Thursday, September 24, 2009

North Montrose garden of field peas and okra

The other day we were on our way to the grocery store, when we drove by a fantastic community garden. I saw it out the window and yelled, "Stop!" We stopped the car, and I got out to talk to a man who was working in the garden. He told me that it's a community garden sponsored by Urban Harvest, a pro-gardening organization in Houston. All the food goes to Loaves and Fishes, which feeds hungry homeless people. As my partner noted, though, maybe it should be called Field Peas and Okra, because that's mainly what this garden contributes. He imagined homeless people yelling, "Where are our loaves and fishes? All you give us is field peas and okra!"

This garden is small but it produces a lot of both vegetables. The thing that really piqued my interest was the way they had built trellises for the field peas. I usually don't do that; I just plant them in rows like bush beans. But this summer, I planted a kind called Big Red Ripper, and it obviously wanted to climb. It sprawled out into the paths, became a tangled jungle of vines and leaves, and eventually found a teepee made out of bamboo, which it climbed straight up. Field peas don't twine around bamboo like regular beans do; they sort of lean on the trellis somehow. To be honest, I'm not sure how they climb, but they do. They don't have tendrils like squash either. But from now on I'm going to trellis mine in TN, because they seem happier and not so crowded, and it's easier to pick them.

At the North Montrose garden, they use the same trellising material that I make my tomato cages out of: reinforcing mesh. It comes in a roll about five feet tall, and you cut it into lengths of about seven feet and then bend it into a circle to make a cage, for tomatoes or peas or cucumbers or anything that needs a sturdy trellis. The squares of the mesh are big enough to put your hand through.

At the North Montrose garden, they were also growing Big Red Ripper. I ate one.

The okra was a sight to behold. It was just ordinary Clemson Spineless--nothing exotic--but it had grown to heroic proportions. The plants were like small trees, about six feet tall, well-branched and loaded with okra. They made my okra plants in TN look puny in comparison. Maybe these mammoth plants had over-wintered from last summer, as peppers also do sometimes in Houston. Or maybe the fact that you can plant okra in March here makes it possible for them to get really humongous.

For dessert, the North Montrose garden apparently gives the homeless people citrus fruit. There were about four or five citrus trees to one side, looking very healthy and green, and loaded with fruit. I think this one is a Meyer Lemon.

Also there was a cool trellis for bitter melon (I think that's what this is). It arched over the middle of the bed, so the melons could hang down. I thought I might do this for my Suyo Long cucumbers next summer. The only difficulty would be that you might have to step into the bed to harvest the cucumbers.

Lots of good ideas were gleaned from the North Montrose community garden in Houston.

Next month is VeganMoFo or Vegan Month of Food. Since I'm not on Brangus Lane right now, I will be devoting space in this blog to the veganizing of various recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, as well as talking about vegetable and fruit gardening in Houston.

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