the most weeds

July 28, 2014

This year’s garden is the biggest area I’ve ever attempted. And the most difficult land. And the most weeds. Not surprisingly, they quickly became more than I could manage. Even with hours of work, progress was slow–mostly because weeds grow back. They grew tall in places I’d yet to hoe and plant, creeping through vegetable seedlings, so invasive I feared disrupting the seedlings’ rooting process by pulling them out.

Crabgrass and field grass are resilient, and the rate at which they emerged told me that the garden had been plowed and tilled minimally, not enough to break up what had taken over those two years. These roots go deep and seem to spring back up in the spot they’re discarded.

At the beginning of June, I decided wood chips were the only solution. The woodchip pile was about 150 yards away, so I began lugging woodchips to the garden and spreading them–one five gallon bucket at a time. I realize that sounds a little pathetic (and impossible), but without a truck or a place to store a wheelbarrel, it was my only option.

After witnessing how arduous that method would be, I asked Jack for help. He brought a truck and we watched an afternoon pass loading and unloading woodchips from the truck bed and then laying them around the garden borders and between the rows. He even made a path at my insistence; I obviously like the outdoors, but I know better than to stomp through tall weeds (snakes!).  I worked more on my own later (we left a pile of woodchips at the garden’s edge) and covered the remaining area. The end result was ordered. It was beautiful.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with f2 presetphoto 1 Within two weeks, though, the weeds crept through our work. I redid it—all of it—scraping the chips off with a hoe, laying down newspaper, pouring water over the top to help the newspaper stay down, and covering that with woodchips. Again, I realize that this may seem like overkill, but after the time I’d already invested, I didn’t want them to take over, stealing the nutrients my vegetables needed.  This took me almost twice as long, especially since I somehow chose to work on the windiest days and often found myself chasing newspaper across the garden or standing in stretched stances, trying to hold the newspaper down while I reached for water jugs.

photo 1 photo 2photo 5When Alyssa visited, she helped me cover the area around one of the corn rows; I never went back and finished the other row. When I told my dad about my plan at the beginning of July, to re-cover everything, he said that the time of the summer, the weeds would outmatch my hoeing stamina.

I knew he was right; it was more work than I could do, so I tried ignoring the grass creeping through the woodchips and the weeds in the untended area growing taller and taller, slowly moving in, threatening to swallow my plot. photo 4 photo 5Now the surrounding weeds stand to my waist; in different places and varieties, taller. Weeds poke through any inch I missed with newspaper and woodchips, trained to find a spot through which to sprout.

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I am embarrassingly behind on blogging, so much so that it might be time to consider the purpose/usefulness of this exercise. Part of the truth is, I think, this: I spend so much time in the garden that there isn’t time to write about the garden. I bit off more than I ever have this summer–but I’m glad. In the interest of getting caught up (more) quickly and getting to some super cool stuff that’s happened lately, I present you an abridged version of May’s garden happenings.

photo 4While having the garden plowed and tilled was certainly helpful (and absolutely necessary),  I missed the fine, almost black soil I worked with in the Lawrence community garden, that I could work up in a few afternoons.  The soil in the new garden was either packed flat from heavy rain, broken up in chunks, covered with dead/dying weeds or some combination of the three. I have to work each potential row or bed multiple times to even have a chance at producing anything.

I spent an afternoon hoeing and planting my usual spring stuff, though it was a little late. I planted kale, spinach, lettuce, chard and some flower seeds. I watched them try to break through. And though some of it did, none of it did very well. You can see seedlings in the photo below, trying to creep through the cracks.

At this point, I’d used about 1/4 of the space I’d marked off for my plot, and felt discouraged about how/if I’d have the energy to make use of the rest.

I also missed the people from the community garden, and this was after only a few afternoons there alone. It felt like such a shame to have so much space and not to share it. photo 4The pastor mentioned that members of the church might be interested in gardening too, especially once someone else had shown interest. Initially, I was modest in my land acquisition, but when no one came, I expanded.

I started inviting friends. It serves both my purposes: I can get help with the large space AND I have friends there with me. As a third, ulterior motive, I can (hopefully) get someone else excited about growing stuff.

Aside from Jack, I first invited friend Madison to garden on a Sunday afternoon. Her grandparents suggested that she plant tomatoes with a gallon jug in the hole. You drill a hole in the bottom and fill the jug with water. This should create a slow, steady release of water. Sister Alyssa helped us.

Not only was Madison’s water jug idea smart, but she came prepared: with topsoil and a shovel. I have to admit, this hadn’t crossed my mind and initially, I thought topsoil was cheating. But then I saw how perfect the soil was, how it would give the plants’ roots a fighting chance. I planted my own tomato plant the same day, feeling guilty for sticking it straight into the dry dry ground.  I didn’t even own a shovel, which is pretty pathetic for a gardener, though I have since received one for my birthday from Jack. It was an excellent birthday gift.  I’ve also since caved and bought topsoil; it helps the seedlings get better established.

photo 1 photo 3(1)

Next, came corn. It’s super hearty/tough (accounting for the garden’s less than ideal soil conditions) and it takes up a lot of space (making good use of the big space). For this, I recruited Jack and his younger sister Amelia. When inviting people to garden, I worry that they’ll hate it, that they won’t enjoy digging and hoeing and sweating, and so I try to do the strenuous tasks, leaving them with the fun stuff, the planting, the watering. But so far, everyone has wanted to do the hard work. Amelia even said she might plant some stuff of her own, which I am obviously in favor of.  After a few hours, we had two long rows of corn planted. Judging by the photos, Jack and Amelia are happiest when working in unison.

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3 photo 4I’ve done a ton of planting since these photos, and I’ve decided it’s time to move from the expansion phase into the maintenance phase. Sadly crabgrass (and lots of it!) is moving in. But, I’m working hard, happily, and I’ve got a plan. We’re also to the garden “tour” portion of the summer (if you can call it a tour).  Already, I’ve had friends come see it and I have more coming next week. I make Jack observe its progress weekly.  I love it. I get to say Hey, this is my summer. This is what I do.

After not gardening in Moscow–with the exception of a some spinach seedlings I grew and then promptly abandoned on my trip home for Christmas–I knew I had to find a KC garden. To most new friends here, I said things like “I hope I find a new garden” and then I’d smile and shrug. To boyfriend Jack and older friends I’d say “I need to find a garden.” And they’d nod and say “I know.”

I experience this thing called fear. Sometimes it manifests as anxiety. Sometimes it’s a painful combination of the two. Though I welcomed spring’s arrival–embracing the close of what was honestly the longest winter of my life (it’s quite amazing how surviving a Russian winter and not experiencing a sweltering Midwestern summer can make it seem like you didn’t have summer at all. It feels like the last 20 months have been winter)–I feared that spring would come without me having found a place to make things grow.

I became fearful and anxious that I would not find a garden. It was a troubling paradox–hurry spring! but hold off until I’m ready! Jack suggested we pray, that I ask for one. And so, even though it felt selfish, I did. I was never taught to ask for things I wanted, but instead to pray for improved health, to pray for a resolved conflict.

Multiple friends in the KC area offered to let me garden in their backyard; however, I go to the garden almost daily, and therefore, needed something close to me, in the Northland, something I could be at in five minutes.

Though there weren’t many options near me, I obtained contact information for a few. I got on the list for the most promising one at the end of February, and the woman I spoke with said she was pretty confident that they’d have space for me. She’d let me know in April. My fear subsided. Hurry spring!

When I hadn’t heard anything by the double digits of April, I called. She was direct: “We’re out of plots, and you’re way down the list. We definitely won’t have space for you.” I protested a little, but mostly, I was shocked. And hurt that she hadn’t told me in enough time to find a plot at another community garden. I will not make her the villain of this story, though I’m tempted.

I moped around a bit and then started frantically calling other places on the list. No one at the YMCA ever called back. But, when I called one of the church community gardens, I had the following conversation:

Lady: “Oh, well we’re not actually doing the garden this year…”
*Heart sinks further*
Lady: “…so you can actually have the whole space.”
Me: “Wait, really? The whole space?”
Lady: “Yeah, we’re not using it.”
Me: “Do I have to maintain the whole thing or just the area I need?”
Lady: “You can just use whatever space you want.”
*We discuss logistics like tilling and water, etc. It hits me that this makes absolutely no sense*
Me: “Wait, are you serious? You don’t know me at all. This is like really, really nice of you.”
Lady: “Well, we’re not using it so if you want to put it to good use, it’s yours. Just call the pastor and tell him that you’ve already spoken with me, and that I said it’s okay.”photo 1

I met the pastor the next week, and he showed me the space. The garden is up on a hill in the middle of a field, surrounded by a fence because deer are a problem (more on this…). The church has 40 acres, so despite being easily accessible and close to a major road, it feels secluded, set apart.

He said he was embarrassed, that no one had used it last year and so everything had grown over.  And it was; the grass had grown up and died and the fence was mostly down. He asked how much space I’d want, and I felt conflicted–excited about the possibility of having it all but recognizing my limits and also not wanting to seem greedy. With the exception of a donation for water, he said, it would be free. He said that maybe others from the congregation would want to use it, too. They could find someone who would plow it, but I’d have to figure out the tilling. I imagined what prep work I’d have to do to get it ready.

I told him I’d take it. That night I researched renting a tiller or hiring someone to till it for me. This was totally doable, totally worth it. I wouldn’t get to plant as early as I’d hoped, but I’d be going within two or three weeks.

The next morning, the pastor called at 11 am and left a message; it had been plowed and tilled. It was ready. I could start planting whenever I wanted. photo 2

 

Dacha

July 15, 2013

Two weeks before I moved to Moscow last August, I read a National Geographic article about dachas, Russian summer homes. Gardener that I am, I knew that living in an enormous city for a year would be difficult, especially a city in a country with such a long, dark winter. So, I vowed to get to a dacha. Later, some of my American friends who study Russian said “If you get the chance to visit a dacha, go.” They described never-ending food and vodka; long, sunny days; gardens; and a break from Moscow stuffiness.

The culture surrounding dachas fascinates me. They’ve apparently been around since Peter the Great, but they became more common in during the Soviet Period, when the government gave land to citizens. This land had strict regulations attached to it–since it was to be used for gardening, the new landowners couldn’t built anything bigger than a shed for tools and maybe a small area to sleep overnight. Now those restrictions have been dropped, and people can buy their own land and build whatever they like (within village regulations, I assume). Depending on the village and the owner, some dachas are mansions and some still look like gardening shacks.  As the NG article points out, the purpose of the dacha is now contested–for many members of older generations it’s a place to work; for some, it’s a place for the family to be together; for the younger generation, it’s a place to relax; and for the elite, it’s another way to exhibit wealth; for others, it’s a mixture.

8844_985345388142_268066505_nI have no research to back this up, but I’d guess that well over half of Moscow’s families own dachas; obviously, from the middle and upper classes. On Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, the traffic leaving the city is ridiculous and makes the normal 45 min to 2.5 hour drive to the dacha last anywhere from 3 to 6 hours; the same thing happens on Sunday evenings when people return. For many Muscovites, going to the dacha isn’t something to do a few times a summer, but every weekend; my Moscow best friend, Sveta, gets legitimately upset if she doesn’t make it to the dacha each weekend, and after visiting one, I understand why.  Some people go there for the entire summer, like my friend Anya who took her 3-month old daughter to the dacha in May and is still there.

I’ve never seen anything like dacha culture. Sure, Americans make a mass exodus for certain summer holidays and many people own lake houses, but it is nothing like this. It makes sense, though, right? If you get 3 months of enjoyable/warm weather, you won’t waste them. This is why Musocvites line park benches every night after work, why old men sunbathe in Speedos at 7 am, why people stand in the most awkward positions just to be in the sun and not the shade made by trees in the forest, as if they can get all the Vitamin D their bodies need in a 3 months. Maybe they can. SONY DSC

At the end of June, I finally made it to a dacha, that of my friends Anya and Nastya’s family. Unfortunately, Nastya and I couldn’t devote the entire weekend, so we left at 8 am on Saturday morning. The 1.5 hour drive only took 3 hours, so Nastya said that the traffic wasn’t too bad. My first surprise was that dachas are all different, not a series of wooden houses with flowers as I’d expected. Some were wooden, but some had siding and a few were even brick.

As I mentioned earlier, Anya is there this summer with her daughter Masha, her parents, and their aunt; Anya’s husband Dima commutes from Moscow every weekend by train. I’d hardly been introduced to the family before Anya asked if we wanted to pick strawberries, which we had with творог for a late breakfast.

SONY DSCThough they didn’t speak much English, Anya and Nastya’s parents were incredibly kind and hospitable to me and we talked through Anya and Nastya’s translations. They sold their old dacha and built this one about seven years ago.

Shortly after breakfast, we went in search of berries. I’d been told to pack long sleeves and pants to avoid mosquitoes. The family scoured the house for a hat, boots, and socks for me, and Nastya and Anya’s father emerged with six hats for me to choose from, but as often happens in Russia, someone else made my decision–I was given the hat with the most coverage, camouflage and with a cape. I felt like I was going into the desert. While we waited for the rest of the family, Nastya laughed “The most fun part of going to the forest is getting dressed for the forest.” SONY DSC

I learned two things in the Russian forest: First, Russia has a lot of mosquitoes. Though the hat made me look funny, I was thankful to have it. I must have reapplied bug spray 5 times and still had bites the next day. Second, berry picking is serious business. Nastya and Anya’s mom Olga was quick and thorough. We were looking for these berries that are essentially mini blueberries (we later used the dacha’s WiFi…yep, Dacha WiFi (and though I brought it along, I refused to used my tablet)…to learn that they’re actually called “bilberries”) and though we passed bushes of them, she trudged on through tall grass and fallen trees until finally, we found an area that she deemed mostly untouched. When we finished, Olga had picked three times as many berries as anyone else. We also stopped for mushrooms, mini-strawberries, and wildflowers.

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After lunch, we went to visit one of their neighbors. Her land is actually a few plots put together and she’s filled it with an enormous garden: onions, beets, corn, cabbage, sunflowers, potatoes, strawberries, raspberries, flowers, and two greenhouses with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. We talked about her methods and the full work days she puts into the garden. She sent me off with strawberries, peppers, and cucumbers.

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The rest of the day was spent talking and resting and playing with Masha. After a walk and some cake with tea, it was time to leave. I felt tired, the same wonderful, fulfilling tired I felt as an 8-year-old at the end of an evening spent in the backyard collecting lightening bugs. They sent me away with wildflowers, bilberries, and strawberries. 5154e72ae0e211e2abce22000a1f96d4_7

As we left, Anya’s father said “Well, your dachas in America must be better,” and I replied “No, we don’t have them.” I considered adding that we should have them, but honestly, I don’t think this would work as perfectly anywhere else.

 

 

 

 

 

A little over three weeks of Moscow life and I’ve started to miss the garden in Lawrence. On days that are cold and rainy, the missing isn’t so bad. But on sunny days, I wish I could bike to the community garden and weed for a minute. Or just sit. Or see Nic, Michael, or Danielle and talk about which bugs are eating which plants or plan for the fall.

Even on the days when I don’t want to actually garden because of the weather, I miss the food. You have no idea how much LCGP swiss chard or kale I could put away if I could somehow access it. Ah, kale…where is the kale in Russia? And the spinach? I’m growing quite fond of cabbage, but cabbage, kale, and spinach are not the same.

Luckily there are lots of vegetables here. Really lovely outdoor markets that line the streets by the metro exits. So I normally stock up on fruit and tomatoes and eggplant and peppers there. I just learned, however, that if you’re foreign, you should wash all produce with iodine, which I haven’t been doing. And I eat a lot of vegetables. I learned this fact while I was telling an American friend about a 3-day long (and counting) serious stomach ache. I believe in my body’s ability to adjust to Russia and/or to fight this off, so I’m going to wait it out. [Today I developed cold/flu symptoms. So, I’m drinking ColdRex, which is a brand from New Zealand and I assume is similar to TheraFlu?] Anyway, I’m going to keep eating vegetables. The produce is good and, maybe I’m being optimistic, but I think the eggs here are better, like just the normal ones from the grocery store. The yellows are yellow. 

Friday night we were out, and I picked up an expat newspaper called element. The writing is so-so, but it’s helpful for giving you an idea of what’s going on in town. And in English, nonetheless. It lists art exhibits and the showtimes for 35 mm, a theater that shows non-Russian films.  And there were advertisements for Irish pubs, pizza restaurants, and American looking bars. Daughtry and Nickelback are coming to town, but I’m not going.

Most importantly, though, I learned that The Slow Food movement would be in Moscow this weekend. Slow Food, the opposite of Fast Food, encourages people to grow their own food and cook meals that take time. And it was at Dorogomilovsky Market, a place I intended on going anyway. While the street-side markets are pretty and quite convenient, I want something bigger, like a Farmer’s Market. And I wanted to see people who like real food.

So, Sunday afternoon, I went. Unfortunately, aside from a few signs, I didn’t see much that seemed related to the festival. Maybe people there were talking about slow food, and it was just lost on me because it was in Russian. Instead, it seemed like what I would expect a normal Sunday at Dorogomilovsky Market to be. Despite not meeting my festival expectations, I still got to see and buy real food.

I began my “buying things in Russia” cycle. First, I wander around, slowly reading Russian signs to get a sense of what’s there and how much it costs. I saw fruit and vegetable stands that all seemed exactly the same. Then there was what I labeled the “pickled stuff” section. Then the dairy section. And then fish. And then I got to the section with enormous slabs of meat and entire chickens. And also rabbits; I’m 99% sure judging by the furry feet.

The second stage of the “buying things in Russia” cycle is when I freak out (internally, of course) and decide that I just won’t buy anything. The vendors here talk to you if you glance their direction, trying to get you to choose their stand, so looking at the produce without being noticed was impossible and examining something meant I’d have to speak in Russian or nod a lot. But then, I played the current scenario in my head–I ride the metro for 30 minutes, walk for 15 to the market, and then leave without purchasing a thing–and that just seemed stupid.

So I moved to the third stage, which is when I find a secluded corner and look up words and phrases in my travel book.  After I’ve practiced the phrases to myself, I use my fingers to save those pages and then I approach someone who looks nice. The bread ladies seemed nice; they weren’t. But, I asked “сколько они стоят?” and bought bread. And then, I went to the rows of vegetable pyramids. And a vendor motioned to my camera, indicating that I should take a photo. So I did. He also gave me a grape. He owned one of the few stand with lettuce that didn’t look like it was from the supermarket, so again I asked “сколько они стоят?” and the woman said “сто,” which I thought meant “100,” but I wasn’t sure so I typed it into my iPhone’s calculator and she said “да,” so I bought it.

By this point, I was feeling quite brave so when I found a stand with spinach (yes….spinach!), I walked right up and said “шпинат?” because that was one of the first words I learned and then “сколько они стоят?” The man said “пятьдесят,” and I double checked again on my iPhone and I was right, it was 50. I bought one bunch, and he asked if I was German.  I walked around a bit more and then realized that since this was the first spinach I’d seen, I should stock up. So, without being embarrassed, I went back and bought a second bunch. And I was so happy about the spinach that when I had coffee with a friend afterward, I asked her to take a photo of me with it; but frankly, I’m becoming quite fond of the Ride to the Fifteenth Floor Elevator Self Portrait. Expect more.

There was a cart of small desserts I’d been eying since I walked into the market. They seemed free, like part of the festival or something. I had walked past the cart three times trying to decide if they were or not. I saw a group of men hovering around them and eating them, so on my way out I grabbed one of the bigger pieces of baklava. Then I heard a woman say something loudly. She was probably talking to someone else, seeing as how the market was loud and many people were yelling and how there was clearly no cash register or stand connected to this cart. But, the thought of being caught stealing in Russia alarmed me. So I exited quickly and purposefully and inhaled the evidence.

You’ll notice I haven’t blogged in a month and a half….my head’s been all over the place. In that time, I have: 1) Sadly moved from lovely Lawrence, KS 2) Applied and interviewed for jobs 3) Accepted a job 4) tried to see friends as much as possible 5) packed and threw stuff away and packed some more.

I write from my parents’ basement in Southeast Missouri, a land that is surprisingly less steamy than Kansas at this point. There are lots of deer heads staring at me. I hear reality TV in the background, and sometimes, my mom plays the piano from a 1970s book called “Songs of Our Time.”

The reason I’m at my parents’ house, and not in a new apartment in a new city looking for a new community garden, is because I’m moving to Moscow, Russia. A lot of you probably already know this from all the crazy social media. Or from talking with me in person, which still happens sometimes. My job doesn’t start until September 1, and I thought that instead of rushing from Lawrence to like, the other side of the world, it might be good to spend a few weeks with my family.

I’m keeping the things I didn’t sell/donate but am not taking to Moscow here. So,  I’ve been going through childhood/ middle school/high school/college stuff and throwing it away to make room for the stuff I’ll probably decide to throw away in three years. Remembering your middle school self is humbling, but fun. My family and I also made a traditional/sentimental family trip to Disney World, where it’s surprisingly easy to act like a child at 25, especially when you’re moving to Russia and your parents want you to just have the best. time. ever.

It saddens me to write this, but the last few weeks in the community garden were less sentimental than I’d expected. The weather was in the 100s every single day for almost two weeks. Though I still watered and weeded and picked the Swiss chard and malabar spinach that could survive the heat, it was hard to be in the garden–or anywhere besides a swimming pool–for more than fifteen or twenty minutes. My friend Nic said every time he saw my plot, he remembered that I really was leaving; I’m embarrassed by how void of green it was. 

A huge gesture of goodbye didn’t feel necessary; I’d been saying goodbye all summer. And so, after we packed up my things and I checked out of my apartment, I stopped by the garden and took one last photo. And that was it.

But now that I’m gone, a grand (but manageable/readable) summing up seems appropriate.  So, “The Best of the LCGP in Chronological Order, as Selected and Narrated by Kara Bollinger” is on its way.

More soon about my new job and what will become of the blog, too.

Writers need to catch readers’ attention. Additionally, as a nonfiction writer, I am compelled to tell the truth.

I assume that the title of the blog entry caught your attention–can you imagine me functioning without the community garden? The title is not only eye-catching, but also true. For a moment in time last week, I seriously believed that we may lose the garden.

Our story: We (the other community gardeners and I) received a bizarre email from a guy claiming he owned the land where the community garden is, and that the city threatened to take the land away from him. He said he didn’t want to do this, but that we needed to contact him within 24 hours so he could help. Also, the email was sent from a Kansas City business–a pawn shop.

I was confused. You’ll remember that two men who live in Kansas City own the land the community garden is on. You’ll also remember that last fall,  I met one of the men who owns the land. I thought they were both lawyers, so the fact that a pawn shop owner was contacting us was sketchy. The email was also super vague, most specifically in that it gave no reason for the city taking the garden away. I envisioned those scam phone calls from foreign countries asking for money or bank accounts or credit cards, though I wasn’t sure how they were going to scam us by threatening to get rid of the garden.

Despite my skepticism about the email’s validity, I imagined the rest of Lawrence summer sans garden. And then I stopped; I hated it.

Naturally, this email set off a chain of emails about what to do. Some thought it was a scam, some seemed legitimately worried, and others mocked pawn shop guy’s grammar (surprisingly, English teacher Kara was not one of those people).

Superhero Michael (no, for real, if you met him you’d agree) called the pawn shop.

The real story: Pawn shop guy is, in fact, co-owner of the land. Apparently, the City of Lawrence drove by the garden one day last month. We hadn’t mowed a tiny patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street. “Nevermind the undergrad neighborhoods filled with post-graduation and summer-celebration PBR cans and red Solo cups,” they must’ve said, “We’ve gotta get this community garden cleaned up.”So, they sent the owners’ lawyer a letter requesting that we mow the area.

If we didn’t mow the grass within a specified time frame, we would be fined. By the time the owner got the letter from his lawyer, the time frame was almost up (hence the 24-hour business). Apparently the man who owns the pawn shop is an older guy and not super great with email/etc, so he kind of freaked out (hence the vague, rushed email).

Superhero Michael biked to City Hall. They said it was no longer an issue. They’d gone by the garden the next week, and since it had been mowed (because we mow the grass), took it off “the list.” However, if we forget to mow again, we’ll be fined.

My analysis (rant): The city’s scolding/threat annoyed me. It’s The Man, man. We work tirelessly to restore and maintain an entire lot in Lawrence. And frankly, we do a pretty good job. It’s beautiful and produces a lot of food. People who live in the neighborhood often stop by and comment on the work we do. Yes, occasionally things get overgrown, but there are worse looking lots in Lawrence, lots that “deserve” to be scolded. If we were a sports team or a fraternity, it would be fine. *Wincing at my own blatant bias* I know that some of you will shake your heads like a parent/grandparent and say “Well, rules are rules,” but I don’t like this rule.

Aside from that debacle, things are going swimmingly in the garden. There’s a bit of summer-time planting to do. And lotsa weeding. And even more harvesting, cooking, eating, and giving food to friends.

The garden feels more manageable now than it did a few weeks ago, too, because we’ve spent some time cleaning things up, drying herbs and tea for later, re-mulching the pathways, and throwing things away that are done (mostly bolted spinach and lettuce).

Perhaps my most important plant related news is that I am in love with peas. IN LOVE. LOVE! It’s officially official. They are doing so well this year.

The offer still stands: if you’d like food, let me know. Those who have visited to pick food haven’t been disappointed. Support the rebellious, countercultural community gardeners. Down with The Man.Huzzah.

Monday Morning is a great Fleetwood Mac song. Monday morning is also when I pick up student essays. I will grade them as quickly as possible. I will submit grades. I will graduate next Sunday, one week from today. I have to be ready for graduation at 7:10 am. I’m serious about that. And then, I’ll be all finished with KU.

Even though school isn’t officially “done,” I feel like it’s been summer for some time already. Not having a thesis to write leaves one with a decent amount of free time. I’m applying for jobs and reading and writing, but one can only be professionally and academically productive of his or her own volition so many hours a day…or at least this one can only be professionally and academically productive of my own accord for so many hours a day. Here is my summertime May (and April):

Spending as much time as possible with these two heartthrobs.

Bike-delivering a rose and a clue to help my friends of seven years get engaged.

Going 0-4 with this killer softball team.

Teaching in jorts. And Instagramming it.

Attending soul concerts with the Communication Studies kids.

Biking, picnicing, blanketing in general. Phil’s birthday party might be my favorite ever.

Basically, summertime May is where it’s at. In addition to free time, summertime May is a result of not knowing when I’m leaving Lawrence. Depending on what job I get (when I get a job), I have no idea when I’ll be moving. June? July? Eh? Lawrence summers are my favorite so I’m starting early to ensure that get to have one.

Occasionally I get sudden feelings of guilt. I’m too used to working a lot. Grad school makes a person sort of robotic, but I think I’m slowly getting over it.

The garden also looks like summer already. I’m not sure how it’s been in your part of the planet, but here it’s been hot. 90 degrees every day this weekend. And rainy some days, too. This makes the garden busy.

The pea plants are really taking off. This weekend, I realized this and extended the trellis. It’s a little lopsided but totally functional. I hope my garden is always makeshift. The kale is also currently crazy, so I harvested a not literal ton to thin it out. Then I thought I had probably lost enough fluid from sweating for one afternoon and went home to lay on the couch.

Summertime may also has garden downsides. First, something weird happened in my plot. When plants get done growing/producing (or if you aren’t diligent enough about harvesting them), they will “go to seed.” You can let the seed dry and plant it later, which is cool. The spinach Clare and I planted never got big enough to eat, but has already gone to seed.  I’ve never seen this happen before. I assume that it’s because it got so hot so quickly. This week I’m going to trim the plant off and let it start over, but that’s just a last ditch effort. We might be spinach-less.

Also, the garden is on its way to getting outta control, so I have a proposition for all you blog-readers. Having a food surplus isn’t a bad thing, but it kills me to see things go to waste. Recently my friend Nic was working in the garden working and a visiting track team walked by and asked if he knew where they could get some food. He pointed downtown and then laughed to himself. They were oblivious to the quasi-ridiculous question they had just asked him. I want people to eat our food because it is good. I also secretly hope that you’ll fall in love with the garden and want to garden, too. But somehow I think you already know that.

I plan on harvesting and donating some this week, but if you are in the Lawrence area and you want food, tell me. I’m serious.  I will take you to the garden and we will pick any and all of these things: lettuce, lettuce, lettuce, lettuce,  kale, swiss chard, chamomile, oregano, mint, sage, onions. Take me up on this. I’ll probably be there anyway. If you don’t, I will just bring food to you without you requesting it. Ask around; it’s already happening. Phil got bok choi for his birthday.

Speaking of things getting away from us, these two sisters planted that carrot. They didn’t pull it up until today. Their complete shock/surprise was quite hilarious. Another happy Sunday afternoon.

Last June, I titled a blog entry First Ever Guest Gardeners. “First Ever” implied that there would be more guest gardeners. EEEK.  It took me a little while, but I’m coming through on that promise today.

Meet Guest Gardener Megan Kaminski. I really like Megan Kaminski. She is a poet. She has been published in a lot of cool places. I will name three that I like: CutbankDenver Quarterly, and Everyday Genius. She recently had her first full-length book of poetry published–Desiring Map–and it is great. She teaches at KU, and she does a lot for her students. Not only do I hear about how helpful her teaching is from friends, but she has founded a few different reading events for her undergraduate students, including an exchange with creative writing students from other states. She also curates a non-KU based Lawrence reading. That’s a lot. Yesterday I saw her sitting outside in a circle in the sun with her class. I wanted to yell “hello!” but I didn’t want to make a scene. Have I convinced you of Megan’s level of cool yet?

Most important to this blog entry, Megan is my friend. I wanted to be her friend for at least a year, but was too nervous to ask. Then, sometime last year we realized that we both had gardens. And after some encouragement from a mutual friend, I invited her to visit the community garden. Then she took me to her garden. You can figure out the rest of the story. Since she’s a successful poet and academic, Megan gives me quite a bit of advice–about publishing and not publishing, about MFA programs, about how being a writer means actually writing.  And I trust her opinion. Sometimes she buys me french fries at the Burger Stand, and that’s also cool. This is us at the AWP book fair in Chicago.

Before she moved to Lawrence, Megan lived in a lot of different cities (Portland, Paris, LA). She told me that she had successful gardens in those cities. She even had two successful summers in Lawrence. You can see photos of those successful gardens on her blog here.

However, last summer, the rabbits and deer and maybe other creatures ate almost everything. So, a few weeks ago, Megan asked me to help her with her garden. She’s given me so much guidance, I was honored and excited to reciprocate.

When I got there, Megan already had a plan drawn out. Essentially the idea was to put greens on the edges of the garden and to planta lot of stuff, so that even if the rabbits did eat stuff, there would still be plenty left.

Then we put up the pea trellis and planted peas, lettuce, chard, spinach, beets, and onions. That is Megan with her garden. I think it’s going to be a good year for her.

Afterward, we went inside and ate nice cheese from The Merc and crackers and grapes. I also accidentally spilled water all over the table because apparently I am like a small child.

Kara Bollinger, M.A. writing you directly from the bright, lovely state of Kansas. I defended my thesis with zero hang ups. I didn’t even need the nerf gun I had stashed under the table. After writing my thesis for two semesters, I’m able to intelligently talk about it to a group of professors. Hells bells, imagine that.

After spending Tuesday defending and celebrating, I did garden things Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. If this surprises you, well…um…that’s weird. Four days of work means there’s a lot to tell you. But mostly photos.

Wednesday I discovered I was tired. Sometimes I finish something major, and then I crash. Or get sick over Thanksgiving break because it’s the only time I have time to be sick. I think this happens to most people. Anyway, I realized this on Wednesday, my busiest-on-campus-all-day-long-no-breaks day. I didn’t want to build a pea trellis that day, but garden mate Clare and I had already decided we would.

Building stuff in the community garden is a fun puzzle where you find whatever scraps are around and then create something out of it. It hasn’t not worked yet. Clare already had a general plan of how we should build the trellis. And after a bit of brainstorming, we had one. Again, like last year’s trellis friend Justin help me build, it’s very One Hundred Acre Woodsy. I love it. It’s not that tall yet, but in a few weeks when I’m antsy with free time, I’ll add to it.

I also took some photos of things growing, because they are my favorite before they grow up.

Baby kale.

Baby bok choi.

The pretty mixed greens.

Though the day was hectic and I still had a softball game to play that night at 10 pm(woah!), I felt so much better when I left the garden, as I always do.

Much like the compost in the fall, the city of Lawrence sells mulch in the spring, so on Thursday garden pal Nic and I went and got a truck bed full. I don’t have much to tell you about this except that 1) getting mulch has been my personal goal all spring because the weeds around my plot are getting real crazy 2) it sorta sprinkled the whole time which gave the whole loading/unloading mulch thing a new level of intensity and 3) I really enjoy doing things that oppose gendered norms (ie girls aren’t supposed to be good at unloading mulch). Take that masculinity/femininity.

On Sunday, I worked in the garden for almost 2 full hours. *Sings “Glorious” in high pitched annoying voice* I invited my students to come to the garden. We’re reading Michael Pollan’s  The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s also at the point in the semester where they decide they really need extra credit, so…I offered them a few extra credit options related to the book, one of which was coming to the garden and writing about it. Another option is to write about the Farmer’s Market. This morning one of my students asked if I knew how to cook swiss chard; he bought some at the market. After I spouted off a number of spices he could use and what he should serve with it, he said “Oh. So you definitely know how to cook it.” Best teaching moment of the day. I know I’m supposed to teach them English and not how to garden or eat locally, but can’t I do both?

Though I had six or seven students excitedly tell me they were going to come to the garden, no one showed up initially! I was a little bummed, but then…when we were almost done working, one student showed up. Faith in humanity restored. We planted okra, popping corn, and put down a bunch of mulch to keep the weeds out. Today I told my students that I cried myself to sleep in a bed of spinach because of the low turn out…and they thought that was hilarious.

The crying thing isn’t true, though. I’ve never cried in a bed of spinach. Sunday evening garden time makes me feel sunny and smiley and worn out and like it was all worth it. It might be my favorite of the week. Our attempt to be at the garden at the same time at least once a week is working out well. There were eight of us there, and not only did we get a lot done, but we also got to chat/brainstorm/laugh/smile. There were also salted caramel cookies.

**I realize I skipped Friday. A third guest gardener is on the way.**