Gardens can unite the community
September 7, 2012 3:04PM
This summer has been tough on tomatoes in Kris Stadalsky's garden. | Kris Stadalsky ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 11, 2012 6:05AM
I know it’s getting to the end of the vegetable growing season, but my garden has been looking pretty sad all summer. Just a few years ago I had so many tomatoes that we canned, froze and made salsa with them.
This year was a big disappointment. My Early Girls, for instance, did not come in early and I was lucky if I picked half a dozen off the plant. I also put in a several beefy-type tomato plants, a hybrid and a grape tomato.
Out of six plants, we’ve barely been kept in fresh summer salads let alone juicy toasted tomato sandwiches.
Looking up “tomato problems” on the University of Illinois Extension Service website, I found many issues that I’ve had in the past but not the one I’m dealing with now. I’ve lived through blossom end rot, cracking tomatoes and cat-faced fruit. I wish I had more of those because then I’d actually have tomatoes.
I got a laugh out of the suggestion to pick tomatoes when they are pink and let them ripen indoors in the sun to stop squirrels from taking a bite out of the middle of a juicy ripe tomato. That’s a good suggestion; I found a few like that hanging off the vine, and I can’t afford to share this year.
I have cucumbers, zucchini and melons growing in a different area of my property (which did very well) and I noticed a huge chipmunk hole leading right into the fenced in garden. Those critters not only tore up my potted flowers all summer but now they wake up in the morning, stroll out the hole and make breakfast out of my melons — all without leaving my yard.
I want to blame my lack of tomatoes on the drought, but speaking with others in the community I seem to be one of a select few whose tomatoes didn’t love the heat.
Friends Signe and Ramon Saavedra in Shorewood have gotten so many cherry tomatoes they’ve been supplying me as well as their neighborhood.
My neighbor, Dr. Patrick Minor, has awesome home-grown tomatoes as well.
It’s wonderful friends and neighbors like these who keep me in tomato sandwiches all summer.
Speaking of sharing, the community gardens cropping up all over really are a wonderful way to share our wealth.
Resurrection Lutheran Church in Channahon has a community garden on St. Paul Avenue. They started it in 2009, and the 22 plots are filled every year. The church uses six of them, growing food to donate to the food pantry at the Baptist church, said Pam Nickel.
They had a rough start with some veggies in the beginning, like having to plant peppers three times because something kept eating the seedlings, even though it is fenced. Nickel thinks maybe it was birds, as netting helped. But I’m betting on those pesky chipmunks.
Right now they have an abundance of squash and their tomatoes are beautiful, she said. They got a lot from their gardens to share with the food pantry.
Minooka High School FFA students, led by Andrew Parton, started their own community garden this year. Their plan was to start with 12 plots and expand as more space is needed.
I like the idea of community gardens as places to work side by side with neighbors and friends, have someone to talk to about vegetable issues or even just socialize. Best of all, the results are an abundance of food that can be shared with your own family, friends and those in need.
I have big plans and ideas for my garden next year — moving the tomatoes to a different location and maybe laying some chicken wire on the ground to keep critters from burrowing up through. Whatever the difficulties that arise, my tomatoes and I will persevere.
Reach Kris Stadalsky at firstname.lastname@example.org.