Sunday, August 15, 2010

Straw Bale Gardening Here We Come!

Mama Sue has surfaced! Shot me an e-mail to say she's home, looking forward to seeing me. She's been moody. Hmph. That's a euphemism for somethin'

But this post is exclusively about The Garden of HOPE, a name which Sue gave our proposed garden, which she says stands for Helping Other People with Everything. This was a field of dreams for Mama Sue, August, Lettie Lee. Not a baseball diamond, a real garden, a community garden with different fantasies for each person. Mama Sue envisioned a "place of peace." With all her infirmities, she wasn't goin' to do no plantin' but what she wanted was to recreate a bit of the feeling she had as the neighborhood "mama," who kept a pond in her front yard full of minnows, small turtles, gold fish and what all, where kids would stop by, and in delight watch these specimans of small aquatic life. This is how she got the moniker -- Mama Sue. Hurricane K swept it all away. If she could sit in the Garden's gazebo which she envisions is surrounded by a small stream and four little bridges crossing into it, and tell stories to the kids who'd drop by...(the pic you see here is of a gazebo that sits in a pond in a park "upriver" in St. Bernard and this is the idea Sue has for our -- for her -- gazebo in the Garden of H. It's nautical with its round piling-like posts, and such a lovely bit of architecture, but convincing the hard-nosed gardener types who are involved with us that we need a gazebo at all is requiring all our skills of persuasion.)

August envisions a place where he would work the land, and teach the youth of Guerra Drive (August always shakes his head and smiles ruefully when he says "Guerra Drive.") Give 'em something' to do, he says. And we both know that if he could turn one kid on to growing and harvesting, he'd have accomplished something. The Garden of HOPE Is far from Guerra Drive. You need a car (bus lines were swept away by Hurricane K) but they'd get down there with help from a parent or August himself, and in time, the idea would "ketch on." and they could start small gardens on the empty lots all along Guerra Drive - which are abundant, little reminders of the houses that used to exist before Katrina. Thousands of cement slabs waiting to be torn up are all over St. Bernard. The pop. in St. B is down by about half.

Lettie Lee just likes the idea. She's got a black thumb she says -- all her house plants die promptly under her care -- but she's very civic minded and like August thinks that this might be good for the children of St. Bernard Parish.

But our green acre has in all honesty been going nowhere. I've envisioned what it would sound like if it were a sound effect which is like a car in the deep trenches of winter that grinds painfully and you know is not going to start up. Or a computer that whirs quietly and pitifully and won't boot up. I have to be honest, it warn't goin nowhere. We have exactly $400 in our bank account, nitrogen-poor soil that needs major amending, the promise of a free tractor, which has yet to materialize, and receding hopes.

Until Lorna Donaldson, a retired organic farmer from Tennessee got wind of our garden, our dreams for it, and swooped in like a fairy godmother to say she'd help us get the full acre planted this fall. Seeds to be donated by Baker Heirloom Seeds. Yes! Since, like all of us, she watched in disbelief as the BP spill ended most of this season's (we all know it might be much longer) fishing along the Gulf, she's thought long and hard about what can be done -- what she can do.

Lorna is promoting an old, but little used method of growing called Straw Bale Gardening. Instead of soil, you use bales of hay (or straw), covered with a thin layer -- 1 - 2 inches -- of compost. You don't need to mess with soil, bugs are minimal, back aches are less severe because you're not bending down so far. And she will give us enough straw bales to cover the entire acre, and help raise the money for the compost and the fence (didn't have the heart to mention our need of a fence) and provide August a bit of training. But I don't think he'll need more than five minutes. I hope only that there's no disagreement about what our first crop should consist of. The dark greens of course -- collards, and what not, tomatoes, okra (gumbo ingredient) Someone who lives down in St. B told me that African women would stow okra seeds in their hair as they were being hauled away to slavery. So okra has to go in there.

Our plans are to meet in a week and a half, a week from Thursday -- all of us -- Mama Sue, August, Lettie Lee -- over a plate of red beans and rice somewhere in da Parish talking it all through with Lorna and get this ball rolling. Please -- no hitches please!

I'm looking forward to seeing my old friends. Plan on shooting an hour of August describing his boyhood when I have a feeling practically his only pleasure was simple gardening. A 9 year old boy enjoying nothing more than growing beans. August has told me stories about how it was the nuns in the orphanage where he grew up - in the 50's -- who taught him how to grow things. So much detail I've wanted to glean, but which he hasn't parted with. But I've learned that he raised chicks too and the nuns gave him baskets of eggs to take door to door. August has bemoaned (miserably) growing up in an orphanage. He's also told me that he'd be another lost soul if he hadn't. I'm very curious to see what he'll teach these boys on Guerra Drive to do.

A plea here. If you happen to have a laptop, notebook, iPad, netbook that is available to donate to the Garden of HOPE. Totally tax deductible. August is going to have to be in e-mail touch. Is going to have to receive materials from Lorna, and myself and be able to send us information far more easily than he's been able to with his very temperamental cell phone. His phone is frankly a pain in the ass. Thanks!

More info on the garden (and lots of other stuff) can be found on my website: along with a way to get in direct touch if you happen to have a laptop or $5,000 for a fence. Website still a little rough in places. Why I haven't mentioned it till now.

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