by Marjorie Rachlin
Early fall means harvest time at the community gardens on Sedgwick Street.
It’s been a good summer despite the heat and drought – tomatoes have done well, and people are picking squash, eggplant, beans, peppers and several exotic vegetables, as well as basil and other herbs.
Okra plants, eight feet tall, are still producing tasty pods.
You’ll see lots of pepper plants throughout the garden. Here, John is watering his wife’s patch – she grows jalapenos, anchos, cayennes and a long sweet pepper called “Lipstick.” She dries the cayennes and grinds them into flakes for pasta, and she pickles the others in a quick vinegar boil, keeping them in the fridge for use in winter recipes.
Her neighbor has a patch of scotch bonnet peppers, very hot with a fruity flavor, which he grows for Jamaican jerk chicken (here’s a recipe).
Tomatoes and more tomatoes
Tomatoes, of course, are the star crop, with many varieties – the big ones, the heirlooms, the cherries, and various Romas. Serious gardeners grow unusual varieties from seed, starting them on apartment window sills in the spring. I received a gift of one such heirloom tomato, “Cherokee Black,” which is an odd plum color and said to be terrific. I plan to grow it next year.
Geraldine Seidel, who is 90 years old and one of the gurus of the garden, gets help from her daughter, visiting from New York, here watering some of Gerry’s many tomatoes. Luckily this Park Service garden has water available, and even before the recent one and one-half inch rain, plants were okay.
Norman is proud of his invention, devised to make it easy to pick his pole beans. He can lower the 12-foot pole, pick, then raise it up again to get the sun. “Much easier than reaching,” he says.
Many gardeners grow vegetables from other parts of the world. Amal is picking Middle Eastern spinach, a vegetable she knows from her childhood in northern Syria. It’s a delicacy all over the Middle East, originating in Egypt, she thinks. It’s the key ingredient for the famous Arab chicken dish molokhia (check out the mouth-watering recipe), said to have been a royal food of the pharaohs.
Our hot summers are hard on spinach and other greens, so gardeners have turned to “Malabar spinach,” which originated in Asia and does well all over the garden. Loretta Castaldi is inspecting a healthy clump, and admiring the scarlet blossoms of the runner beans nearby.
The Melvin Hazen Garden Association
Loretta is the president of the Melvin Hazen Garden Association, the volunteer organization that oversees the garden for the National Park Service.
In DC, the Park Service has 30 of these community gardens, which started in World War II as Victory gardens. There are 105 plots in our garden, and since many of them are shared, Loretta thinks there are about 150 gardeners. Dues are $30 a year, but the waiting list has 300 names, unfortunately.
In late July many gardeners began planting again – crops for fall and early winter. Already there are beautiful patches of leaf lettuce, ready to eat. Little plants of kale, beets, chard, carrots, parsley and radishes are coming along.
You have to know what to plant, however, since there are a limited number of vegetables that will come up when it is warm but continue to grow in cooler fall weather. Some gardeners are still planting – some tiny seedlings are just showing.
Stop by to say ‘hello’
The garden is a lovely place, neatly kept, with intriguing vegetables and colorful patches of zinnias, and lots of butterflies and birds.
I like to go down and chat with whoever is tending their plat at the time. Many of the people who garden there live in the apartments along Connecticut, and they will tell you that what a marvelous addition it is to life in this neighborhood.