Gardeners in the Hales Trail Community Garden are picking a plethora of summer vegetables
Normally a gentle person, Mary Boyle attacked squash bugs with a vengeance Friday, squishing them with her gloved hand or slicing them in half with scissors.
The bugs were attacking her summer squash.
“The bigger ones look so alien when you squish them — an iridescent blue-green awfulness. They’re revolting bugs,” Boyle said. “We weren’t expecting to be dealing with this death and destruction.”
While she was attacking bugs, her husband Brendan was shoring up his pole bean teepees, which had become lean-tos in Friday’s rain and strong winds. He arrived at 3 p.m. planning to spend an hour in the two garden plots the family has at the Hales Trail Community Garden in Port Washington.
“I called my wife in a panic to come help,” he said.
Three hours later, the family left with a few ripe tomatoes, a nice head of cabbage, onions, green peppers and cucumbers for their efforts. Their children Molly, 9, and Eamon, 7, helped and also found time to play and read books.
Last week, the family canned lots of dill pickles and had stuffed green peppers.
Eamon’s favorite vegetable is green beans. Molly likes green beans and radishes, and both are eager to have watermelon and cantaloupe from their garden.
The Boyles’ plots are among 59 gardens that look incredibly lush, considering the drought and squash bug infestations that made this a challenging growing year.
Most prolific are tomatoes of almost every variety — from clusters of small grape tomatoes to large beef steaks and plenty of heirlooms — beginning to ripen on lush plants, some as tall as seven feet.
A truckload of sifted manure from a farmer helped gardeners turn the clay dirt into more fertile and porous soil. The manure arrived a little late for the Boyles and other gardeners who planted early, but spreading it around the plants helped, Brendan said.
He added worm castings to his plots, which are on opposite ends of the community garden.
“Otherwise, nothing else except lots of water,” he said of his organic garden.
The couple took over a plot that Cindy Beyer, children’s librarian at the Niederkorn Library, rented but didn’t have to time to plant.
They planted kohlrabi for her because it’s her favorite vegetable, Molly said.
Mary rented the plot for her husband, who researched organic and companion gardening and learned a lot from other gardeners, who willingly share tips, tools and watering cans.
“We dabbled with it (a garden) at home, but never had a big enough plot to have very good production,” Brendan said.
After planting seeds in April, the family had to carry water to the site, which is along the bike trail but not accessible by car.
Now, two large tanks are filled with water from a fire hydrant on Pierron Street, and gardeners fill watering cans and buckets to take to their gardens.
Brendan said his family had only one or two pickings of lettuce before it turned bitter due to the heat and drought.
“Most of it ended up in the compost pile,” he said. “Otherwise everything else has done really well. We’re hoping for a lot of carrots.”
The family planted purple, orange and yellow carrots.
Brendan planted marigolds and left some radishes, which now resemble large beets, in the ground because he read both plants repel bugs. They didn’t repel squash bugs.
“The community aspect of it has been wonderful,” Mrs. Boyle said. “It’s a great community builder, a great way to meet people. We were hoping other people would tell us what to do as we went along, and they have. It’s really been a fun place to be.
“People who are on the bike path stop to talk about what’s growing. It’s a wonderful conversation starter.”
Also on Friday, Port Washington physician Ken Jensen and his wife Chris harvested the first of their tomatoes. The plants had grown so tall and dense that Chris disappeared into the vegetation searching for ripe tomatoes.
“Next year, I’ll plant them apart a little more,” Jensen said.
He eats a tomato sandwich every day for lunch and loves fresh green peppers and radishes.
He planted 40 onions in triangles at the four corners of the plot – 120 plants in all. Beans and carrots are growing around the tomatoes and peppers are at the back of the plot.
There’s also a peanut plant, but it’s being overpowered by tomatoes.
Squash bugs ruined the patty pan and zucchini squash, but eggplant, watermelon and popcorn are growing well.
The couple have 1-1/2 plots. When Ken sees patients in the garden, he prefers talking about their gardens rather than their health, but noted the two are intertwined.
“There is a diversity of people here, but everybody has a common interest in gardening,” he said.
Brenda Fritsch, her husband Lee and their children Sam, 12, Abby, 9 and Ben, 6, had a salad Sunday night that was made entirely of produce from their garden.
The entire family works in the garden, which also encompasses 1-1/2 plots.
“We got a late start, but everything is doing great,” Brenda said. “We got another plot, and in the beginning of August planted arugula and other greens. They’re doing great now that Mother Nature is cooperating.”
The family tried having a garden at their home, she said, but there is too much shade and too many deer.
“The kids love the garden,” she said. “We quite often ride our bikes there. Except for the squash bugs, everything has been wonderful.
“Everyone is so nice. If we’re gone, someone will water for us and vice versa.”
When squash bugs destroyed their cucumbers and acorn squash, they planted ground cherries that Abby got when she was enrolled in the summer school garden project.
The family was out of town for a week and the garden exploded while they were gone, Brenda said.
“In the next couple of weeks, we’re going to have to keep up with production,” she said. “We’ll freeze tomatoes for sauce and chili, then give them away to the Food Pantry.
“We’ve always eaten a lot of vegetables, but when you grow everything for your salad, there is a little more incentive to eat it. It was really exciting to see some ripe tomatoes. We had been waiting for them.”
“The garden itself is great. We have to thank Derek Strohl for all his efforts and keeping with it.”
Strohl spearheaded the drive to have a community garden in Port. The positive feedback he’s received made the effort worthwhile, he said. He has a garden at his home, so his plot on Hales Trail is a bit neglected.
“It’s funny that the organizer has the worst plot,” Strohl said.
Image Information: Brendan and Mary Boyle and their children Molly and Eamon are among the families feasting on produce from the first, incredibly bountiful harvest of Port’s community garden.