In a town where youthful energy abounds, a project for senior gardeners is growing at the Carlsbad Senior Center. A small group of the 50-plus community have embarked upon a highly successful gardening project, which takes place at the Pine Street Community Garden.
The community garden is a collaboration between the city of Carlsbad and Carlsbad Garden Collaborative. “I am so pleased with the progress the club has made,” Margaret Hamer, recreation area manager of the Carlsbad Senior Center, said. “Not only does it look good, but they are growing their own food as well.” As a master gardener and horticulturist, I have overseen the project since its inception in May 2019.
Bok choy, kale, winter and summer squash, a variety of peppers and three different kinds of lettuce fill the 10-foot-by-4-foot raised bed. Greens abound since a large number of the gardeners are from many different areas of Southeast Asia. “We eat greens every day. Not only do they taste good, but they keep your digestive system clear,” said resident gardener Emelita Mol.
Recipes are exchanged, and the entire group often ends the class sampling a dish provided by a fellow gardener. In a similar manner in which women exchanged recipes and gossip in the old-fashioned quilting bee, these gardeners exchange not only recipes, but a piece of their individual heritage. The gardeners, who come from all parts of South East Asia and the Philippines, have similarities in their diet and cooking techniques.
Greens, it seems, are the centerpiece of many South East Asian recipes. And because the soil and air temperature are perfect for growing leafy vegetables in January and February, the senior garden has greens galore.
But in order to cook the food, the gardeners must first learn how to plant seeds and seedlings. Seed saving is an important element of growing one’s own food, and the seniors are learning the long process of collecting seeds to grow vegetables. For more information about saving seed go to seedsaver.org/learn. This website also includes information about exchanging seeds with other gardeners on a national level, which makes available over 6,000 varieties of seed to the public.
Why save seed? According to the horticulturists at the nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange, “sharing seeds protects our garden heritage — and promotes seed diversity — by putting seeds in the hands of more people, who can then grow and steward them.”
The Carlsbad Senior Garden Club began its first exercise in save seeding by harvesting seed from an organic butternut squash from Cream of the Crop Natural Food Store in Oceanside. After drying and planting the squash seed, the gardeners were able to harvest 20 squash from just three plants. It is not often that saving seed from a store-bought vegetable is successful, so this was quite a feat. (see photo)
Warm season crops, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and herbs need to be grown indoors, and January and February are the perfect months to start. The senior gardeners have started dozens of seeds in trays indoors that will later be transferred to the raised bed. The Cornell University Master Gardener website suggests “using containers that are about three inches deep with holes in the bottom. Commercial fiber pots and cell packs are useful, but recycled containers can be used as well. Purchase lightweight soil-starting mix to fill the containers and avoid using outdoor soil.” For more information regarding seed starting and dozens of free gardening tips go to www.gardening.cornell.edu.
Among the group of Senior Garden Club members, Emilita Moll, who was born in the Philippines, has created her own style of cooking over the years. “It is a healthy diet, to eat lots of greens, squash and root vegetables,” she said. One of her weekly staples incorporates all the greens in the senior garden.
GINISA GULAY – Asian Greens (Emilita Moll)
This stir fry dish can be served with rice, chicken or vegetables.
Saute two cloves chopped garlic and one slice chopped fresh ginger in hot oil in a heavy skillet or wok.
Select a variety of greens, such as Bok Choy, Kale and Napa Cabbage. Wash all greens well and chop into small pieces. Add to hot pan and cook until wilt. Add soy sauce to taste. Serve hot over rice.
Emilita has taught many of the gardeners how to cook with the prolific butternut squash. “You can bake it as most people do, but it is also a very good base for a soup,” she said. “Peel it, add lots of greens, lentils or mung beans and after cooking for about one hour you have a healthy vegetarian meal.”
Helen Yoon, who was born in South Korea, brings samples of her Asian cooking to the Garden Club. Her Korean kimchi consists of cucumber, scallions and spices that are marinated for a number of days. The kimchi is a perfect example of preserving vegetables for long periods of time.
All of the members of the Senior Garden Club contributed not only recipes but their past expertise and assisted in weekly garden maintenance. These local residents included Nancy Campbell, Vera Himark, Emilita Moll, Robert Seal, Ki Yun and Joe Shih, Robert Seal, Helen Yoon and Jessica Yu.