It’s Official: Erik is Insane

Our parkway garden

It’s true. Erik has gone insane trying to protect his baby. His squash baby.

A little background:

We’ve long gardened in two raised beds in the parkway in front our house (the parkway being the space between the sidewalk and the street). This is officially city property, though we are responsible for maintaining it. It gets great morning light, so it’s a valuable growing space. It’s also fun to garden out in public, so we can talk to our neighbors and get all the fresh gossip, and show little kids what food looks when its growing.

The drawback to a public garden, of course, is that it is defenseless. This means that dogs and cats and sometimes people tromp through the beds, scattering freshly planted seeds and smashing delicate seedlings. If the plants survive, then they become subject to theft. Now, we don’t mind sharing food. The parkway isn’t really ours, after all, so we figure what grows down there is fair game. Generally we either grow things down there that are easy to share–like beans or cherry tomatoes–or things people aren’t likely to pilfer–like greens.

This all changed this year, because Erik decided to plant squash down there. Not just any squash, but this fantastical Italian winter squash called Lunga di Napoli. It’s a green skinned squash, rather like a butternut in shape and texture, except it can reach a meter in length.

At the time of planting, I did the wifely, “Honey, are you sure that’s a good idea?” thing. It’s just not a good idea to plant high-investment crops in the parkway. He assured me he knew it was a risk, but he wanted to try, and we didn’t have space to plant it anywhere else. “No big deal,” he said. Back then he was reasonable.

Since then, our parkway has turned into a dense jungle. *** Note: We love our tolerant neighbors!!!! *** There’s not only squash growing in those two small beds, there’s also scarlet runner beans, strangely hairy cucumbers, volunteer tomatoes and giant lamb’s quarters going to seed. The giant squash tendrils are spreading across our driveway and walk. Sure, it’s better to be lush than bare, but it looks crazy. Grey Gardens type crazy. In my more optimistic moments I think of it as a “food forest.” I tried to take pics, but it’s hard to capture the wildness of the space.

Very like the jungle swallowed the ruins of Palenque on the Yucatan peninsula, our Scarlet Runner bean long ago swamped its trellis.
Hairy cucumber and tiny tomatoes growing together. The beds have their moments of beauty.

Back to the squash. It only bore two fruits. Erik began to obsess over them as soon as they appeared. How would they ever live to maturity? He just knew a thief would take them at zucchini size, and then they’d never reach their potential. Suddenly, it was of utmost importance to him that these squash reach their full one meter length. I trembled with dread and ill foreboding.

The remaining Squash Baby, currently measuring 20 inches or so.

One morning the inevitable happened. Erik stomped into the house, crying, “The %$#$!*s took my squash! They took my squash!” The smaller of the two squashes was gone, picked long before its time. After a brief period of depression, which he spent either cursing the unjust nature of the universe or reiterating his desire to chop down all the trees in our backyard, so as to maximize secure growing space (which is not going to happen as long as I’m around!), Erik began to scheme.

And now, we are the proud proprietors of Garden Guantanamo. The remaining squash baby –and it really is baby sized, and growing fast–soon I will have to refer to it as the squash toddler–is wrapped in layers of chicken wire and spiked deep in the earth. But that was not enough. He’s also surrounded the entire parkway with a cordon of bright yellow rope (invoking police tape?) and most alarming of all, fashioned little signs that say “Warning: Experimental/Not For Human Consumption/No Es Comida” and staked them at 3 foot intervals on all sides.

Lousy pic of one of the signs, obscured by windblown lamb’s quarters.

I’ll admit I’ve put up my share of signs in my time (Keep Door Closed, Turn Off Lights, Don’t Eat the Cake in the Fridge, etc.). But age brings wisdom, and I’ve learned that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who read signs and those who don’t. And the great irony is that those who read signs don’t need the signs in the first place. And those who need the signs never, ever read them.

In other words, I don’t think the signs are going to work. And I’m dreading my neighbors asking me what’s experimental about our food.

In the meanwhile people, pray for Erik and his squash baby. And I’ll keep you updated.

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26 Comments

  1. I can’t wait to see if it works! Knowing human nature, curiosity will most likely get the better of them and this squash, too, will disappear. Keeping my fingers crossed and my faith in humanity…

  2. When we had problems with tomato and basil theft (heartbreaking because the thieves broke major branches while taking the fruit), I posted signs stating, “Please do not steal our food.” The thefts stopped. So sometimes signs work.

  3. those who do not grow cannot possibly understand the protective feelings one can generate towards a lowly squash. good luck bringing your baby to term!!!

  4. No- I think you captured the wildness of your parking strip pretty thoroughly.

    You are right, of course, about sign readers and non-sign-readers.

    The problem will be, I think, not so much with new marauders, especially at the chicken wire deterrent (maybe Erik should think about rigging a heavy-but-next-to-invisible-fishing-line from the chicken wire to a bell inside the house), but with the folks who took the first one and probably know by now that the squash is extremely edible….

  5. Then there’s the one about the farmer whose watermelons were being pilfered. He posted a sign that said “one of these watermelons is poisoned”. Next day he checked his garden patch and now the “one” was crossed out and replaced by “two”.

  6. I am wondering of the person who picked the squash has now read the signs that Erik put up.Oh to see the look on their faces when they may think they ate something that was not meant for humans.Could be funny.
    Good luck protecting the baby.Maybe Erik has gone broody?

  7. Maybe you need a human trap . . . Kelly and Erik,
    I devoured your book a few weeks ago, after reading a mention of it in Shannon Hayes’ book Radical Homemaking. I am looking into the whole homestead idea. I am hoping to return here many times.

  8. Very funny post. We live in Chicago and have often contemplated planting in our parkway, but have refrained for the same fear. Hasn’t stopped people from entering our yard and taking zucchini though!

  9. Hahaha – this is hilarious.
    I did not know that about the city property bit – i have tons of garden in my ‘parkway’which i call ‘the strip’ here in Austin. I grow mostly perennials, xeric, and wildflowers, but it’s definitely overgrown, and i’ve definitely been spoken to by code enforcement. Didn’t know it didn’t belong to me, though. I wonder if that’s the same here.

  10. I married a non sign reader. They don’t read them because they want to do what ever they want. I hold grave fears for squash baby. I believe a kidnap is inevitable. (Hope not though)

  11. At the very least, maybe a motion-activated camera so you can at least see if you recognize the perp. The idea of dressing it up like the Baby Jesus actually appealse to me, but then I remember the number of creche thefts that happen during the holidays and I figure theater just isn’t worth the risk.
    We’ll look forward to hearing the continuing saga.

    –K.C.

  12. Hilarious sign and great story! Counterintuitive, but what if you had a sign that told would be thieves when the squash baby is actually ready for picking–then it’d be a fair and well informed race between the house and the commons.

  13. Pingback: Gardening Mistake #12: The Annual That Ate Your Backyard! | Root Simple

  14. Thank you for your post! I am looking to begin parkway gardening for our community in South Central Los Angeles and happened upon this post. Security is one of my concerns but your advice really helps to put things into perspective.

    • Good luck with your parkway garden. Parkway gardens are inherently public. They are for the community. As long as you’re ok with that things will go well.

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