By Maggie Kolk, Avant Garden co-manager, Sustainable Solano Board of Directors chair, and happy gardener at Avant

There’s a lot going on with Benicia Community Gardens, the flagship program that started Sustainable Solano more than 20 years and continues to serve the Benicia community through two community gardens and a community orchard. Here, Maggie shares an update on BCG’s many summer activities and garden bounty. Interested in a garden plot? Learn more and fill out an application here.

Torchlight Parade BBQ attendees (from left) Sheri Zada, Randi Scott and Alan Zada

Torchlight Parade BBQ

The annual Benicia Torchlight Parade BBQ in Avant Garden on July 3 kicked off the summer gardening season with a fun-filled party enjoyed by garden members and their special guests. Delicious dishes creatively prepared by the Avant and Swenson gardeners were enjoyed along with the usual hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and vegetarian BBQ fare. Several of the Avant Garden members were cheered as they marched up First Street and some of our own Benicia city officials joined in the festivities at Avant after riding the parade route. As usual, a good time was enjoyed by everyone attending our small-town Benicia Independence Day celebration. Kudos to those garden members who racked up volunteer hours pulling weeds and spreading woodchips, which resulted in Avant looking like the crown jewel of First Street that it has become.

The Share Plot

Enzo and Slater hold a 6-pound zucchini at Avant Garden

Zucchini, sometimes the size of small baseball bats (how many five-year-old boys does it take to carry an Avant zucchini?), kale, onions and tomatoes are growing in abundance in the Avant Share Plot. The Benicia Community Action Council (CAC), St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s twice weekly free dinner program and several Food is Free Bay Area stands are the beneficiaries of our fresh, organically grown Benicia produce. The cooks at CAC, which provides daily free lunches to Benicia seniors, created the most delicious zucchini bread along with a fresh zucchini casserole. Benicia seniors are eating well!

Monarchs at Avant

Monarch caterpillars at Avant Garden

After planting showy milkweed last year in one raised bed and in the children’s tomato bed, several monarch caterpillars were observed during the first few weeks in July. Children visiting the garden find these little gems fascinating and learn about the stages of the monarch life cycle (egg, caterpillar, pupa or chrysalis then the final transformation into the adult butterfly). The metamorphosis typically is completed within 30 days. We are convinced that every monarch butterfly we see at Avant is a result of their munching on our milkweed during the caterpillar stage. As the caterpillar eats the milkweed it ingests a toxic substance called cardiac glycoside, which makes the monarch poisonous to most creatures that would want to eat them, like birds! Monarchs are so brightly colored to deter their predators. Once the early summer monarch butterfly emerges and spreads its wings, it flies off to find a mate and then lays eggs on other (or the same) milkweed plants to produce more butterflies. The butterflies that emerge in the late summer and early fall, rather than search out a mate, fly to Mexico where they spend a warm winter vacation before returning north to find a mate, lay eggs and start the cycle all over again. Nature at its most majestic.

Upcoming Garden Events

Stay tuned for upcoming garden events by checking out our calendar. Gardeners are eagerly awaiting their tomato, pepper and cucumber harvests. We are planning a cooking demonstration for August, date TBD. Our Harvest Festival will take place in late September or early October.

Please stop by an enjoy Avant Garden on First and D streets or Swenson Garden at the Heritage Presbyterian Church on the corner of East Second and Military East. Both gardens are serene spaces bursting with fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers. Remember to look but not touch or take. Each of the garden beds are lovingly cared for and owned by individual gardeners who are growing for their personal use.

Happy gardening!