I got an email this week that said, “The ditch is dry. The water is done for the year.” And just like that, our little plot at the Aspen Community Garden is finished for the season.
We all knew the snow was coming, so last week I went out there for the final harvest, pulling plump carrots, round beets and tiny but tart purple onions from the ground. The zucchini plants that won’t stop giving even had a few straggling squash to pick. But the lettuce was long gone, and the pumpkins and watermelon – what was I thinking? – never materialized.
I learned a lot in our inaugural year as community garden members. Plant more beets and herbs and fewer zucchini and lettuce. And those are just lessons from our humble plot.
The best way to see what works is to peep on the pros – people who have been gardening in the space for decades and have it down to a science. Other plants that apparently grow well are kale, raspberries, chard, green beans and flowers.
The whole place is just a lovely oasis. On summer nights, when the temps finally dip enough to make it enjoyable to spend time digging in the soil, the garden is full of people getting their fingernails dirty. They’re weeding, picking and sometimes just sitting there watching their bounty grow.
Besides sharing communal space, everyone is sharing suggestions and smiles. Sometimes you even get sent home with something you didn’t actually grow, like fresh flowers or a bowl of berries. It’s easy to see how each plot affects the ones around it through mimicry, and then sometimes quite literally with orphaned seeds. I loved the end of the summer when sunflowers randomly stood sentry throughout the garden. It probably started with one person planting them, and then the tall, bright flowers spread, uniting each plot in the delightful flower.
But it’s time to till the soil and prepare for next year. And instead of fresh salads, we now turn to soup. Fortunately this recipe from Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s “Eat to Live” uses lots of produce that can be grown locally. Loved, cared-for vegetables just taste better.
1 cup dried split peas
4 cups water
6-10 medium zucchini
5 pounds carrots, juiced*
2 bunches celery, juiced*
1 teaspoon no-salt seasoning
4 medium onions, chopped
3 leek stalks, coarsely chopped
2 bunches kale, collard greens
or other greens, tough stems
and center ribs removed and
1 cup raw cashews
2 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms
(shiitake, cremini and/or
Place the beans and water in a very large pot over low heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Add the zucchini whole to the pot. Add the carrot juice, celery juice and seasoning. Put the onions, leeks and kale in a blender and blend with a little bit of the soup liquid. Pour this mixture into the soup pot. Remove the softened zucchini with tongs and blend them in the blender with the cashews until creamy. Pour this mixture back into the soup pot. Add the mushrooms and continue to simmer the beans until soft, about 2 hours total cooking time.
*The carrots and celery can be added pureed or slightly diced in lieu of juicing.
Christine Benedetti writes about food here every other week. Mostly the plant kind. She’s editor-in-chief of Aspen magazine, but you can reach her @cabenedetti.