THE Joy of Home Gardening: Community garden feeds the body and mind

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When Kota Morikawa got word from the city that he was finally able to start gardening at a community garden, he had all but forgotten that he was in line to start a vegetable garden at the Willlowgate Community Garden in Mountain View, Calif.

Morikawa, a former food editor for the Nichi Bei Times Japanese section, first learned about the garden a decade ago while working on a story for the newspaper. He was interested in starting his own plot at the garden, but there was a long waitlist to join.

He had to wait six years, he told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “For those six years, I almost forgot about it, but all of a sudden, three years ago, I got a letter from the city and I finally got in.”

Morikawa, who resides in Mountain View with his family, began growing a variety of vegetables throughout the year. Currently, he is harvesting tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, potatoes and squash, as well as green onions, which he grows year-round. In the coming fall and winter, he looks forward to planting spinach, broccoli, shungiku (crown daisies) and daikon radish. He said he now has even more space to grow, as he recently obtained a new plot in his complex’s community garden.

Kota Morikawa and his son Nagi. photo courtesy of Kota Morikawa

“This year I’ll try bok choi and hakusai (cabbage),” he said.

As a hobbyist chef, Morikawa said he wanted to start growing his own vegetables because of a rising trend in using organic food. He said he incorporates his veggies into his meals, through sautés, soups and hot pot dishes. He said he makes his own natto (fermented soy beans) and he likes sprinkling his green onions on top.

Morikawa said gardening requires a plot of ground, whether at a communal garden or in a private backyard. He typically buys seeds from super markets or nurseries, but seeks out Japanese varieties of seeds like Japanese cucumber at Japanese American nurseries.

Morikawa pays strict attention to the quality of his soil. He initially purchased fertilizer from stores, but said fellow gardeners told him about a horse ranch nearby that would give him free horse compost.

Besides the compost being free, Morikawa added, “I know where the compost is coming from. If you buy it, you never know where it’s coming from, what’s in there.”

Morikawa also said he invites his children to garden with him. Nagi and Juna Morikawa, his son and daughter, help water the garden. Eight-year-old Nagi said he liked the tomatoes from the garden while six-year-old Juna said she liked blueberries.

GROWING GARDEN — Juna (above left) helps her father Kota Morikawa grow veggies in their community garden plot, which includes (clockwise from top right): tomatoes, green onions, and cucumbers. photo courtesy of Kota Morikawa

“It’s really a pleasure growing veggies,” Morikawa said. “It’s great exposure for the kids to see the procedure to see how to grow veggies. And you will eat what you grow, that’s great education.”

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