Down to Earth: Garden Update

Winter Harvest, sooooo many mangos!

The first apartment I lived in in Chicago was on Chicago Avenue. There were grates with trees embedded in the sidewalk every half block or so. I had come from Des Moines, a small verdant city. The neighborhood I lived in was abundant with massive old trees and ample the green space of various parks and rolling velvet green lawns running into each other from home to apartment building, doctors’ offices, and florists, broken only by grocery store parking lots.  

Chicago was the largest city I had ever lived in. The neighborhood wasn’t bad, but it was decidedly urban. I was blocks away from a park or even a neighbor’s yard. So, I planted some zinnias in the tree grate outside our door. I could see them from the front window of my apartment. They offered a small comfort to a small-town girl in a big city.  

Though my predilection is to plant, I have never considered myself a gardener. Perhaps because I have never had a really successful garden, but my mindset on what constitutes success is changing. Hopefully, my opinion of my gardening skills will evolve as well. 

For many years, I have wanted to create a food forest. Felipe and my opinions differed on this, so until now, my property had been planted in a more traditional vegetable garden, ornamental plant kind-of-way.  I was still in that mindset when I planted my recent row garden. I hoped to eat a reasonable amount of our vegetables from it during the rainy season, and we did!  But now, I will cultivate my dream of living in harmony with the peace(Freudian slip 😉 of the planet I humbly call mine.

My gorgeous black bamboo.

Food forests are more of a long view. In my vision, walking around the garden eating handfuls of various fruits, vegetables, weeds, and roots constitutes a meal, connection, and true success. Rather than harvesting a bounty of zucchini– making your neighbors avoid you because they don’t want you to give them more, and eating more zucchini bread in a season than you want to eat in your life, kind of garden. I’m not knocking vegetable gardens, I will still plant a plot or two next year. There is not a true midwesterner who doesn’t admire a bountiful vegetable garden and a pantry packed full from it, ready for winter. But, my intention for my current garden is: no formal beds and layered plantings that mimic natural forest systems.

To that end, jocotes, moringa, guaje and turmeric are going in pots, ready to be planted during the rains. We are going the old school, stick-a-stick-in-a-pot route on the trees.  I’m also planning to put in chaya, chipilin, papalos, yuca, and any other low-maintenance food plant I can find.

In the meantime, I will be addressing the black bamboo. There are corms to harvest and dry. I plan to make a room divider to mask the ugly tech occupying my guest room, and make a mamasan chair!  

The Surinam cherries are going bonkers, we should have a harvest soon, and I’m looking forward to making the Suriman cherry curd I made for this bloomed goat cheese I made for Vera Eco Resort. It was so good. My mouth waters every time I see this image.

Mother took over the watering and caring for our winter garden while I was in Matagalpa. The roses and tomatoes are thriving. 

I bought these last year out of a sombrero.

My most anticipated addition to my forest is my mulberry trees! I picked a mulberry that was happily staining a sidewalk under a gigantic Mulberry in Des Moines the last time I was there. It lived at the bottom of my purse for about six months. I finally dropped it in some soil, and it grew a giant harvest of trees! 

I did the same when I was in Mexico. My tree grew and fruited (yes, mulberries are already present in Central America). Though I seldom ate a mulberry because the birds loved them. This time I will plant several trees, and since there will be a variety of foods to share with the birds, snakes, insects, bats, possums, monkeys, and raccoons, I’m hoping to eat some mulberries myself. One day I will walk through my food forest, nibbling a shared harvest.  Until then, success is dirty fingernails–and mangos!

Do you have a food forest? I’d love to hear your stories on any kind of garden projects.