Sunday, 23 September 2012

A Summer of Gardening

Summer has officially passed…or did it ever arrive? Now that September is nearly over, Ireland finally gets a bit of sunshine just before the long, cold, dark nights. Alas, I survive yet another boring, rainy summer with little artwork to show for it. My gardening skills, ironically, improved despite the awful weather.

 But first, a bit of nostalgia…

It might be a surprising to some that I actually come a family of gardeners: my dad, with the help of my brothers, turned their little 'hobby plot', into a hearty 3 plot system neighboring with the swimming pool. Before I moved from my Atlanta home, My family grew tomatoes, squash, watermelon, and okra. Dad also has a soft spot for growing pineapples. Mom is very house-proud with her hydrangea bushes and dancing frog figures much to my amusement. My grandmother is a hardcore gardener with a very big plot system, that includes beans, raspberries, herbs, a little greenhouse, and lots more. I have a fond childhood memories of picking raspberries and beans in her garden;  and back at home, my siblings and I used to spit watermelon seeds into what can only be described as a brick troth (originally designed for decorative flowers to grow in) covered with plain Georgia clay soil - much to our excitement, watermelons started to grow - even over-grow out of the brick troth. That was before demolition of the front door, and extension at the front of my parents' house which now holds a classic southern style front porch. I have to admit, I was never a fan of outdoor chores, especially in hot, muggy, Georgia weather. One of my clever catchphrases used to be 'I don't sweat' accompanied by a typical teenage look of disgust. As I resided to keeping my work in air-conditioned indoor spaces for most of my life, this of course meant chances of learning any gardening skills went a-rye. Now that I am older and wiser, I developed a particular interest in eco-friendliness and self-sustainability; it's time to get back outside and re-engage with the natural world - be it sweating or drenched in rain. 

Which brings us back to the present...

This summer, as many summers before, Kenmare Adult Education Centre quiets down in the summer months in preparation for the next academic year. With all the students out of school, Summer is a time when volunteers to come out to the garden and get their hands dirty. The volunteers include a few regular faces annually, and I was a complete newbie. I was welcomed by the volunteers who were happy to show me how to sow seeds and trim tomato plants. I did a lot of weeding and harvesting of broad-beans, mangetout, carrots, potatoes, and onions. Herbs such as fennel, basil, thyme, and rosemary grew extensively. I even got to pot up trimmings of strawberry plants which will take root in hopes to happily fruit away. Every Thursday, there was something new to do, a conversation to have, and the odd nibble of something new. I discovered lemon balm tea, and the advantage of having a polly-tunnel - the main benefit being you can keep working away even in lashing rain!

One of the bigger highlights the summer was the Kenmare Food Carnival, where myself and the other volunteers attended a presentation of celebrity chef, Darina Allen, who spoke about the importance of Slow Food education targeted at a younger age groups. In the developed world, there are about 3 to 4 generations who lost traditional methods in cooking and farming depending on where you live. I know that many people in the US, as well as in Ireland, do not grow their own food. Most of us get our food from the supermarket. Some people might go to the extreme of not cooking at all. I'm actually one of the lucky American kids who at least got to experience gardening, and a bit of cooking. I don't think I can cook very well, but my dad tells me I know more than I think, and I used to cook at a young age. I guess I have to take his word on it. I don't think enough children, Americans in particular, know where food really comes from or what its suppose to look like. This really bothers me, but it also makes me question how much do I really know about food and it's sources? I don't know how to eat in season, and I'm still learning a lot about our food system.

Coincidentally, many of the volunteers came from Bonane, the town-land where I now work, and its nice to know that I have already invested time in getting to know a small piece of that community, even before I got the job. Thomas, who is the main garden groundskeeper, has been very patient and helpful. KAEC's garden is a little bit like Kenmare's best kept secret when it comes to buying organic. As a volunteer taking interest in adjusting to a healthier lifestyle, being in the garden every Thursday gave me the opportunity to learn more about fresh veggies. There are other organic farmers around the place, but I found the garden at KAEC very convenient and re-assuring that what money I paid for produce contributed the up-keep of this centre that has been there for me in the last year. I tip my hat to you, KAEC. You have a lovely garden and other great facilities. I finally stating to feel like I'm falling into the groove if this community and I have you to thank for it.

Just to add another little snippet of history, before KAEC came about, it was the old vocational school that my husband attended during his adolescent/teen years. Even before that, my husband's grandfather, the late Tom Bambury, was the principal for many years at the school and was also a forward-thinking conservationist and avid gardener. It was also nice to see the late Tom's good friend, Nora, pop into the garden every once in a while to say hello and make small chat which all made for a great atmosphere.

If any of my followers would like to check out KAEC's garden, volunteers are usually out on Thursdays, from 11am-1pm. Thomas is around during the working week. The volunteers will be planning to quiet down for the winter before October, so check it out before we all go our separate ways. You might notice the 'Organic Vegetables For Sale' sign off the side of the road.

This little squash decided to try something new…growing outside the polly-tunnel.

New courses and registration are also under way at KAEC, and not just for gardening. So if anyone is interested in learning new skills, earning a qualification, and/or have some extra time on your hands for the academic year, check out KAEC's website. Many of the FETAC Courses start at the end of September, so if anyone is really interested. Give them a shout asap.

Roll on Autumn.