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Community Gardening and Paying it Forward

Mary Niehaus RallesGardening is moving into full swing here in the Midwest. We’ve survived the late frosts. And while there are still some unpredictable days where I want to turn my heat back on, it feels like a beautiful spring has finally arrived. Each morning I am greeted by a warm sunrise creeping up through the trees and into my bedroom window, illuminating the sky.

These sunrises feel even more symbolic, as I feel that each passing one brings me closer to my move out of the city and back into the country. I struggled a bit in deciding what to do about setting out a garden this year, knowing I likely won’t be here at summer’s end.

Last fall, a friend of mine tilled a new garden for me in my backyard. I then trimmed it with 100+ year old granite stones and finished it off with a couple of wrought-iron stands holding clay pots with flowers. At the time it seemed so lovely and held so much promise for planting, when seeds and seedlings would slip gently into the powder like dirt, taking root and producing a stunning display of vegetables and fruits, just begging to be picked.

I considered leaving the garden fallow with the expectation that I wouldn’t be around to reap the rewards and harvest. Ultimately, I found myself unable to resist the chance to dig in the dirt, don my floppy sun hat, and plant seeds. I just couldn’t imagine wasting a planting season and summer harvest on the off chance that I might not be here to enjoy it.

So I began with a few standard staples to put in the ground: potatoes, onions, and strawberries. I had a few pepper and tomato plants I’d started from seed indoors, and I wanted to explore a few local nurseries to find more mature and hearty starters of strawberry and pepper plants. I found a great little place in Batesville, Indiana, called Five Oaks Garden, where there is a large selection of plants as well as a lovely display of candy-jar-like containers with scoops and bags for purchasing seeds.

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In fact, Five Oaks has southeast Indiana’s largest selection of bulk vegetable seed, with more than 200 varieties to choose from. And the next time I go back, I plan to try their whole wheat flour, “Billie’s in the Hood”, which is grown, cleaned, and milled in small batches on a farm just outside Oldenburg, Indiana. I have to admit, I’ve grown very fond of the lovely land and charming spots in southeast Indiana. Each time I take a road trip, scouting out land and potential home sites, I discover new local treasures — places that have been around for a long time, are locally owned and operated, and mostly untouched by the passing of time.

I ended up buying a bar of homemade soap and a beautiful, blue, glass, hummingbird feeder as well. And on the trip back home, I enjoyed a sunny afternoon drive watching the fields lined with mustard plants, bright and yellow, that seemed to go on for miles.

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Back at my current home in the middle of the city, I considered my transition from having mostly potted gardening on the patio to an open and decent-sized tilled area of ground.

Eileen the yellow lab

Given the uncertainty of my timing to move, I had to abandon my dream to have a small flock of chickens this year. Baby chick season has come and gone, and while I visited the little guys at all the local stores, I left without making any purchases. And for now, I’ll continue to grab eggs by the carton from my local grocery store.

My garden, though, is a different story. The second I committed to digging my fingers into the soil and pulling the first weed, I went from a “might do” to a “will do” attitude. I see a little more progress every day, with my pepper plants beginning to sprout tiny peppers and strawberry plants starting to run their lines to expand. I am immediately in love with my patch of land with tiny rows of promising vegetables.

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As with past years, I will share the excess and look to do a little canning, too. There will be jam and jelly. And I accept that this year could be quite unique in turning into an urban community garden, where I’ve planted the seeds and someone else will take over and enjoy walking through the garden with a small pail or basket, gently picking and collecting my labors of love. I’m happy to pay it forward and equally content to be spend a little more time here if it means I get to nurture my garden and enjoy some of the early harvest.

Mary Niehaus Ralles
Ohio