Friday, November 6, 2009

Joyce Padilla's Garden

Joyce Padilla has been a friend of my grandparents for a looong time. She is the grandmother of my friend Jamela, who is the daughter of my father's friend Angie.

Joyce and Angie live in Quito, on a nice piece of land up in the faldas (the skirts) of the mountain Pichincha. Behind Joyce's house, she has a beautifully laid out garden which is beginning to come to life as the rains have started to come (if infrequently.) About once a week, my grandfather and I go over and do exciting dirt-filled projects.
Above, Joyce is planting parsley in the semi-shade of the tree that grows from the middle of the garden. She told us (my grandfather and me) that the tree was once a post showing the corner of a bed row, and that it just began to grow. She liked it, and left it there. One of the wonders of gardening in this climate is that everything grows, and it grows all the time. It is no strange thing here that someone stuck a mostly-dead stick in the ground and it grew to be a good sized tree. Growing in this marvelous garden are two beds of pinto beans (in the right-hand side of the picture above) and two beds of zapallo verde (in the left-hand side of the picture above.)
Zapallo verde is a big squash that looks a lot like a watermelon but tastes a lot like a summer squash.
There are also several trees on the edges covered in taxo vines (below.)
Taxo is a yellow fruit with black seeds that can be a little sour but makes a decent juice.

Pictured below (on the left-hand side) is a half-bed of rhubarb, one of the three beds, which is doing really well and will in the near future be turned into such tasty things as rhubarb wine and possibly pies. Also growing in this corner are several different types of herbs. What can't be seen is to the left of the rhubarb where my grandad has started a "natives bed" with jicama (a sweet edible root) baby transplants and as of today another root plant that closely resembles a nasturtium. To the left of that bed are some small newly transplanted volunteer tomatoes.
A large part of gardening is taking care of the soil. One of the best ways to do this is to compost "waste" and turn it into rich fertilizer. Below is a picture of the giant pile my grandad and I made, layering mostly dry carbonaceous materials (weeds and grasses) with soil and then wetting it down. Today, we began working on digging a hole for a new compost pile. This compost will be mostly household food waste from the Padillas, such as eggshells, banana peals, moldy left-overs, etc.
But before we could dig, we had to clear the space of all the extremely vivacious grasses and weeds. One of the most common grasses here, which is actually native to Kenya and was brought over by cattle ranchers (and quickly took over native local varieties), is called kikuyu grass. It is terribly hearty, extremely exploratory, and somewhat of a pain to clear out. Below, I am holding a mat of it that my grandad tore up, which was growing over the cement edge of the garden wall.
When we left late in the morning, we had cleared the space and begun to dig an approximately four foot by three foot hole. Some of the soil seemed to be quite rich, and we took it over in wheelbarrow loads to a new squash bed, and used it to widen the bed so that the squash could stretch out. The rest of the dirt we are using to fill in the old compost hole, which was abandoned after an avocado pit took root and grew into a very healthy nice young tree right in the middle. In this hole we layered the copious amount of pulled-up grass with dirt as we had on the compost pile, until it was almost level with the ground.
I love working at Joyce's because it has allowed me to get to know Ecuador in a different way. I have been able to notice details like the different smell of the soil and the speed at which seeds germinate in a way that I might not have otherwise. I have been able to take a close look at new plants and insects, and feel the tremendous proximity of the sun on my back. Not to mention learn all sorts of history and botany from Joyce and my grandad.

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