A few weeks into my attempt at urban gardening and I was already feeling at home. Comfortable. I am a firm believer that we were meant to do certain things in this life. I guess it makes sense because every generation prior to mine, on my mother’s side of the family have been involved in agriculture. Growing up in the West Indies my family’s main source of income came from a 68 acre mountain cocoa and coffee estate; called La Laja. I spent every summer and many weekends there, in the cool and crisp air. Most mornings I would get up to see the mist rolling down towards the valley floor, eat something delicious, but simple with coffee or creole cocoa tea. Then it was off into the forest with my brother and/or cousin to have an adventure.
At the age of 5, I was already initiated into the generations of hunters in my family with my very own slingshot. Mostly, we hunted birds – my brother was especially good at this and we often were able to reap the rewards of our efforts. We had such freedom to roam and even though we were given no official boundaries, we would never stray very far from the adults in our family. Returning to my great-grandmothers base camp we prepared our meals. Base camps were used for temporary housing, to store a harvest before transportation into town to be sold at market. It included a couple of rooms, an outdoor kitchen with a clay wood burning oven, an outdoor latrine and of course – hammocks, my favorite. A number of these camps dot their way, until the final one almost at the top of the mountain. We would sit down to feathering the bird(s), lucky if we had more than one to share among ourselves. Once the initial layer of feather were removed, we would burn off the fine feathers using heat from the embers of the wood burning stove, then remove the innards. Often, we saved the liver, heart and gizzard – delicious! Seasoned simply with salt, pepper and then roasted using the open fire (the fire also seemed to have a seasoning all its own). My piece of roast bird was often no more than a taste, but it was for the adventure and something to share/do with my brother and cousins that mattered most.
I would also help my great-grandmother plant peas higher up the hill behind her camp. We utilized a stepped-irrigation-agriculture system. Think of stairs cut out into the side of a mountain, we would plant crops on the flat portion and the natural rain/due accumulations would run off keeping everything naturally irrigated. Every time I visit my native country, I must set foot on these lands. It’s funny because I immigrated to the US when I was 9 years old and would consider myself very much American and a New Yorker at that, spending much of my time since then doing things totally unrelated to my initial upbringing. But, something about this rectangular plot of earth made sense to me, that besides all my education and professional success, we will always find a way to be, that which we were always meant to.
I dug right in, weeding out, well, weeds and staking my small tomato plants. My mother was making a trip to the Terminal market in Canarsie (great place for plants in Brooklyn). I asked her to pick me up whatever looked fresh and vibrant. She dropped off a tray mixed with sun peppers (small sweet peppers), sweet basil and rosemary. It was a good place to start, I didn’t want to over-crowd the plot to the point that my plants would have to compete for nutrients. This also is not the most productive way to stimulate abundant yields of fruit from them neither. The new garden director had water lines, interspersed with stand pipes installed every 10 ft. throughout the garden. This made watering very convenient. Within a few weeks, I began to see the rewards of my labor. Everything was growing nicely together, there was an even an unoccupied space and I decided to try germinating some beans. Then I noticed another pleasant surprise from the rich layer of compost within my plot; a vine. At this point, I assumed it was cucumber.
In mid-July I had a federal conference to attend in Chicago, I asked a friend that lived a couple of block away from campus to stop in and water if needed. When I got back she told me it had rained often enough that she didn’t even have to stop by for a visit. So, a week and a half later – I drove on campus at around 7:45 AM, early enough to check up on my garden. I was shocked to see that my garden had almost doubled in size and overgrown. I headed to a home supply store, bought some cheap wooden stakes. After I took care of the overgrowth, I took care of some of the large weeds and finally my garden was ready for full production.
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