The gardener next door, Jose, mostly sticks to tomatoes, peppers and cilantro. This year he threw in a surprise. Tree-like plants with thick stalks that now stand as tall as me. We pondered the 4-5 inch light green things that grew from the stem. Mini-bananas? Nah, they never turned color. Plaintains? Didn’t seem right either.

Then we ran into Jose for the first time in weeks and pounced with our question: What the heck is that?

Papaya.

papaya!

That made us laugh out loud. Papaya! Growing in Northern Virginia! Jose is from Central America and that’s what he likes, so that’s what he grew.

We’ve learned over the years that the gardeners of Chinquapin grow an infinite variety of plants. Figs. Okra. Kaboka squash.

Another mystery was solved earlier this summer. Year after year, one plot was planted entirely with habaneros. We wondered who could use so many of the scorching hot orange peppers? Did they sell them to restaurants? Then one evening we saw a woman weeding the peppers, with a 2-foot-long machete. Whack – take that, weed! We asked her what she did with all those habaneros. Cook with them, she said. That’s a spicy cook!

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.

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