Gardener, 10, aims to grow his own peanut butter and jelly sandwich
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Community Gardens Dispatch No. 47: Oak Park
Like many gardeners Daniel Cashdan, 10, has a vision of what he will do with his harvest. He’s trying to grow a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The blackberries have been picked and made into the jelly, and the wheat seedlings have been started at home. The peanuts, however, have become meals for the squirrels that live in the undergrowth around nearby Medea Creek.
Daniel remains philosophical. This is his third year tilling plots at the garden on Kanan Road in Oak Park, north of Agoura Hills. His advice: “Get really cheap plants you think the critters will eat and plant them at the same time. Give them that so they won’t want your other stuff.” (That’s Daniel, above, who’s also growing melons and squash.)
To deal with rats and squirrels, the gardeners here have cleared a 15-foot-wide space where the garden borders the creek, and many of the 72 plots are fenced and netted. Last month a pair of immature barn owls from the Ojai Raptor Center were installed in an owl box, hung high under an oak canopy, with a clear line of flight. The big plastic owls that some gardeners had propped in their plots are coming out because they’re actually predators of the smaller barn owl.
Freshly cut roses, above left, and heirloom tomatoes and other summer vegetables. Madelyn Green, one of the founders of the 8-year-old garden, relies on over-planting. This year she has more heart-shaped Orange Russian 117 tomatoes than she can eat, so she’s making the harvest into gazpacho to give away.
In this community, she said, the properties are small and don’t have enough room for a garden. ‘A lot of us have become friends here,’ she said. ‘There’s a wonderful camaraderie at a community garden.”
It’s a good place for kids. Abigail Hass, 10, remembers gardening here when she was “about 4.” Then her little sister Claire was born, and the family stopped for a while. Now both sisters have plots with tomatillos, strawberries, cucumbers and radishes.
The girls’ mom, Shay Hass, grew up on a vineyard in Fresno, learning to drive a tractor when she was Abigail’s age. She wanted her children to have a similar experience. Walking past an exploding grapevine in a nearby plot, she noted that the gardener should prune the smaller bunches for a better harvest. And come November, after the leaves fall, pruning is even more important.
“You prune a table grape differently from a wine grape,’ said Hass, pictured above right with her children, from left, Abigail, Spencer and Claire. ‘You have to leave five or six long canes. A wine grape, you hack back to little nubs.”
The Oak Park Community Garden website has become a model for aspiring community garden organizers, domestically and internationally. Particularly popular is the plot map that identifies vacant spaces and who is gardening where.
Next week: Growing Napa cabbage in summer to make kimchee for winter
-- Jeff Spurrier
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The owl box.
Timmie High with her basket of roses and tomatoes.
Sunflowers in late summer.
Claire Hass with part of her family’s harvest.
Fencing helps to keep out pests.