Greetings from La Huerta!
(originally published in 2012)
Where we begin with a very simple (and obvious) question posed by one of my husband Paco’s friends this past Saturday. How exactly does “la huerta” translate in English? I did not know but now I do, courtesy of Home Ground, a searchable database of 850 American landscape terms:
As you may have suspected we don’t have a direct translation, we just say “vegetable garden.” Or, we say small farm (which Wikipedia reports we classify as those with gross receipts of less than $250,000). But I do have something interesting to report from Home Ground.
In Spanish there are actually two words to choose from: huerta and huerto. Huerta refers to a larger garden where the fruits and vegetables are cultivated for sale; huerto to a smaller garden meant for family use. And strictly speaking a huerta should have more vegetables than fruit. It can also refer to any cultivated and irrigated area, which is how it is commonly used in Murcia and Valencia.
Either way, one nice thing about the huerta/huerto is that there is always something new happening, and we had lots of happenings this week.
For starters, as farmers have known for millennia, when seasons change so do the crops — winter greens disappear, summer tomatoes get planted, and lemons start their second harvest. And here in the huerto of little la casa roja Wild Russian and Portuguese kale plants struggle to grow a few more inches as temps reach the 80’s, well beyond kale comfort zone. My babies, not quite ready for harvest due to late planting, are having culture shock, just like their mom.
As of two weeks ago they also acquired visitantes, dozens of pin-head sized eggs that hatch into centimeter long caterpillar bugs with voracious appetites. Jose, our Murciano gardener (which pretty much means I can’t understand a word he says) explained it like this (my translation):
“Well, you had a week of rain followed by summer temperatures so of course you have visitors. Everyone does.” Jose was in fact over to look at the orange tree which is emitting a sticky film that has settled on the car and other surfaces. I keep telling myself this is all “nature” and therefore cleaner / better than the black carbon that settles on NYC windowsills. At least I hope so.
In spanglish I shared with Jose the non-toxic fix-it methods I was going to try on the visitantes: water with dish soap, and if that didn’t work, smashed garlic and jalapeno pepper soaked in alcohol for 7 hours. That one was from the gardening tab of a Murciano expat site. Presumably your visitors die from indigestion and alcohol poisoning.
But Jose beat me to the punch, returning Friday to spray the orange tree, after which he turned his toxic hose on the kale. 9 1/2 weeks of organic love and care, down the drain. Paco reminded me that it made perfect sense for Jose to take the direct approach – his job is to fix things.
He also said he had never before in his jardinero life seen an egg so small hatch into something so big. My immediate panic was that I was going to bring down the huerta with a foreign invader. Paco offered an alternative view: the size of the invaders is simply a testament to the health properties of kale. In other words the mothers of these eggs knew exactly where to build their nest – in the home that would grow the strongest babies. Let’s go with that one!
Perhaps Jose will agree to provide a testimonial for my future kale infomercial. And I will (hopefully) end said infomercial with a beautiful shot of a kale salad, grown entirely (and eventually organically) in the humble huerto of la casa roja.
It doesn’t look super good for this year though we haven’t given up all hope just yet. We learned yesterday that the insecticide Jose used requires a two-week wait prior to harvest and consumption. Will the little guys make it? Not sure now that it’s hot, though at least rain and cooler weather are in the forecast for the next couple of days. Wouldn’t it be funny to have gone so far and then not even manage a single meal? Paco reminded me that this is pretty much the story of Thanksgiving, aka Feliz Dia de Accion de Gracias. Maybe a neighbor will give us some bread. And even if we never eat the kale at least we have the official family portrait:
Is that all there is of the kale, you must be asking? No, of course not. We also have a special edition slide show of the “growing up” years, from planting to poisoning. Main lessons learned? Next year more planting depth for the roots to spread out and start earlier, like the huertanos do. And for heaven’s sake put the kale in the garage when Jose comes over.