“Bon Bini”

“Bon Bini!” A Papiamento phrase which is typically said when greeted by an Aruban. The story I would like to share with you is that of what I like to call, an endless adventure. Last year, I was given the privilege to venture to the Island of Aruba. Amongst what seemed like an endless time it took to exit the plane after arriving to Aruba, I was greeted by an arid climate, something that I was curiously surprised about. Provided that all the images that I gathered while searching Aruba, suggested that the island conveys a tropical climate.

Photo taken by: VisitAruba.com

Pondering the adventure that awaited me, I scurried to the service desk. While attentively glancing at the wall of brochures, a tour guide approached me and was happy to answer any pressing questions I had. Unquestionably, I blurted out questions I had ranging from the culture to the geography and finally the cuisine of the island. The guide attentively answered my questions and highlighted that the island is a melting pot of cultures which offers a wide variety of cultural delights. Enthused, my next thought was that I had to make a trip to the local grocery store to witness how the agricultural scene differed from our, unsustainable selection of produce. Surprised, I entered the grocery store and was greeted with the pungent smell of cheese. After talking to a few local Arubans, I learned that there is a heavy cheese and dairy demand for the Dutch-owned island of Aruba. Eagerly, I wandered over the produce section and got a fresh sample of cheese made that morning, delicious, I thought to myself. Next, I knew it was time to see what kind of fruits and vegetables that awaited in the following aisles. Cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, tomatoes along with an endless selection of produce met my eyes as I turned the corner. I thought to myself, how do they have so much selection. I curiously identified from my background in taking Spanish that many of the items were outsourced from other countries. To think that a semi-tropical climate such as Aruba participates in the same corruption that The United States has been branded for, I was again surprised.

Photo taken by: Ling & Sons Super Center

Throughout the next week, I was able to observe and learn about the vegetation of the island given its diverse landscape. While on an eco-tour, I noticed that the island was populated with a unique, almost forced horizontal slanted tree. I later learned that this tree was called, the Divi tree, which acts as Aruba’s natural compass, always pointing in a southwesterly direction due to the trade winds that gust across the island from the north-east.

Photo taken by: Camilo, Juan. “Flora and Fauna.” Visit Aruba, www.visitaruba.com/about-aruba/general-aruba-facts/flora-and-fauna/.Divi Tree

Flowers From a Yard in a Farm Town

Sunflower field next to 5J Creamee & Pasiecnik Farmstand, Whately, MA.

Being born and raised in Deerfield, MA, a prominent farm town in Western Massachusetts, there was never a day where I wouldn’t see a green John Deere tractor driving past my house on Main Street or anywhere in the surrounding towns. However, even though I was surrounded by agriculture, farmers, livestock, and everything else, I never got involved in that lifestyle. This past summer, my Mother and I drove past one of the sunflower fields on our way to a creamery to get ice cream one night. We stopped because the sunset looked perfect sitting on top of the sunflowers. One of the beautiful things about Western Mass, sunsets over farm fields.

Iris Flower (and a portion of my Mother’s finger, top right corner) in her garden next to our back steps.

Another place with beautiful flowers are in my Mother’s small garden that sits next to the front stairs that leads up into our sunroom/mudroom. I’m not entirely sure what kinds of flowers she plants, because they are never consistent each year. She tries to switch them up, except for her roses. She often takes pictures of her flowers, and posts them to Facebook when they are fully bloomed (and sometimes includes one of her fingers over her iPhone camera lens). Even though it’s clearly not a rose, her caption on Facebook said that it smelled like grapes.

A normal summer night for my Mother.

In the summer she likes to decorate our small gazebo with other flowers as well, in pots all over our patio, and hanging up on hooks that myself, my Dad and my Mother tend to all the time. We water them very frequently, especially when there are dry spells throughout the middle of the summer. Here’s a picture from a few summers ago that my Mother took while reading a book, as she usually does most summer nights.

Why My Little Sisters Now Eat Fruits And Veggies

Lexi (9) on the left and Molly (8) on the right gardening when they were younger

Like most kids, my two little sisters weren’t the biggest fans of fruits and vegetables. For young children like my sisters, Lexi and Molly , there are lots of different types of food they would rather eat then fruits and vegetables. I always remember sitting around my big rectangular kitchen table that overlooked our living room, and my mom would always have the constant struggle of having my sisters eat there fruits and veggies. She would have to threaten to take away there desserts or maybe even reward them with desserts in order for them to eat there veggies at dinner. This struggle would go on almost every night, however one day my mom found a solution. 

My Dad and Molly (left) and Lexi (Right)

My mom thought the idea of growing veggies on our own, in our house would help my sisters eat more vegetables. It’s the relationship factor. When someone grows something there-self, they are rewarded with there own food and will be happy to eat it, especially kids. That is exactly what happened. My mom got my sisters to grow their own veggies like cucumbers and tomatoes right above our kitchen sink that overlooked our big backyard. This was a changing point in our dinner conversation moving forward! The talk around the table shifted from arguing about eating vegetables to bonding about our days and telling funny stories. Growing veggies helped my family become closer! 

Lexi (9)

To this day my sister Lexi could eat cucumbers all day long. It gets to the point were we need to tell her to stop and eat something else! Every dinner I would look to the right of me and there they would always be! Her plate would be half full of cucumbers with her pile of ranch dressing next to them to dip into. The idea that my mom had of growing our own veggies helped my sister love cucumbers and eat more veggies! The relationship my sister made from growing her own food, made eating vegetables fun and a project! My family learned that growing our own vegetables and eating them made it more enjoyable and made ourselves proud in the results that came with it.  

My Missouri Garden

About 10 years ago I was living in Missouri with my wife and our rather vocal Black Lab, Buddy.   If it could be properly barked at, Buddy had it covered and believe me, out in rural Missouri, there are a lot of things for a young pup to bark at.  The barking could be incessant at times.  We will revisit this feature a little later.

Buddy, fierce defender of the realm

We were renting a house out in the country on about four acres, surrounded by trees, fields, cows, and not much else.  Life was pretty good.  Our first spring there we decided to attempt a small vegetable garden in the Missouri soil, which in actuality is more of a sticky, red clay and requires a slight departure from traditional garden bed prepping.  I tilled down as deep as I could, and brought in some topsoil and compost to help bulk things up.  After this, I mounded everything into neat little rows, and started planting.  We planted various types of tomatoes, squash, peppers, lettuce, sunflowers, onions, and carrots.  Just like anywhere else, some vegetables grew well, others, not so much.  Tomatoes, which love hot and sunny weather, thrived and I soon found myself having to get creative in order to support plants that were exceeding five or six feet tall.  Sunflowers also fared well, growing to seven or eight feet.  Carrots, we discovered, when planted in clay soil have a tendency to grow about two inches long, and about four inches wide.  If anyone has a desire to grow carrot pancakes, dense clay soil is key.  All in all, we were looking at reaping a pretty good harvest.

Our first attempt at sunflowers

Now, as I mentioned earlier, Buddy was a bit of a barking enthusiast.  Early one morning I was jolted out of a deep sleep by the deafening sound of….silence.  I sat up and looked around the room, no Buddy.  I got out of bed and stepped out into the living room, still no Buddy.  I turned the corner and there he was, sitting by the sliding door in the dining room, attentively surveying his domain.  I followed his gaze, and then I saw them.  My dog, who will bark at a buzzard flying half a mile away, had not let out a peep about the dozen or so cows now tromping through our garden.

A few of the garden crashers

The damage was extensive- pepper and tomato plants uprooted, my neat little rows flattened, and cow crap everywhere, but we learned some valuable lessons that morning.  We learned that cows enjoy a nice country garden just like anyone else, and we also learned that a fence will protect that garden much better than a cow-shy Black Lab.   

Peter Reed 2/9/19

Why Does My Dog Have To Bury Everything…

It’s the beginning of April and my mom is doing her yearly trip to the local Home Depot. She gets into her Rav4 and heads down the street. On her mind is just one thing, how to make her garden the best it has ever been? She drives the 10 minutes it takes and heads on in, eyes pointing at the gardening center.

Home Depot Garden Center

She arrived and immediately went to work. She picked out vegetables and flowers of all kind. Her favorite was her little cherry tomatoes. She would buy six or seven of those a year and wait until they were ready to be put into her salads. When she arrived back home, got all of her gardening tools out and did her thing. She had two different gardens on each side of the yard. One was about the side of the fence and the other of the side of the house. It took her a record 2 hours to do what she was waiting for all year. I knew with that excitement it was going to be a good year.

Cherry Tomatoes

After my mom cleaned up her mess of dirt and little shovels. This whole time watching her clean up I was wondering in my head where my dog was. I then forgot that my dad took him to get groomed at the pet store. He gets grooming about once every two months. My dad spoils the crap out of that dog. He is a lemon beagle named Baxter and is probably the laziest thing ever. He sleeps from 9 am too at 5 pm. I once saw my dad give him 2 slices of pizza.

My Dog Baxter

Once my dad brought my dog back from the groomer he lets him out into the backyard where the gardens are. I saw him wander around for a little bit until he laid on the ground. Once he sat there for a second, something must have popped into his head that he forgot. He had a bone sitting on the edge of the deck. I watch with my very eyes as he grabbed the bone and ran off next to the house. I thought nothing of it as he always takes his bones and hides them in a safe place. But little in my head did I remember that my mom just planted her new garden on that side of the house. I go inside and sit on the couch. A few minutes late my mom opens the door to let my dog in. She then screams ” Where the Hell where you”. I rushed up to think I was in trouble for some reason and I see on the floor dirt all over my dog. At that moment I had known what had happened. My mother raced outside to see both of her knew gardens were all torn apart. My dog must have not liked one and decided to do damage on the other. The look of shock and anger ran across her face. She knew that this was going to be a battle for years to come.

Nick Conley 2/7/19

Garden Boxing…uh… I mean, Boxes.

A few years back, our family garden turned into a competition, as most things in my family turn into one way or another. It was as warm April morning, and my family was on our way back from church when we passed by a farm supply store. We often got our gardening and yard care supplies from there, so we stopped into to see what was in stock. A half hour later, we all emerged with bags of seeds, bulbs in burlap sacks, and furrowed brows. Determined to beat the other in growing the best veggies.

My sisters took on garden box A (pictured below, left) growing summer squash, bell peppers, and lettuce. I see they were probably going for the quantity over quality route, since summer squash grows so large and rapidly that it rivals crabgrass as a backyard nuisance.

The Garden Boxes in Mid-Winter (Photo John Lovell)

I decided to tackle something a little more exotic. I carried out seed packets of Anaheim peppers, Big Boy tomatoes, and purple cabbage. If I was to succeed in this challenge, I wanted the fruits of my labor to be rewarding and to carry a special meaning, as well as special taste.

While Mom and Dad pledged to be neutral, growing their potatoes and cucumbers in another plot, I knew they secretly were rooting for my sisters. My eldest sister subcontracted my father to water her plants every morning at 6 am, and mom would routinely help my littlest sister weed each day after work. I was left to tend to my plot by myself, although I enjoyed the independence and the challenge. September 1st arrived, and while they grew a greater quantity of crops, we all benefitted from a backyard labor day barbecue featuring the freshest fruits and veggies from our garden. I guess we all won that summer in a way, but if anyone from my family were to ask, I came away with the superior green thumb.

  • Danny Lovell 2/2/19

High-Yield, Low Work “Perennials”

This inaugural Warrior Fresh post highlights three easy perennials that should be in more gardens. First time gardeners often plant annual vegetables. For the cost of a few vegetable six packs, you can put in pest-resistant plants that offer food for decades.

Raspberries

My family’s first foray into growing berries seemed off to an abysmal start. I received 12 black raspberries canes (Allens and Bristols) for my birthday in September of 2010. My husband and I hastily dug up some grass and planted them in “garden beds” that were about a foot wide and contained no added nutrients. Because of our shoddy work, only 3 plants survived that winter in western New York.

But this story has a happy ending: those 3 plants thrived, growing long canes that gracefully bowed over and took root to produce many offspring. I may have watered them twice in my life. I never pulled a weed and only cut back canes when they became too disorderly.

At peak harvest time, the berries would rain into our baskets. We gathered gallons: freezing some, baking a pie or two, but mostly eating them fresh. Any scrapes from wayward bramble thorns were well worth the sweet rich taste of berries that cannot be bought in a store .

A Perks harvest of black raspberries and red raspberries from Fairport, New York in 2014.

Asparagus

“Half a pound from a crown.” It’s not the start of a British nursery rhyme; it’s the yield from an asparagus plant. After we moved to New Hampshire in 2016, I quickly readied a bed for these perennials. Ten Jersey Giant and ten Purple Passion asparagus crowns arrived in the spring and sent up their ferny fronds. The crowns cost roughly $30.

Dew-covered asparagus ferns taking in the morning sun in 2018.

I’ve faithfully weeded, fertilized, and mulched while the asparagus plants built their strength for two summers. The harvestable part, the spears, emerge early in spring and can be cut before opening into ferns. 2019 is our year for fully mature plants and a big harvest–up to 10 pounds. That’s worth $30 in the grocery store (well, $29.90 if you’re really precise). Ten pounds is way more than my family can eat…so my friends are in luck come April. With proper care, these asparagus can produce for up to 20 years.

Garlic

It’s not a perennial, but allow me this exception to the rule. Here’s how growing garlic works: you buy seed garlic in the fall, break a full head of garlic out into individual cloves (ideally, with paper wrappers still on), plant cloves about 2 inches deep (pointy side up), throw some mulch over top, watch sprouts emerge in spring, harvest in summer. To keep the cycle going, just select several of your biggest cloves to plant again in the fall.

Deer, squirrels, woodchucks, (and vampires) leave them alone, so no fencing is needed. And I’ve never had another pest, fungus, or blight bother my garlic plants. Plus, you can make a pesto from the curly garlic scapes that grow out of the plant early in the summer.

Attleson Farm garlic scapes. Photo by Eli Duke.

Biding its time underground through winter, spring, and summer, each little clove eventually matures into a full head of garlic. When several plant leaves have turned brown (usually mid-July in New Hampshire), gently dig up garlic and let it “cure” in a cool dry place for a few days before storing for months. We’re still eating this year’s harvest.