Tag Archives: urban garden

20 x 20

Things are happening in our community garden plot!

Probably the biggest surprise: the artichoke starts that nearly died when we first planted them out are looking like they might actually produce! Last year our artichoke plants at home in containers never produced any food, probably because we didn’t choose a sunny enough spot for them. Our new plan is to dig these up before winter and store them in the garage in pots. We’ll see.

We’ve got a ton of green tomatoes over there. FINGERS AND TOES CROSSED!

Corn. Probably not going to happen this year but the sight of it still makes us happy.

Soy, corn, and volunteer borage gone wild behind. Our borage makes our plot very popular with the bees.

amaranth

nasturtiums and zucchini (and maybe some weeds)

Jess has some interesting plans for this calendula

Jess’ favorite gloves

the view from our neighbor’s plot

the food bank squash plot

So glad I finally hauled my camera over there on a day I wasn’t going to get covered in dirt.

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a little garden bounty

My wife may be a “master gardener” but we have a lot of room for improvement and learning in the gardening department. It’s our second year gardening in this yard, and our first year in our community garden plot, and we’ve learned a lot. While I may not be as obsessively photographing everything we eat, our big win is in eating nearly everything we’ve grown. Sometimes that seems like half the battle. Here’s a small taste of what we’ve been harvesting from the yard lately:

Everytime I look at fresh peas from our garden I hear Gordon Ramsay saying (in his nicer Master Chef voice), “THE MOST AMAZING FRESH PEAS!”

I’m pretty sure Ramsay would agree with me that those Chioggia beets are stunning.

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2011 Spuds: Seed potato shopping!

It’s that time of year. I bought seed potatoes. In the past, I went to Black Lake Organic for seed potatoes. Good prices, good selection, all organic, what more could I want? But BLO is shifting their focus and they no longer carry seed potatoes. So now I drive to Yelm to visit Gordon’s Nursery. It’s kind of a haul for potatoes, but I like shopping there. They have many varieties of organic seed potatoes and I can usually justify buying “just one more” blueberry or huckleberry or strawberry. I brought home six varieties of potatoes this year, but I could have bought a lot more.

I picked three full size potatoes: Cal White (early), Viking Purple (mid-season), and German Butterball (mid-season). I have grown Cal’s in the past and I loved them. I picked the Viking Purples because I try to grow a purple potato each year, and they are scab resistant. I picked German Butterballs because they’re prolific & delicious & our teenage German Student child loves most German food, like beer and sausage, at least in theory.

Krista loves to cook with fingerling potatoes. We prioritize growing them because organic fingerlings cost a small fortune. I picked up three fingerling varieties: French Fingerling, which we grew last year and loved, Russian Banana, another beloved 2010 spud, and Princess La Ratte. A lot of people love La Ratte potatoes in the PNW. I have never grown the Princess because it’s such a pretentious name for a potato, but I thought maybe 2011 is the year for a pretentious potato.

Last year we grew potatoes in wooden stacks that Krista built. I also grew some fingerlings in re-purposed burlap bags from a local coffee roastery a la Sustainable Eats. The year before that, we grew potatoes in recycled tires. I’ve discussed why we switched to wooden stacks. Although I was happy with the yield of both tires & wood boxes, the stacks had better drainage and were easier to manage. It’s difficult to compare my results from each method because there were many variables: temperature, water, different soil, different microclimate and so many potato varieties. So when people ask how I recommend growing potatoes in small spaces on small budgets, I don’t have enough information to answer them as effectively as I’d like.

Fortunately, Organic Gardening Magazine did some fieldwork for me. This article is long over-due in my opinion, and I couldn’t be happier that they wrote it. O.G. found that growing in the field (hill/mound method) is good enough, as potato farmers from centuries ago could have told you. But not all of us have that much space. Growing in raised beds is more productive than a field of hills, but requires a lot of dirt. Growing in wooden stacks is as good as raised beds, but energy-intensive to start. Growing in wire cylinders, grow bags, trash bags and straw are less ideal for reasons like yield, drainage, moisture, pests and cost. I want to see more data about with which varieties respond best to aggressive hilling (or stacking). Growing varieties that respond well to aggressive hilling is crucial to produce a lot of food in a small space. You might notice I’m not growing Yukon Golds this year, even though we love to eat them. They don’t respond well to being buried. Also, some methods will inevitably work better in different areas than others, adjusting for issues like drainage, temperatures & soil quality. But the Organic Gardening article is a big step in the right direction. Growing potatoes is such an experiment. I love the resourceful, creative ways people try to produce such a humble food.

Considering the Organic Gardening findings and the resources we’ve already sunk into the stacks, we will be growing potatoes in our wooden stacks again this year. Honestly, I have to grow potatoes in these stacks for years to make them cost-effective and I really enjoy using them, so I would use them no matter what Organic Gardening said. It’s convenient that I happen to love them.

I admit that if I see organic seed potatoes around town in the next few weeks, I will pick up a few more lbs. I can’t really help myself. Homegrown potatoes are worlds and epic legions better than potatoes from the store. I love growing & eating potatoes, but they are also an important crop. Potatoes are probably the best way to grow the most calories in the smallest amount of space. I don’t foresee my family adopting a 1-block diet, but the more calories we get from our yard the better, especially mashed, baked, french fried and roasted.

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Spring Sprang Sprung

I know it’s spring because I find myself gazing admiringly at crocuses and making photo collages of them. It’s not that I love crocuses so much, but I love what they’re telling me.

And my spring reading is starting to pile up. This stack of books follows me from the dining room table (ahem, I mean, our garden design and planning office) to the bedside for about five months. I’m always muttering to myself, “Now, what was that about companion planting strawberries and leeks?” or “I need second opinions on making your own biochar!” or “Can you pickle broccoli raab?” I am a wonderful person to live with right about now.

Girl, we are up to all kinds of tomfoolery with the garden plans. I started 50 tomato seedlings (8 varieties), which is simultaneously the best and worst idea ever. This year, we signed up for an additional 400 square feet of gardening space at a plot in a community garden. Our plot was described as “esoteric” and has an extraordinary amount of buttercup & lemon balm to conquer. This will be the year that we fell some of the (bad) trees in our yard. We are making the honey bees look lazy with all of our planning and scurrying. We’re buying seed potatoes like the zombie apocalypse is coming. Hey, maybe it is! Happy Spring!

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Front Yard Garlic Bed

I’m so pleased with the progress of our little garlic field. Remember when I planted it in early December? Of course you do. I’m growing a mix of organic hardneck and softneck garlic in a raised bed in our front yard. The next person who asks why I’m growing so much garlic is getting staked — because they are obviously a vampire. Who else would think this is a lot of garlic? Every savory meal starts with garlic. I love having this garlic in our front yard. All winter, through rain and sleet and snow and hail, I have been able to see green things growing in the yard. The tenacity of the garlic is inspiring.

December: Garlic sprouted through the frost.

January: the ground was frozen like the tundra, but the garlic kept growing.

February, it snowed. A lot. Garlic got bigger.

March, more like a lion than a lamb. Garlic does not mind freezing rain. Garlic gets bigger.

In a few months time, our garlic will send up its flower blossoms (called garlic scapes), which we will cut off and turn into pesto and frittatas. Removing the scape forces the garlic to put its energy into growing bigger bulbs. Scapes appear in June, usually. The bulbs start to harden off shortly after, and we should expect a harvest sometime near the end of July. Then? Our own personal garlic festival.

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Chicks & Bees @NWFGS 2011

As I mentioned, we’re adding chickens to our backyard farm this year, and you probably know that we keep honey bees, too. These two topics occupy much of my brainpower during my waking hours, so I was on high alert for chicken & bee-related items at the 2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

I had the good fortunate to catch a seminar called “What the Cluck?” with Jessi Bloom. It was about adding chickens to your garden. There was a lot of great information about life cycles, breed selection, roosters, coop requirements, permaculture design, other pets, different methods of keeping chickens and even chicken training. The resource section on the handout is excellent too. You can get a copy of the handout here if you are curious. Ms. Bloom brought some friends to help with her presentation — about 10 different varieties of baby chicks. I almost died from their peeping cuteness. ((I can’t wait for our chicks to arrive.)) These chicks were from Portage Bay Grange, in Seattle. They had a booth in the marketplace, and I really want to make it to their storefront in Seattle.

Seattle Urban Farm Co. & the Re-Store partnered up to build this adorable little city farm complete with chicken tractor, a little cold frame and a beehive. You know, typical backyard stuff. They must have some relationship with the Ballard Bee Company, too, because I spotted a jar of their honey.

The chickens at the Seattle Urban Farm Co. booth were completely nonplussed by the thousands of visitors that passed by their space. Not even hoards of devoted children could distract these hens from their scratching.

While this is unrelated to either chickens or bees, I love the creativity that Re-Store brings to their garden show displays. Last year they had a recycled cold frame that I fell in love with. This year? They re-purposed bathroom fixtures for the garden.

In addition to the Ballard Bee Company, I saw some business cards from Crown Bees around the vendor area. I just discovered the Crown Bee website. It’s really informative if you’re keeping solitary bees (which we do — an update on our mason bees is in the pipeline).

And finally, over in the display garden from Christianson’s Nursery, there was an old-fashioned skep in the garden shed. It’s a little piece of history; people kept honey bees in skeps before we developed beehives with movable parts. I get nostalgic for history like this, but I would have hated keeping bees in skeps. Beekeepers had to destroy the skep to get the honey, and that sounds like a giant pain. I like going back to the “old ways” in many regards, but I will keep my movable frame beehive thankyouverymuch.

My other 2011 Northwest Flower & Garden Show posts: Container Gardening and Themed Display Gardens

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Maestro Peas

For all the disappointment this summer has held for the gardeners of the Pacific Northwest, with our record-breaking cold temperatures, buckets of rain, and nights that are still less than 50 degrees as we near August, it has been a stellar summer for the cold season crops – brassicas, radishes, lettuces, peas. These are shelling peas directly from the pod. They are about as sweet as candy and they come in their own little wrapper. They never make it to the kitchen, so I don’t have a single recipe for them.

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Lettuce In

We still have a garden! I have neglected my garden blogging in lieu of my fascination with the honey-bearing insects in our backyard, but we are spending plenty of time on our garden, too!

We’re growing another mix of heirloom lettuce. The lettuce mixes in our garden this year include the Mesclun Mix from Uprising Organics and the London Springs Mix from Territorial Seeds. I like varied textures, bright colors, and many flavors in my lettuce mix. Last year we grew the Uprising Organics mysterious lettuce mix and I was really pleased with it. It’s hard for me to be displeased with a high quality lettuce mix, you know?

These little guys are just waiting for the perfect spot to open up in one of the big beds.

Is there anything more delicious than old-fashioned organic baby lettuce in your backyard? NO, there is not. It’s just the most simple, perfect food to grow and I encourage everyone to plant some. I prefer the loose-leaf style of lettuce, since I am too impatient to wait for them to form that perfect, classic “head of lettuce.” I know it’s easier to ship a Head of Lettuce than it is to ship a bag of loose leaves, but if you don’t need to ship it, you can grow whatever kind of lettuce your heart desires. You can plant lettuce that’s spicy or sweet, with oak-leaf shapes or frilly ruffled leaves. You can find every color of lettuce from chartreuse to burgundy. Plant a mix of lettuce seeds, and maybe a mesclun mix too. It will be difficult to get bored with salad that comes in so many colors. I believe that a salad of lettuce from your backyard is a both a luxury and a right, and I want nothing but righteous luxury for you.

Here are eleventy hundred reasons why you should grow fancy lettuce:

1. It’s Super Easy.
Lettuce is fast to germinate and quick to start producing. It’s delicious at every stage of its development – unlike all those annoying vegetables that have to ripen, requiring precise water, sun, temperatures and pest protection until the moment the fruit is ready. You can eat lettuce any time before it bolts.

2. It’s, like, so totally and completely simple and easy.
You can grow lettuce just about anywhere. It doesn’t require full sunlight, and actually prefers some shade in the hot summer. They don’t mind window boxes, containers, flower bed edges, or entire beds planted with oceans of lettuce. They have shallow roots, so they are pretty tolerant of absurd planters. You could grow lettuce in a clog.

(photo used with permission from Fion N.)

I don’t want to hear any of that “I don’t have any space to garden” crap. Lettuce will grow just fine in an old yogurt container on a window sill. It grows up so fast, you hardly have time to care for it, just a few weeks of benign neglect, and then it’s gone. Don’t forget to water it once in a while.

3. It’s really cost effective.
Lettuce seeds are tiny and light so you get a huge number of seeds for just a few bucks. (Please choose a quality seed provider, like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or another reputable source.) Have you purchased organic baby lettuce at the grocery store or farmers market lately? It costs more than twice as much to buy 1 lb of baby lettuce as it costs to buy 1 package of seeds. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service reports:

In fall of 2001, Growing for Market reported “spring mix” greens wholesaling for slightly more than $3.80/lb. (2), which translates to roughly $4.95-$5.35 at the retail level.

I think my seeds cost $2? Maybe $3? This is a no brainer.

The greatest enemies of lettuce are:

1. slugs. i hate them! they love lettuce!
If you have slugs, I hope yours are less smart and resilient than mine. Mine won’t drown, don’t like beer, and hide from me when I go out to hand-pick them. I am considering a flock of ducks, but Krista says ducks are messy (she is right, of course, but I really dislike slugs). I have heard that you can have some success with copper wire, copper tape, sluggo, diatomaceous earth, coffee grounds, and ground-up egg shells. Steve Solomon writes about Fertosan Slug Destroyer in his book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades but it’s not approved for use in the USA and I can’t find a Swiss person to send me some.
(Depending on your garden, you may also have problems with deer, caterpillars, aphids, various beetles and loopers, but I consider slugs to be the primary target.)

2. heat!
Lettuce is generally a cool-season crop, which means it does well in the Pacific Northwest just about year-round. But if you live some place hot, you can build a little umbrella or shade to cover your lettuce from the hottest sun. Or you can plant it in the shady spots of your yard where nothing else will flourish! Once lettuce plants get hot, they bolt. Once they bolt, the good eating is over. Blech. I do not recommend bolted lettuce! If you live someplace that is hella hot (shout out to all my texan & oklahoman friends and all the lovely people suffering an east coast heat wave), you can plant a fall crop of lettuce just as soon as those temperatures dip back below 70. You can eat fresh lettuce until you have a hard freeze that kills it all. You’ll know you had a hard freeze because all your outside lettuce will turn black. I’ve heard of some people raising baby lettuce in cold frames all winter. It sounds reasonable, so I plan to try it this winter.

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If I have not convinced you to grow your own organic salad by now, it’s time to invite you over for dinner and serve a homegrown salad. And if that doesn’t convince you, I will pack up a bag of potting soil and a pinch of lettuce seeds like a goodie bag to carry home. Don’t test me. I have been known to show up to people’s houses with a bag of soil and planting containers. You will not be the first I’ve converted.

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Peppery fresh bites

Finally, the clouds have parted and our garden has made a little food. This is an immature french breakfast radish, plucked prematurely and shared, bite for bite by Levi and I. (Krista was at work, we don’t habitually exclude her from garden treats). It was a delicious radish, sharp and peppery and crunchy and cold like the exact soil temperature it came from.

Many of our radishes are suffering from severe slug damage. So are my artichokes, kale, brussels sprouts, basil, dahlias and peas. There are a lot of things I could be doing to deal with the slugs (beer traps, copper tape, sluggo, etc), but I am not doing anything to deal with my slugs besides murdering them when I see them. They are so many, and I am only one person and there are only so many hours in a day.

What do slugs love the most? Maybe I should plant a lot of that as a slug trap to keep them away from everything else.

xoxo,
jess

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Berryliscious

Did you forget we had a garden growing around the beehives? Me too. Krista’s working on the next installment of the swarm sage, but I just can’t resist talking about my berries in the meantime. You guys, we’re growing berries.

Yes, it’s summer already and my fruit is still zygotic, but love me anyway. Happy belated summer solstice, by the way. As Levi says, “The days are just going to get shorter and shorter from here on out.” Thanks for the sunshiney optimism, kid! On to the berries!

I have green blueberries on both of our potted blueberries!

I have green strawberries:

The raspberries are still nothing more than sticks, but I didn’t expect them do anything this year, except hopefully survive to next year.

Now all I have to do is keep the birds and slugs away from them for a few more weeks! I need lots of vigilance and bird netting!

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