Gardening and Community

by Cris Gutierrez
Keeping up with the seasons in the Santa Monica Community Gardens means growing year-round and being open to the surprises that abound.

In our local Mediterranean climate, active gardening can be lively every day of the year. Yet, even with endless possibilities, planting a winter squash in spring for summer dining appeared crazy.

Such is life in a community garden, particularly when we are willing to take a chance and receive gifts from the community that are available.

After all, sharing underlies the relationships that help create a productive culture based on good practices and traditions. In fact, Santa Monica’s newest community garden is the Ishihara Learning Garden modeled on communal plantings and harvests.

It was not unusual then, following an Ishihara celebration, that Teague, the City’s gardening specialist, offered leftover Waltham Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) seedlings to residents and gardeners. It was time to experiment and learn to appreciate a new opportunity.

I had doubts. Randy, my partner-in-life and gardening, and I had never planted butternuts. Butternut planting definitely appeared off-season, and summer squash, typically the prolific zucchini, is my favorite seasonal ingredient to a scrumptious ratatouille.

Randy questioned whether butternut’s sprawling growth would overtake our plot. We would need to cultivate with attention to restrain the crop. He believed the effort to be worthwhile so I grudgingly agreed to the attempt.

Randy transplanted two Waltham Butternuts. We watered and tended and watched. It was hot.
They rooted and grew.

Emerald leaves opened. Butterscotch-colored squash flowers blossomed.

Local wild bees and honeybees pollinated, and the “vine” snaked across the beds, with small mint-green dumbbell-shaped protrusions emerging and, after weeks, bulging into beige then amber hard-shell gourds.

The butternuts grew. And grew. And grew. At first five, then ten, fruit came forth. By the end of July, we stopped watering. Ten gourds became twenty and more and more gourds that soon would lay upon the soil.

Fellow gardeners and visitors marveled. Many remarked that butternuts are their favorite.

Seeing the plentiful harvest, we promised to share what I am used to thinking is a Thanksgiving food. By late August, a few were ready to test for dinner.

Randy sliced the gourd in half, spooned out the seeds and soft mesh, filled the hollow with a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and light seasoning and roasted the gourd at high heat for 60 – 90 minutes. The Waltham Butternut tasted like dessert. No wonder that the name is said to have come from the “smooth as butter, sweet as nut” flavor.

Today, six months later, a half-dozen remain, and little ones keeping popping forth. We have given away many. We have dined on a delicious winter squash in the summer heat.

What is seasonal, after all, might only be a human determination as much as Nature’s favor. The best community gardeners observe carefully what is going on within the soil interacting with air, water and light, amidst the plants, pollinators, bugs and insects—to be wise in attending to nurture productive dynamic relationships among and within natural and human communities.