giving, week after week for months on end.
Like these collard greens. We are getting large bags full of these leaves every single week. And, they still keep putting out new growth. The other amazing producer is chard.
The rainbow chard shown here has been going strong all summer. The member who gardens this plot has told us to thin it each week until a hard frost dies it off. I got pounds of this colorful vegetable yesterday.
A third big producer is kale. All sorts of kale are grown in our gardens. Tuscan. Curly. And, Russian.
The Red Russian kale is more delicate, and buttery in flavor. Easier to cook. Kale, by the way, is even better after a first frost so we hope to have fresh food to donate for a number of weeks to come.
In early August, we replanted the area with carrots and beets.
They aren’t quite ready to harvest yet, but we have been thinning them to let the rows have enough room for the plants to get larger. That means we harvest baby beets, or beet greens, or carrot tops. Beet greens and carrot tops. For those in the know, beet greens are one outstandingly good sautéed green. Particularly those little greens pulled out before the beets develop.
I also learned of a new variety of cabbage. Pointed cabbage. Also called sweetheart cabbage.
We harvested six of these yesterday, and four a week ago. Another thing learned this summer. Cabbage will regenerate smaller heads if you carefully cut out the ripe large one on a plant.
There will be small heads of cabbage forming around the center area where we removed the first one last week.
As for techniques, this one picture from our August work party, just before a dozen volunteers descended upon the gardens shows two of them I learned.
I learned a better way to trellis tomato plants, using rebar and string. My plants this summer, heavy with fruit were causing my cages to lean. I had to resort to rebar to keep them from crashing over. I also learned how to use hoops and row cover to my advantage. To prolong a harvest, keep out harmful insects and keep frost from settling on my delicate plants.
All in all, I was given quite a bit of knowledge this summer in exchange for a few hours of work. Not a bad deal at all.