It's funny how you can make a decision, thinking you know where it will lead, and then find the result is something totally unexpected. I had one of those moments this spring, where the results were nothing less than serendipitous. See...
I was at Starbucks, waiting to get my chai fix, when I saw a poster on the community board inviting patrons to join the crew in volunteering at The Food Project. The Food Project is a Boston area CSA and so much more. The Food Project is not certified organic (too expensive and time consuming) but they raisie their crops without chemicals; they have programs to teach school children where their food comes from, sell fairly priced vegetables in parts of the city where vegetables are hard to buy, support foodbanks, and offer an assortment of agricultural and leadership programs with teens. It's impressive just how many programs for the betterment of the community have had their start on a couple Boston area farms.
So of course I wanted to join a work day at the farm. My own tiny container garden was just started and wouldn't need any more help from me for a while, but I still had an urge to dig, to plant, to help spring turn the world from gray to green. In short, a morning outside, getting dirty, helping out on a farm with other people who think that sounds fun was right where I wanted to be.
The morning started off cool and misty, nothing like the freezing rain the Starbucks crew said they'd worked in the year before. One manager remembered her hands were so frozen when she was done that she had to put her fingers in her armpit so they'd warm up enough to be able to handle her car keys. Fortunately we had nothing like that. By the time we finished, 15,000 (or was it 150,000?) planted onions later, the sun was out and coffees had been replaced by water bottles. We were dirty, smiling and no one was in a hurry to go home, even those with tired toddlers in tow. The morning had been just what I hoped for, and more.
I leared so much about gardening that morning, not from the experience of planting onions, but through conversation with the Starbucks folks planting alongside me. Of course I also learned plenty of Starbucks gossip...
Back to the plants. For much of the morning I worked along side Stephen, a true gardener. Last year he had over 100 tomato plants in his garden! Thinking of the four plastic tubs that held my garden, I couldn't begin to imagine the size of his. I asked Stephen about some of the plants I was considering adding. He taught me a book full as we worked. Among other things, he explained that cucumbers don't grow the shape we're accustomed to unless they're lifted off the ground. Fast forward a couple months and here's my DIY cucumber trellis.
Remember that photo of a tiny spout at the beginning of this post? Do you want to see what it looks like today?
It towers over my head and has just started to grow its famous flower. What intrigues me is that the head of the plant has been following the path of the sun for the last month, long before there were any signs of an actual flower. Each day the whole line of green giants performs a silent, synchronized dance as they turn to the dawn, face heavenward at midday, and bow toward the trees as the sun slips away for the night.
I wouldn't have had the fun of experiencing all this, if it hadn't been for Adam talking about being a flower gardener at home, with sunflowers a specialty. I had it in my head that such a large plant must need special care, so even though I wanted them, I'd already ruled them out as an option for a beginner like me. Adam set me straight saying once sunflowers get past the early weak stemmed stage (Starbucks cold cups make great planters/supports for young plants) they're incredibly resilient, even growing horizontally before starting their ascent if it means finding more light.
I went to the hardware store on my way home and picked up a pack of seeds. In my excitement I didn't read the package carefully. I thought I'd picked up a 12" (inch) variety and only later realized it said 12' (feet)! I never would have purposefuly chosen the grandaddy of all sunflowers on my first attempt at growing them, but I'm so glad I did. Just another serendipitous step in my first season as a gardener.