The quest to grow blue began with finding a place to plant our indigo seeds. After a few false starts we decided to ‘squat’ a lot next to my community garden. Where once stood a Philly row home was a meadow of five foot mugwort, chicory and burdock. Obviously the first task would be to take down the weeds. Elissa and I arrived at the lot that first hot summer morning armed with tools loaned by friends and borrowed from the West Philly Tool Library. Those weeds proved to be quite formidable! We hacked and sweated and got virtually nowhere. After struggling for an hour or so we re-grouped. None of the tools seemed right for the job. We would have to come back.
A visit to Primex Garden Center was in order. Another early morning (I work at nine every morning so these farming ventures are taking place generally around seven am) adventure has us piled into the car and off to Glenside. We wandered up and down the isles discussing the virtues and drawbacks of various tools but nothing seemed any better than the tools we had already tried (and broken). Until we found it – tucked in a corner, hidden behind some lesser hand tools – the snath!
The lady manning the counter said ‘I don’t think you want that’ – to which I responded with a hearty ‘oh yes I think we do’. ‘That’s for cutting down serious meadows’ – PERFECT!! Our snath, scythe, sickle or whatever name by which you want to call her is a beautifully crafted tool. Her handle was made in Virginia and her blade in Austria. You can adjust the angle of her cut and she sliced through those weeds like a dream. At last we were getting somewhere!
Once all the weeds were cleared we had the soil to contend with. It seemed pretty simple. Rent a tiller, loosen up the earth, add some compost and throw down your seeds right? Not so much. Early morning trip to Home Depot had us renting the biggest tiller they had. Somehow we loaded it into my hatchback and then unloaded it into the street. A phone call later (thanks Justin!) and we even had the thing started up. It took two of us pushing and pulling to get any results at all. This was much harder than we had anticipated. The lot had bricks and rocks and the soil was hard. The tiller just wanted to bounce on the surface and neither of us were heavy or tall enough enough to really control it. After sweating and swearing a bit we again had to regroup. It was back to hand tools for us.
A few return trips and enlisting the help of Jes. and her boyfriend
we were able to loosen up the lot. We drank a lot of water. We got blisters. And mosquito bites. But that lot got dug! This was taking us longer than we’d anticipated but we were feeling like real farmers.
The next work day was for compost. Since we couldn’t reserve the Home Depot truck we had to get up extra early to make sure we were the first to arrive to borrow it. Driving a big truck is kind of fun! The guy at Fairmount Recycle Center was really helpful and nice. He loaded us up with 2.5 tons of compost and we were on our way back to the lot. Of course unloading 2.5 tons of compost by the shovel full was no small feat. Fortunately Jes. was able to join us again. After a minor fiasco involving getting the truck stuck the compost was unloaded, the truck returned and I was back at my desk resuming a normal day.
Throughout all this toil we were getting more and more anxious. Although the growing season is not supposed to be long and indigo prefers hot weather we were still running out of time. Our next work day was to be planting! And so we did! Elissa prepped the seeds by boiling them and met me for one more early morning. We made furrows and one by one we tucked the seeds into the soil and watered them in. Keep your fingers crossed for us!