how does your garden grow?
Early this month I had the opportunity to snap a few photos of Kate's urban garden setup in downtown Omaha. Kate has garden plots in two locations, near 24th St. and St. Mary's as well as behind the shared Muglife Coffee + Greenstreet Cycles space. She leases these plots from Hands to Harvest, a community garden comprised of two neighborhood associations hoping to make use of previously untended vacant lots in Omaha. Kate has done just that, providing passersby on 24th St. a glimpse at her towering sunflowers, colorful zinnias and many a vegetable that she cares for with the intention of providing meals for herself throughout the season. Keep reading to learn more about Kate's life in the garden.
Many thanks to Maranda Loughlin for shooting with me, and to Kate for having us!
What got you into gardening?
My mom has always been an avid gardener, so I grew up helping her and learning the names of flowers and things. I also have always been an active person. When I was younger I played every sport I was allowed to, and I really love getting to use my body in a similar way to do something that is productive and ends up being a reciprocal relationship. I give it work, it gives me nutrients.
Tell me more about some of the farms/organizations you've worked with in the past.
About seven years ago, I did a farm work exchange on a little farm in Normandy, France for a summer. I mostly just fed the chickens and pulled the weeds, but I think the beauty of the whole operation really got me hooked on gardening. The woman who I worked for only went to the grocery store to buy bread and butter (she later told us that she really just went to chat), everything else was provided by her animals and her garden, and her son who was a fisherman. Two years ago, I worked on several different farms in Vermont. I had moved there from New York City hoping to achieve the bucolic dream of living on my own farm, but as it turns out it can be expensive. The first one was a farm I found through a farm apprenticeship website, and I worked almost a whole season there. That was the most difficult because it was just me and another person, creating a 20 person CSA from scratch (the fields were covered in grass, and we had no tractor). It was also an enormous learning curve, not to mention a test in working exclusively with one other person you don't know very well. After that I decided to tone it down a little and I just helped out on friend's farms, or people who needed seasonal help. I have friends that run a flower farm called Stitchdown Farm (they have a beautiful Instagram), and some folks that lived near me ran a vegetable farm called Heartwood. Last summer, after moving home to Nebraska, I worked for the Big Garden. They help non profits in town build raised bed gardens and then offer gardening classes on site for any one of those non profits. I taught gardening classes, mostly to kids, all over town, from Bellevue to North Omaha.
Biggest success as a gardener/plant parent?
I think deciding to grow my own food in and of itself is the greatest success. Nearly all my lunches, all summer long are free, and grown by me. It gives me something wonderful to look forward to. March means you can start your seeds inside, April and May mean things finally start to go in the ground, and all summer long the garden is changing and it really gives me a great sense of purpose. It never stops being a magical, nearly unbelievable moment, when the plant that you started as a seed in March, is finally beginning to fruit, or is finally ready to harvest.
Biggest gardening fail?
Dead plants happen. My dog knocked over a whole tray of heirloom tomato seedlings. Things get ravaged by bugs, vermin, or in my case this year, people walking by have been picking my green tomatoes. I never seem to be on top of the tomato pruning. Sometimes I really don't want to go to garden to water my plants even though it is going to be 1 million degrees, and of course everything suffers. It gives you what you put in though, and LIKE LIFE, it is going to test you.
What does your dream garden look like?
I would like to imagine having a Tasha Tudor or Beatrix Potter garden someday, with plants oozing over the sides of walls and flowers always in bloom. My more realistic dream is to have a few acres of land on the prairie where I can grow everything I need for a year.
Any advice to aspiring gardeners?
Pretty much everything wants to grow. If you put a seed in the ground, it's biological make-up is to grow up out of it. The plant is going to do everything it can to survive, even if you don't water enough, or weed, or kill the bugs that are destroying it. Granted if you let all these things get out of hand, it will all end up dead, but only with blatant ignoring. Being a farmer or a gardener is made out to be this great skill, but I think all it is, is sticking seeds in the ground and learning from the results.