Wednesday, July 14, 2010

in the garden

before portland, we lived in chicago, and our garden consisted of tomatoes on our balcony. i wanted one of these, so we did a homemade version. a self-watering container made with rubbermaid tupperware, toxic pvc pipe, and plastic garbage bags - i shudder now to think of it. when we first moved to portland we had no yard. we paid $40 for a small community garden plot, and worked the earth there. it was right in forest park, and next to those towering cedars, well, we had barely any growing from the lack of sun. there was some kale there that grew itself, and really, it was enough for us to be digging! the next year we got a sunnier spot.
above: our overgrown plot that second summer and baby colden (he only stayed on the blanket long enough for the photo, mind you). the distance from the garden proved to be difficult to manage with the wee one and the bright sun. we mostly feasted on the arugula that self-seeded all over (and kale again too!) and we did what we could with the rest.
we moved in august 2008 to a new place with a big yard. it didn't work out, and by the time summer rolled around, we were ready to move on. we did plant two raised beds, and some other things here and there. i had great hope for artichokes, (i still do - this picture is this year's store-bought start among all the established mint) but everything i planted outside of the beds didn't make it. and even the beds didn't take off like we'd hoped. my lesson there: give the plants room to grow. and good nutrition.
we moved again in mid-august 2009, and our new place has an even bigger yard. well, maybe not bigger - but big and well-loved. our landlady already had a bountiful organic garden with the most delicious heirloom tomatoes ever, and gave us the go ahead to farm our hearts out. and so we have. we've actually started our own tomato seeds every year, and i think we're getting better at it. we visited seed savers when we were in iowa, and were excited to grow our picks. even in chicago we had seed trays and fluorescents. this year was no exception. we have been saving seeds, and grow more and more of our own starts each year - it's frugal, it's practical, and it's fun! this year our tomatoes were looking sharper than ever, but the unusual excess of rain, a toasty day, and our lack of fencing (dogs!) hurt them a bit. we bought one plant for a back-up, although marc was sure the others would come back. we now have nine tomato plants. i have canning jars ready and i'm excited to make sauce, salsa, and whatever i can! ha! last summer i made jam for the first time.
another seed savers experiment: strawberry spinach. this is the first time we've had success starting it (and the seeds are at least three years old now!). what's that they say? try, try again! this variety makes 'mulberry-like' edible berries and has nutritious leaves too. it's planted in front of our strawberries.
i think we have a dozen tiny strawberry plants - given to us by our awesome landlady who had too many herself. i think they will be happier next year, maybe even a full blown strawberry patch. we've grown them before, but the birds in the community gardens scoffed at our netting and out-picked us.
i am oh-so-tickled over this russian sage. i've been trying to start a russian sage plant for ages, but being the stubborn idealist that i am, i refused to buy the fungicide-laced starter to help my cuttings grow roots. then i read that russian sage will start itself if you plant dead stems over the winter. i planted mine (from a neighbor's plant) pretty late in the winter, and they didn't seem to take. i was going to suck it up and buy a plant (another lesson i've learned - sometimes it's worth it to buy starts, these things like time to establish!). but again my idealism prevented me, since i couldn't find an organic start available. lo and behold, the stick sprouted leaves. eeee! very exciting.
remember this? i wanted the high chair garden to be full of herbs that were child-friendly. it's right next to the russian sage and strawberry patch, and now overflows with calendula, chamomile, and lemon balm. i may have to expand it for catnip too - the plants i bought didn't fare too well in the shady area where i thought they'd have plenty of room to spread.
i am laying out these red clover to dry for tea later. we've also been harvesting that calendula and chamomile continually (otherwise there would be more blooms!). we are graced with an abundance of established mint and we're noticing all the other edibles that grow of their own accord and harvesting them too.
we extended the tomato bed for potatoes, kale and some squash. our cucumber, zucchini, melon, and squash starts got a little mixed up in transplanting, so it really will be a surprise what comes out of these plants. we're sure the left one is pumpkin because it was store-bought after our pumpkin seeds didn't sprout. then they did. so there's a pumpkin mound way in back by the artichoke too.
you can see they are a little bit insane now. there's more kale too.
marc dug up this whole patch of garden way down and threw down some free chicken manure before adding back dirt and more dirt. i think he's made three trips out to get more compost/dirt mix since we began. i spy a little crookneck squash up front, given to us by a friend. and you can see in the back those boxes marc built for more squash/cukes (not sure why the middle box is lagging).
on the other side of that kale = cabbages! it's our first time.
also our first time successfully growing peas! lots! although i missed the boat on freezing any of them. i was waiting for them to ripen fully, and they started turning brown. we'll be saving seeds (and sharing too - are you in?)!
another new bed! i believe it is also the first time we've really grown beets. we weren't sure at first since we only had six in the ground. a bunch at the store usually has more than six. but here they are...the ones that weren't eaten by chickens at least. our broccoli was pretty much demolished. i also started marigolds from seed and planted in this bed to attract pests away from the veggies. i'm saving the flowers for potential natural dye.

radishes are also a new crop for us. we eat the greens too. yum.
we didn't reserve space for lettuce, so marc built yet another container for lettuces. he also planted some carrots, chard, and basil. plus we bought some other organic herbs like dill and thyme.
i consider chickens part of the garden, and part of our whole effort to live more sustainably, closer to home. in addition to growing our own as much as we can, we've been buying in bulk direct from farms. there's pickled asparagus in the fridge and cherries dehydrating right now. we've also acquired a chest freezer to store the harvest to come, and we intend to buy meat direct from the farm as well.
here's our yard last year, mid august.
and today. i've wanted to share before now, but this contest seemed like a perfect opportunity. i didn't have my thoughts together when kyce hosted a garden party, and i thought there might be more (and you thought this was long!). this gardening thing - it's never finished, always growing, changing. and so are we. each year we've learned a bit more. to really pay attention to the sun, to further enrich the soil, to give the plants room and consistent water. to give the seedlings air, to transplant them into bigger containers, and to move the lights closer. above all, i want to say, go for it! try it out! don't be discouraged when your peas rot in the ground - next year you could be swimming in them! and when your artichoke dies, go ahead and run out to buy another if you can. each year provides endless opportunities for growth.

p.s. i would love it if you voted for me! click here and leave a comment with my number, 24. you may also vote up to three times!

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