She fingers a baby okra, then looks at me. It’s in her eyes, the question, “Can I pluck this?”
Questions and answers, touching and feeling, being and doing – our garden brings all of these to life with intensity and joy and lots of sweat and muck.
For someone who probably holds the record for killing the most money plants due to neglect, the renaissance of our garden project is huge. After I got pregnant with Roo in 2013 our vegetable garden quickly became overgrown with weeds.
It was an eyesore that I had to constantly avert my eyes from but I became hopeful again when Roo turned 14 months old last February, had started walking and the older children could help watch her a little more.
Growing our edible garden again has evoked several consistent themes. Here are some of them:
1. Starting something new is always hard.
In February 2015, we started pak choy and spinach seedlings. Sweet Man and I then spent a couple of days getting rid of weeds, repositioning our vegetable bed frames and double digging to loosen the hardened soil. We hadn’t done this kind of work in a long time, so our muscles paid the price!
During the rest of the month we were busy with Chinese New Year celebrations. In that time, we let the beds rest and covered them with tarp to allow the remaining weeds to die off.
Meanwhile, our seedlings were growing ….
2. Getting hands-on help and advice from someone experienced is invaluable.
In March, I dug a bed along the left wall with the intention of planting passion fruit and flowers to enliven the area.
My mother brought me a young passion fruit tree and I dug a huge hole for it in the left corner of the flower bed.
My mother is an avid gardener who grew up in the Cameron Highlands and her own mother had a thriving and successful vegetable garden. Watching Puppy, Lamb and Piglet learning from their Po Po (grandmother) how to transplant spinach and pak choy seedlings was something special. They also sowed okra seeds directly into the soil.
Everyone loved going barefoot and getting their hands in!
3. The human baby comes first before the garden baby.
With all the tarp off, the threat of weeds was a constant challenge.
There is no way you can keep a wee toddler out of the garden especially when you want to be there, and she is still nursing every few hours.
Roo was always about and sometimes I had to nurse with her on one side and weed with the other hand. Other days I had to just sit back and let those weeds grow.
These blossoms inspired and kept me going
4. When everything is happening at once, the garden has to wait.
By the end of March, okra, smooth-leaved spinach, Malabar spinach, water convolvulus (kangkung) and sweet potato leaves were growing fast. Unfortunately our family was hit by a cold bug that plagued us for three long months. Four cycles of colds!
With everyone taking it in turns getting sick, including myself, I didn’t have the time or energy to harvest veggies regularly.
Weeds overtook the garden paths.
But our incapacity is a blessing in other ways. It forces us to sit back and remember our complete dependence on God. It also keeps us focused on the essentials.
So April was a busy month saying no to garden work and keeping up with other ongoing things – chores, homeschooling, Puppy’s 9th birthday, Easter preparations, school Sports Day, and community projects at church.
5. Taking up gardening means learning all kinds of new skills, like carpentry!
The fast-growing passion fruit vine desperately needed a trellis to climb on, so despite still having a cold I had to figure out how to build a suitable structure for it.
And how to do it with a sick, snotty little Roo clinging to me.
We got these pieces of good quality hard wood from my parents. They had some unused ones to spare, so one evening we went over to their house with a hand saw and Sweet Man cut all the pieces we needed.
He also very patiently taught me how to use a hammer and nails, having a good laugh every now and then.
Four year old Piglet helped me varnish the trellis with food-grade mineral oil while Roo napped and he asked me questions about the Virgin Birth, of all the topics in the world!
Sweet Man drilled holes and helped me screw in the trellis the next day. It’s positioned at the side of the garden to avoid sheltering other vegetables from direct sunlight and where we hope the passion fruit will eventually hide our neighbour’s ugly extension.
I realised the passion fruit needed a bit more help to climb and so had to string twine in between the bars. It would have been easier if we’d done it before installation. Live and learn!
You could also say we learned another new skill by aiming and throwing a stringed pebble just at the right place and weaving twine in and out of the trellis. The kids loved the challenge.
Meanwhile, the Malabar spinach and kangkung were doing well.
Malabar spinach is a fast-growing vegetable and an excellent source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and phosphorus. It also provides us with dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.
Kangkung (or water convolvulus) is also full of nutritional goodness: A 100g serving contains water (90%), protein (3%), fibre (3%), fat (0.9%), carbohydrate (4.3%), minerals (2%), nicotinamide (0.6mg), riboflavin (120mg), vitamin C (137mg) and vitamin E (11mg).
We love both as a quick stir-fry. I’m sure many nutrients are lost in the cooking process so we try to eat as much as possible over both lunch and dinner.
6. Planting flowers in an edible garden definitely makes the whole project more pleasing to the eye.
My mother had a significant hand in establishing this lovely flower bed to disguise the old railing that separates the flat garden from the slope beyond. Thank you, as always, Ma.
And thank you, Roo baby and Piglet for helping me water the blossoms. I always need more than two hands!
7. When veggies really start growing, it can be hard to keep up.
Okra and spinach, exactly 2 months after planting. Don’t they look wild!
Overgrown sweet potato leaves, Malabar spinach, kangkung and more okra. We always have an overabundance of sweet potato leaves. They grow so quickly we can eat a stir-fry twice a week and hardly see a difference in what’s left.
Ma brought me a lemon plant! I planted this on the slope, next to the fence.
Oh no! What’s this bug attacking the okra?? The two boys began an intense hobby of bug-catching. We now have a designated Bug Jar for all varieties of captured devils.
I also started hunting for an effective natural pesticide recipe which I’ll share in a future post.
8. A good harvest is a good motivation to persevere.
15 May 2015. We were still suffering from that nasty cold that began end-March and I wondered when it would ever end.
Besides keeping up with the house, children, and mid-year exams for Puppy and Lamb, I also had new challenges – sorting and storing all the disorganised garden tools and general equipment and repainting the peeling awning above. If the kids were going to be out there more often, we needed to keep it child-friendly.
With those projects underway, grass eventually grew over the bare patches of the lawn.
In mid-May, the okra started flowering. By the end of June, we had so much okra to harvest I didn’t need to buy any.
The bumper crop of okra was an encouragement for me to see what could finally become of the messy backyard – an edible garden and outdoor green space for the whole family to relax and play.
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