Thursday, July 7, 2016

Exploring a Hidden Horticultural Treasure

Blog Entry by Shayla Carey

Tucked away in the far corner of the site is a true Landis Valley treasure:  the Brick Garden.  Mainly tended by Heirloom Seed Project volunteer Mickey Blefko, it contains vegetables and herbs in well-weeded raised beds and is surrounded on three sides by flowers.

Despite temperatures close to 90 in the sun, Mickey eagerly gives me a tour on this early July morning, taking me through the paths among the raised beds. “Some of these are here for seed and some are just here for demonstration,” she says.  She points to a row of beets situated half-way into the garden.  “We have 'Deacon Dan' beet seeds for sale, but they are too big for this garden, so we grow other demonstration varieties that we can harvest and eat ourselves.”  The volunteers are careful not to let them go to seed and they are grown in areas remote enough not to adulterate the heirloom population.

'Munchen Bier' radish seed pods
We walk past kale and Swiss chard that were thinned by other volunteers earlier in the day.  She points rows of peppers of various stages of ripeness.  “The Seed Project saves the seed.  But, the great thing about it is that we can keep the fruit after the seeds come out.” I look at her and the same twinkle is in her eyes as is in mine:  we can just taste the stuffed peppers that can be made later in the season.  The same rule goes for tomatoes and Mickey eats them stuffed, too.

The garden is in a constant state of change, as some plants die back and others start again.  A few, such as ‘Munchen Bier’ Radish and ‘Green Star’ bean, are precious and are babied.  The radishes weren’t sold for years and the remaining seed was a few years old, so Mickey was tasked with planting them here and refreshing the genetic supply.  They came back like gangbusters and are now laden with seed pods full of seed.  If nothing kills them before the seed is fully ripe, it will be a true success story.

Beets in the front and 'Green Star' beans climbing poles.
'Amish Paste' tomatoes behind the beans and 'Beste Von Alum'
bush beans to the left.
The beans have a similar story, though they are still in the flowering stage.  ‘Green Star’ is a pole bean that was not for sale for years due to low population and, this year, Mickey was given 20 of the 30 or so seeds left to plant.  “I didn’t know what to expect, so I planted five of them in each corner,” she says as she points to the pole structure that supports healthy plants.  “Wouldn’t you know?  All five in each corner came up!  I had to thin them.”

Most of the plants here do well, though she has had some misfortunes.  Demonstration potatoes that occupied a far corner didn’t germinate, critters got to her peas, and she had to re-plant lavender and rosemary, as even hilling them with straw didn’t ensure their survival through the winter.  But for all of that, the garden is brimming with beautiful bounty.  Mickey encourages visitors to stop by and view the garden from a designated spot along the fence between flower plantings.  “Come back later on and see what’s growing,” Mickey says cheerily as we leave the garden to bask in the July sun.