Small and recycled

As we research a possible relocation and downsizing our abode, I have considered a bit of a compound of little buildings clustered together. Here, they take the concept further having bundled shipping containers into colorful, purposeful, pleasant (?) dwellings.

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It is raining outside. Probably not enough, so I continue to water my crops with re-purposed or twice used ‘gray’ water that is not so gray. Combined with amending soil, planting appropriate to the season, my swapped out flow reducing devices on all appliances and letting grass die, I figure ‘new’ tap water usage to be only 20%. More to go on that front. Now, if we can just get the golf courses to brown up their act…

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Another roadside attraction?

Re-purposing our parking strip. Up until this year, our parking strip has been a dandelion infested plot of compacted grass. This spring my husband and I removed some of the sod. My sod piles have since then become master potato planting islands. At least their leaves look impressive, the word is still out whether or not there any Pontiac Red potatoes growing underneath. However, now we get to the ‘fun’ part. I finally decided how to deal with the conflicting needs for the space we left behind.

Law, necessity and greed were in conflict. People need to get out of their cars to the sidewalk. Streams need to be kept clean and the amount of runoff managed. I wanted every square foot to be edible. If I built raised beds (hardscapes), there are setbacks required. If I didn’t build raised beds, how to define the area so folks (pets) don’t trample my fruits and veggies? In the end, this is my solution. Folk can walk around the traffic circle planter, the rectangles on the sides are slightly raised, but not ‘hardscaped’. The first year I will put in vining plants that require 2′ cages and get some low growing herbs started around the edges. Once the herbs are established, I will continue to plant vertical veggies in the rectangular sidebars and maybe a perennial small shrub in the center. The herbs should help with the runoff as will my cover crops or winter plantings of kales.

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Just gonna take a photo…

…and of course the potato plants had grown SO much I decided I needed to hill and straw them again. Which lead to weeding and mulching elsewhere in the veggie patch. Then to reconfiguring some of my planter wall blocks. Realizing I still had two tomatoes to be planted and oh by the way the fava beans were being crowded out by my suckering raspberries (yank, yank). Four hours later (still need to go out and get that photo) the front yard has been transformed, at least in my eyes. I thought it was going to rain so I didn’t have to water those beach strawberry-less strawberry plants I transplanted…(oh Rain God?). The beach strawberries make excellent drought tolerant ground cover here and soak up more run off than my almost-former-sod did. Learned that from volunteering on Rain Garden Building for Pierce Conservation.

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Planting begins

peas 060310Last week cleared out some winter wash outs (leafy greens) and planted my first plot of peas. Peas, glorious peas, I did not get enough of these last year. Thus I am starting earlier, with seed and planting 4x what I did last year! Snap peas like last year plus a couple rows of Cascadia, which is expected to do well in the Puget Sound area. I may plant some leaf lettuce in between. We shall see.

What’s coming up? The fava beans are about 8 inches high. I have heard fresh off the plant fava beans are to die for, we shall see. Garlic bed continues to grow well. Am considering no-till planting of parking strip with potatoes…Beans are going where the squash was last year (I followed it in the fall with a bunch onion crop). An elderly friend of mine saved me some scarlet runners or maybe I will plant Chinese long beans?

I must order my seed potatoes. Territorial seed! (Note: The photo is an update from June 3rd. A bare box looks so lonely.)

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New category: Recipes (in season)

Last year, given a periodic abundance of crops, I started collecting recipes. However, I have not sorted them according to season. So, a goal for 2010 is to post at least one blog per month listing a few recipes which include what is growing in my garden. What’s ready in my the garden today? Kale, chives, thyme, a few spring onions, garden sorrel, parsley, arugula and a wee bit of spinach. I need to buy pea seed and put in my order for seed potatoes…

Fettuccine with Sausage and Kale

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Correction: Kale recovered

kale leavesAs Fruits of Our Neighbors commented on my last post, the Kale survived out cold snap just fine! I’ve been lazy posting (again). Too busy harvesting my Kale all winter!! Some of the leaves died on the younger plants, the ones in my raised bed box that were planted this last fall. They are a white Siberian Kale (recovered). But the red Russian Kale I planted last spring (!) only ‘wilted’ a bit initially and are still going strong. I have been putting a couple handfuls into our weekly stew/soups. The plants also add visual texture and height to our front yard garden winter display.

Other survivors include: garlic, fava beans and spring onions. The garlic and beans were planted last fall to overwinter. Someday I will get these optimum growing seasons figured out….

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Too cold?

Well, I left things in the ground a couple weeks too long. Should have dug up by middle of November because we had a record cold spell this past couple of weeks and my veggies froze, then wilted. Note to self, even the kale froze. Next year, more root veggies and I will insulate the corner room in the cellar for storage.

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Greed for Greens

Week before last I was able to share some of my arugula, mustard and pak choi crop with a friend of mine. Last week I did the same with yet another friend, plus a jar of plum preserves and raspberry jam.  Sweet! Towards the end of this last week we had some hard hail. The crops all took it amazingly well, only some of the outside kale branches bent over and broke. I considered this advice from above to eat kale for dinner, which we have for the past two days.  It is sooo wonderfully delicious and not at all like the greens I have purchased in the store.  I am excited to see just how long into the fall/winter they will continue to grow!

As we approach the darker part of the year, it is time to plan for my spring plantings. Dr. Erickson, a friend of mine a loooong time ago has some excellent, clear advice on just how to start your seeds indoor.  Much simpler instructions than many books I have read.

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Winter Garden 2009

onions1109Yeah, it is November and really chill (but not freezing).  For our dining pleasure, we have about four mustard plants, both white and red kale, a variety of spinach, leeks I planted last spring (right side) and pac choi.  (For some reason the fuchsia is still blooming too.) Beyond and over, where the squash used to be I’ve planted two long rows of bunch onions. Can’t wait to see exactly what they are. Also in what would be the foreground bottom left there is a row of garlic where the peas were.  Will be interested to see if they grow.  Always an adventure. So far the terraced natives down front have been catching the stormwater during our recent heavy rains. Soon I must plant the fava beans. A more experienced gardner said they are to die for, especially compared to eating them canned or dried!  In the back yard is some arugula, not sure if it will stay long. I don’t intend to cover the plots unless torrential rain is forecast of hard frost.

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Strawberries into November!

Last May I binge purchased a few Alpine strawberry plants and stuffed them amongst my evergreen, non-fruit bearing beach strawberry plants.  They have a nice compact mound shape to the plant and I thought the fall leave color change would be in nice contrast to the flow of evergreen ground cover. Little did I know what little work horses these plants really were! Though the fruit are tiny, they are sweet and have been growing from June onward. Yes, I picked half a dozen this morning and ate them! The snails don’t seem to bother them as much as the commercial varieties either.

Cascade Cuts, you will seem me again next year at your annual sale for more of these! Thanks to Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale, I knew who you were and thanks Sustainable Connections for posting your sale on their events calendar.

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Farmer Dad, Happy Birthday!

To my Dad on the occasion of what would have been his 75th birthday.

081109cropsI was clearly wrong to have left farming.  If you could see what I’ve done with my wee 80 square feet you’d be proud.  Here is tonight’s side dish: Lettuce of a variety we’d never have raised, Grandpa never would have freighted in for sale at the Williams Bros Produce house it has such delicate leaves.  But oh, what sweet taste it has.  Tomatillos, a hidden treasure we never heard of, imported only in a canned sauce or relish…for how could one harvest it economically when every little balloon dress needs squeezing to tell if the fruit has filled each little sack, not quite ripe and thus ready to pick? Or these berry sweet yellow cherry tomatoes, that have such thin skins and ripen at orange yellow, never red? …and those red Nasturtium flowers, we never considered there were flowers one could eat! These grew much more easily and far less labor than our Iris.  They’d have grown on that same sandy soil, loved the dry summers and given us an abundance of salad decoration.  Wonderful peppery accents, they. Of course, we’d of had to figure out how to package them up to take to market.  Or perhaps just run another flower stand out front.

Miss you Dad.  Loving farming (finally!).

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Plz buzz me when ur in town

beepoppyLast week I got to wondering exactly who were these winged insects visiting my flowers? After extensive examinations and futile photographic attempts I found that only two types of my wee visitors were actually gathering pollen.  The honeybee and our own Western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis). Can’t tell if the honeybees are domesticated or wild (they have no tags). Turns out most of the others are some sort of fly.  Our urban environment is not known for its bug diversity, but our yard is now the poster child for how to turn it all around.  Two easy add-ons and one ‘don’t do this at home’.

  1. Dig up lawn and amend soil with compost from local recycler.
  2. Plant herbs, veggies, native plants and allow volunteers (poppy) to fill in the blanks
  3. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides to remove something.  My one exception to this is use of a slug/snail bait at the beginning spring, a relatively non-toxic one consisting of iron phosphate (naturally occuring mineral).  The raccoon seems to keep on top of them the rest of the year.

Now, this may not be the best or the purest advice.  If you are in Seattle I suggest you contact Seattle Tilth for their Maritime Northwest Guide and Washington Toxic Coalition for pest control methods. That said, my front yard is a buzzing!

Note: Beware honey laundering! Honey is best bought from really local, small source bee folk such as Timmons Honey in Graham, WA. That is where my last jar came from.

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Harvest Distractions

tromboni072509I realize I have been posting more to my Facebook page about the vegetables I’ve been harvesting.  We’ve been eating broccoli, peas and kale for at least six weeks now.  Started pulling up Walla Walla sweet onions last week, a couple of leeks as I thinned, several nights of zuccini and crook neck squash all this July.  Looks like we will be eating tromboncino squash next week.  Sure hope it tastes good, we are having a bumper crop off of one plant (which I trellised, thank goodness!).  Tomatoes in container are forming, but not yet ripened.  I madly dashed to plant some lettuce starts in a cooler part of the garden so we would have some salad greens to eat with the tomatoe crop.  We are not big tomato eaters and prefer less acid vegetables so I only planted non-red varieties.  Aunt Ruby (green), Taxi (yellow) and Sungold cherry tomatoes (orange) in hopes they are less acid, yet just as flavorful.  We also have tomatillos, something I have never eaten but hear are tasty.  Guess like Tromboncino they are a veggie that never makes it to the store.

We are very fortunate to have a plant lady neighbor who gave us 1) the raspberry canes 2) three tomatoe plants 4) her extra tromboncino squash 5) and the tomatillos. Oh, and the nasturtiums.  Next year I need to plant salad greens earlier so I can enjoy adding nasturtiums to our salads.  Sort of ran out of space this year.  Looks like we will be having beans, squash and remainder of kale for August.  I just planted a strip for late August/September of spinach, arugula & orach.  All varieties I have never eaten before.  Surprising enough, the little 4″ pack of winter onions I never got into the ground in time have continued to grow.  So, I am starting a 3×3 onion bed in the next couple of days for planting after this heat wave passes.  Maybe I will get lucky.

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Economizing Water

Since I did not get rainbarrels installed before the drought came (a month early) this year, I had to rely on ye old city tap.  It turns out broccoli is one thirsty plant! So, in hopes of sharing my water more broadly out to my new veggies and yet limit my water bill increase, I swapped out my interior Neoperl faucet aerators (I bought them at Home Depot.) I believe this combined with carefully prepared soil, straw mulch and watering no more frequently than every three days led to only a modest increase over last year: 1ccf more.  Just before the water bill arrived, I continued my campaign to reduce water usage by replacing our two (2.5 cfm) showerheads with 1.5cfm.  Green Gear has some fine video reviews of the showerheads I purchased, the Hi Sierra and the Eclipse.  I may also eventually try out the Niagara, which is pretty inexpensive. I don’t blindly follow reviews with a purchase by tradition, however reading his site I saw our value criteria were quite similar.  Function before form.  Someday I’d like to reuse my bathwater for toilet flushing (greywater 101).

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Well, we now have a vacancy at the inn.  Backyard log cabin slum house is officially out of use.  Had noticed at least one extra wren hanging around AND a lot of bird nagging whenever I entered the backyard.  Turns out we had (at least) one living hatchling that was doing very well thank you on its brief education in feed-myself training.  So now the wee birdies have flown the coup and I can finally plant the beds I started two months ago! Good thing it wasn’t a crows nest.  I’d of never gotten in the back yard. Shall have to research and build a few boxes for next year.  Maybe if the housing were a bit deeper, there would have been more than one fledgling?

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broccoli0706smWell, they aren’t nuthatches.  They are Bewick’s wrens! (I needed my field glasses to verify.) They are however still in residence and apparently have become parents, as I see them doing some serious insect catching and running to their lowly birdhouse.  I have decided not to delay planting any longer.  Figure if I limit it to some leafy greens, they will not require extensive digging (thus attracting crows) and need less tending.  I hope I don’t live to regret that last part.  The broccoli took rather more attention (and water) than I had expected.  We had our drought period arrive a month early and thus I needed to stay on top of the watering to try and stave off bolting broccoli.  Am now down to 4 plants, but with constant cuttings we are getting a good harvest from them.  To counter my water usage, I swapped out all the faucet aerators from 2.5 gpm to 1.5.  We only used 1 CCF more than last June.  Now that I have changed out the shower head to 1.5’s as well, maybe we will go back down.  Or not.  Freshly harvested veggies need to be washed. I then water the garden with the rinse water.  Wow these little birds make awesome music!

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Garden project delayed

Lacking any obvious activity, I thought my nuthatches had decided to nest elsewhere. Lord knows I did not step softly when I pulled up the morning glory/bindweed from under their hanging house. Taking a break from weeding yesterday, I sat for a bit, far to the back of the garden. What should appear but a wee nuthatch bearing small somethings and dropping them into the house. I noticed she (he?) took a more circuitous route than before…and very quietly. I need to look up more on this bird, find out how long their hatch cycle is. I hope I didn’t break any eggs during my weeding (I looked inside in vain). I also have a garden bed I wanted to fire up in July located almost underneath the nest. Should I charge them for delay of project? Perhaps if I only plant low growing lettuce and water in the mornings?

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Strawberries for July?

strawberriesOn the bright side, the strawberries flowered and are now fruiting.  I tried three varieties for different purposes. Fragaria quinalt, an Everbearing strawberry developed by WSU for commercial production is very disease resistant. I am raising this under my currant plant.  I also placed two hardier tyoes in a band in a terrace step below my vegetable garden so they could filter runoff from my seasonal bed.  Both are considered drought tolerant and one is evergreen and spreading, while the other is compact and deciduous:  Northwest a native beach strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis and Fragaria fresca, a European alpine variety. I am hoping they will prove to require less maintenance once established.

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Green giant grows foul

…well, the job hunt continues to be sparse.  In the edible garden however, food has begun to appear with mixed results.  The Kailan Broccoli was a bust, possibly because of a heat wave we experienced early in June.  The leaves were the size of baby elephant ears but no stalk growth.  The next week the stalks shot up and bolted.  This particular broccoli is an eat-the-whole-plant sort.  So I steamed it.  I have to say it was awful.  Perhaps I harvested it at the wrong time or fertilizer caused more leaf than flower/stalk growth.  Regardless, it has been yanked from the garden and will not be on my list of plants for next year.  My leaves were enormous compared to this pic on Wikipedia, so I do think I probably should have harvested it much earlier.

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birdhouse1(Original Post 05/01/09) Encouraged by birdhouses I saw at a pea patch, I decided to patch up and re-hang one I had in the yard.  A week later a couple of nut hatches moved in!  So I moved it up a little higher and apparently they think that is just fine.  I have no idea how they are going to fit 18 eggs in that little spot, but one would assume they know what they are doing.  Or are options merely so scarce that my little slum spot passes muster in these lean green times?

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Seattle Tilth

New urban farmers can quickly become overwhelmed. I have been reading about (or doing) this since the late 1970’s and yet I find myself researching, researching and yet more researching.  Then I take a deep breath and look for a practical solution.  Recently I took a few classes at and then joined Seattle Tilth.  Now, Seattle is known for it’s extremist greenists.  However, Seattle Tilth is full of practical people that have drilled down and parsed their lessons in urban farming into a simple methodology.  Which is why I joined and am volunteering there.  If you missed the Seattle Edible Sale, they are having another one (probably smaller) in Issaquah coming up at the end of May.  Labor day is the first day PNW’ers are suggested to set out their tomatoes.  Mine are going to be in a tunnel this year and fertilized with liquid, organic Alaska Fish Fertilizer.  Seattle has historically been a fishing community and using fish leftovers for garden fertilizer goes way back. I have noticed bypassing dogs sniff the yard’s aroma.  My cat thinks it is pretty cool too. So far our neighborhood raccoon walks right by my garden heading straight for my snail havens.  I am hoping the fabric tents discourage extended interest.

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Run Off

layoutAbout midstream in this project, I became worried about increasing my storm water run off.  Reviewing rain garden principles, I incorporated a few elements into my garden design.  1) Increased water retention capabilities in my front yard by adding depth with tilled-in compost.  2) I planted native plants along the outside perimeter to catch and filter this water.  3) I will also be adding a swale at the top of the garden later in the year (Requires more digging).   After the fall harvest, I will plant legume cover crop in the non-raised bed portion of the garden to slow down storm water. Cover crops get tilled into the soil in the spring, improving soil quality. I hope to attempt some overwinter crops under the tunnel.

I replanted my favorite herbs along the steps.  Less lavender and more edibles, like thyme. Now about some flowers….

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Garden Blankets

gardenblanket_smWell, it’s been a cool and wet spring and I think my starts need a bit of help. Optimally, I’d of had this all in place last fall and gotten my starts seeded in my well lit southern windows like my industrious neighbor Janice. However, I spent all my free, non-raining days amending soil with Cedar Grove compost and creating some levels within levels for more planting space. I found this compost calculator after the fact (typical) and bought most of my compost by the bag from Sky Nursery in small lots.  I’d have saved a lot if I’d had it delivered, but this is one project of mine where I allowed scope creep.  (I bought a few bags at a time to fit in with our budget.) I figured even if I didn’t get it all planted, at least I had improved the soils quality and water retention.

For mid-to-late July harvest in PNW, we need to have veggies starts into the ground by May 15th. I bought most of my starts from Seattle Tilth‘s Edible Plant Sale, Burien Herr Garden Center (onions/leeks) or Sky Nursery (strawberries).  Since I missed the rush to buy seed potatoes, I also chitted an organic potato I had let go to sprout.

These past few weeks, I put in more crops and covered them up with either row covers or a tunnel cloche.  On earlier gardens, I used PVC pipe.  This time I bought a 100′ roll of black 1/2″ tube and slid them over short pieces of rebar.  The black stuff was easier to cut.  All available at your local hardware store (big or medium size). All wood was recycled from our remodel a few years ago, the plastics and fabrics should last more than a couple of years.

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Sizing Up

mygardens_smThe barrel to the right shows my last year’s greens garden (plus a 5 gallon bucket of cherry tomatoes). Way over planted, this reclaimed wine barrel was a start (Kale, chard, beets, lettuce greens). In 2009, I have taken over the whole yard.

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Potage Plots Defined

My neighbors have been returning from work wondering what daily modifications I have accomplished on ‘my Farm’. I redistributed the blocks to break up the Great Wall, hoping that by planting native plants along the outside rim and new inset level I will reduce my winter runoff. I don’t wish to create stormwater problems. Agriculture, even our small urban attempts do not absorb as much water in the winter that shrubs would. (I am also looking in rainwater gardens.) This is pretty much the final layout.

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Digging Deeper

In August I decided the lower strip mulch area would not be sufficient. So I sod cut some upper lawn with anticipation of spring veggie garden. Sod cutting entails stepping on a curved manual edging tool to cut sod and create blocks. You then take a square shovel and lift it out, wheelbarrowing the sod block away. They used to use these in the midwest for roofing material in the plains. Mine is mostly dandelions, so the sod pile will be spending a long time under cover to recuperate.

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Posted 05.13.09. I decided to yank out my lawn and start a garden. This is the before picture. Sod was hauled to back yard and piled to compost into future ‘beds’.

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Compost Phase II: Green Cone

digester04.13.09  Realizing that my composting knowledge is probably dated, I decided to research further on this food waste composting issue.  Seattle is selling to its residents something called a Green Cone to compost our food waste in.  I googled it (of course) to see more.  The Green Cone, aka SolarCone Digester is the latest and greatest urban composting device (but expensive).  A couple of years ago I wanted to get a ‘city subsidized’ (read low cost) compost BIN from the city.  Unfortunately they ran out.  So, once I saw how much this food Cone cost retail ($160) versus Seattle special 2 fer 1 pricing of $40, I decided to take the plunge into…food composting 101.  I jumped in my car, mapquested the city’s distribution location (Sand Point) and dashed down to get Continue reading

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03.17.09. Our city just initiated draconian garbage rules.  While I applaud the effort, I am concerned about increases in disease.  I will  finally be inspired to put nearly everything into a compost bin and delight in seeing how small my general garbage bin fills.  I should also point out I am making planning measures to reduce my meat waste as well (cooking smaller portions, separating meat as add-in). Compost research ‘facts’.

Compost idea #1: Bioreactor

This idea from Cornell creates a compost tea.  Omit meat.

Compost idea #2: Worm Bins

There are limitations on what can go in these. Omit oils, dairy, meats & citrus.

The decay food chain pyramid is pretty interesting to revisit.

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