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When I started this blog I really thought it was possible to grow all the fruits and vegetables we would ever need right on my patio. I thought we would save money. I thought we might never go to the farmer’s market again. I thought I’d be busy preserving all my leftover bounty, dazzling my friends with jars of homegrown jams and picked things.

But after a few years of backyard gardening, I’ve modified my expectations. Building the patio “farm” I imagined may be doable for some people, but it’s a bit more work than I’m willing to put in, especially with two little monkeys aged 1.5 and 4, a full time job, and a husband with no interest in gardening.

And so, when we moved across the street last January, I decided that instead of rebuilding the Patio Farm, I would try for something a little less ambitions; I call it the Snacking Garden.

The two blueberry bushes that we put in may not have produced enough berries for a pie, but there were just enough for Jonah to munch on, fresh off the bush, everyday after daycare for the past 4 weeks.

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And when the last blueberries are finally gone I’m hoping the cherry tomatoes will be ready for some pre-dinner snacking. These are sweet 100s.

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There are a lot more flowers in the garden this time around. My dad–who helped me put it all in–likes color, but I love smell. We both loved this lavender.

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And I was psyched about the jasmine. (God, I love jasmine).

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The woman who lived here before us had already planted this rose bush.

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Yesterday I put some strawberry plants next to it, and also tucked some in around the blueberries. I’m emotionally prepared for the slugs to destroy them, but boy would Jonah be psyched to eat fresh strawberries. (Me too!)

The  small lime tree is already producing nicely:

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And we  put in this flowering bush (ugh, can’t remember the name) to attract hummingbirds.

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Everyone gets to snack in this garden!

My Patio Farm at war

I’m at war and I don’t like it. The stress is not good for the unborn baby. But these goddamn monster squirrels refuse to leave my pots alone. True, they are mostly digging through my unplanted pots–where I am hoping to put nasturtium seeds as soon as I’m able to do anything again–so technically these monster rodents haven’t damaged any of my winter crop. But I don’t want them getting too comfortable out there, thinking those pots belong to them.

Since I’ve been on bed rest I spend most of my days on the couch facing out towards the deck, either knitting, talking on the phone or watching TV. I’d say at least once every two hours I catch one of the fat squirrels that inhabit my yard scurrying down the fig tree and right into one of my pots. Then I jump up, cringe in pain (I feel like an 85-year-old-obese-lady these days) and bang on the sliding glass doors that lead to the deck. The squirrels don’t seem to care and keep right on digging. It’s not until I open the door and start marching out there clapping my hands and shouting that they reluctantly run away.

I once sent my dog out to get them but he wound up jumping right into the half barrel with the grapevine in it. I think he caused more damage than the squirrels did so now I try to leave him out of it.

I don’t know what to do. I’m sure I could go down the internet tunnel and learn all sorts of squirrel defense tricks, but I don’t want netting all over My Patio Farm. The idea is for the pots to be productive and aesthetically pleasing. However, if the squirrels get into my nasturtium seeds when I finally get planted, things might be different.  What I really wish is that I had a shotgun. I’m not usually a violent person, but you know what they say–all’s fair in love and squirrel war.

 

 

 

If the question is, “Deborah, where did you go all summer long?” the answer is–I got pregnant. And a bad case of morning sickness followed by lots of exhaustion. Getting to work forty five minutes late each day and chasing my two-year-old around was about all I could manage. And I guess I didn’t even manage that so well because just days after I bought my winter seedlings from this lady my doctor put me on bed rest. So those poor little babies–bush beans, beets, three types of kale, and some rainbow chard–had to sit in their cramped plastic containers for two whole weeks until my dad arrived to help me plant them.

But here’s the thing I discovered about plants: they really want to survive. I’ve heaped all kinds of abuse and neglect on these guys since they came to live with me about 6 weeks ago and most of them are still doing fine.  I lost one of the bush bean seedlings, but the rest are growing admirably.

The rainbow chard took the delayed planting time the hardest, and my dad and I were pretty sure they wouldn’t make it, but after a few weeks I noticed some sturdy little leaves resiliently poking up among the sadly wilting ones, and I think we’re going to be OK.

Rainbow chard can be incredibly beautiful, and I had imagined this would be the showpiece of the winter garden, but I’m not counting on it now. If I get one chard frittata out of this crop I will consider it a victory. And besides, I’m not sure if anything could compete with the variety of leaf textures in my kale earthbox.

Aren’t they lovely? My beets are also going strong and I think their foliage looks really attractive. I experimented with putting some carrot seeds in the pot (technically asking my dad to put the carrot seeds in the pot). It’s a rainbow carrot mix and if it works and I get to pick purple and white and pink carrots out of this pot come February  I’m going to totally freak out.

If you are pregnant, on bed rest, and live in California (or a climate like ours) I cannot recommend earth box gardening in the winter enough. You basically do nothing and the plants grow. Maybe once a week you can go out and fill the trough, but you’ll want to wander outside just to breathe fresh air at least once a week anyway. And seeing the plants grow makes you feel like you are doing something constructive even when you are basically doing nothing at all. Which is perfect for me. I saw my doctor yesterday and he told me he wanted me to do even less.

Friends are the best. Especially the ones that really love plants and gardening too. Last week two friends wrote to me with some thoughts/solutions to issues I discussed on the blog, and I think the insights are worth sharing.

Lets start with my ongoing berry issues:

Bayan, a budding urban gardener in Washington D.C. (and way more into research than I am) said he just planted a couple of berry bushes himself in front of his rented apartment. Here’s what he said:

“A few tips I have heard along the way about berries. They like a lot of sun. They like acidic soil, and generally they like to have more than one of their buddies around to pollinate with. It’s a lonely life for a berry bush.”

I admit I was pretty rash with the blackberry planting. I think it is in acidic soil because I put it in the same pot that the blueberry bush used to live in. But now I’m wishing I’d bought her some friends. I’ll have to see if I can find any at the farmer’s market.

As for the second tip, my friend Gwen has diagnosed my poor sugar snap pea issue as “powdery mildew.” She had a similar problem with some beans last year. Luckily she had a solution too: Break off the messed up leaves, and if necessary, even pull an entire plant. Mine were too far gone by the time I got her note, but maybe next year I won’t give up on them so fast.

Thanks guys!

PS: If I don’t find a fellow blackberry plant to help polinate my current one I think might rip her out and plant the grapevine I’ve been dreaming of for over a year. There’s a guy at the farmers’ market who is selling California grapes. TEMPTING!

I am beginning to see a light at the end of my to-do-list-tunnel. Things around the home are becoming organized. There was time this week for a trip to the farmers’ market, a yoga class, and a drive with a friend and the baby to a flower grower an hour away.  (We didn’t get anything but the scenery was gorgeous). I’ve found the tomato seedlings I’d like to plant–there’s a guy at the farmers’ market who had some nice looking plants and helpful advice–but I calmly (and with a little encouragement from my husband) chose NOT to purchase them yet. We’re out of town next weekend, and while I feel anxious to get things planted, there’s no reason to rush. I’m determined that the farm should be fun, not stressful. We’ve got many months of growing ahead of us. A whole lifetime even.

However, I could not wait to make some structural changes. We’ve had this metro storage unit sitting outside for 15 months. It’s an amazing thing–each shelf can hold hundreds of pounds–but it was too industrial looking for our home. I was feeling guilty that I hadn’t got around to selling it until I realized it’s just what My Patio Farm needed. On Sunday I set it up, and hoisted some plants on it. Here’s what it looks like:

I like it a lot. Too much actually. I’m already pining for a second one. I definitely have the space. I’m unsure yet whether the tomatoes will go on the shelf, or below. For now I’ve hoisted an Earth Box planted with two tomato plants on the top level.

Feeling sad east coast? I planted these about a year ago, and check it out: They are starting to produce again! Unfortunately, these were my least favorite of the four tomato plants I bought last year. They will probably be replaced.

My rush to reorganize the farm was perhaps a little rash. I realized too late that I was not wearing appropriate shoes.

Luckily white patent leather is easy to wipe clean.

And here’s one compelling reason to keep the tomatoes up high. This little guy loves picking the baby green ones off.

Much like my life, My Patio Farm has gotten a little out of control this past month. I’m incapable of being obsessive compulsive about anything– ultimately a good trait I think–but the poor farm could use a little more attention.

I let this happen to my mustard greens and lettuce.

As soon as I shot that photo I ripped it all out and threw it over the deck. Enough is enough. I can’t stand it anymore.

And my formerly gorgeous sugar snap peas have suddenly come down with a strange powdery disease. They are browning and spotting right before my eyes.

It’s not a good look, but these ladies haven’t given up yet. Despite the powder I was still able to pick enough sugar snap peas for a 5 o’clock snack.

I wish I could say there were still tons of pea pods on there to eat with dinner tonight, but I’m afraid I picked them clean.

Oh well, as my co-worker just said between crunches, (I shared), “It’s better than nothing!”

I’m drowning in new ideas for My Patio Farm.  I’m thinking this spring/summer season is going to be all about levels. (You’ll see).  But this past weekend I was busy preparing for a seder, and next weekend we’re off to the desert for a wedding, so for the next couple of weeks, the Patio Farm will have to run itself.

Luckily, it seems perfectly capable of doing so. Look what I found when I ripped out our sad, wilted, aphid coated lettuce:

This cheerful, sturdy looking mint volunteer has been around long enough for someone to have taken a few nibbles out of her, but I only just noticed her on Saturday. I guess now I know which pot this year’s mojito mint will go into.

I am also happy to report that contrary to my last post, I think the sugar snap peas are producing just fine.

And finally, the blackberry bush–shown here surrounded by bok choy–has defied my expectations, and is starting to put out a significant number of new leaves:

I don’t know why I’m so hard on all the plants on the farm. Like my (almost) two year old, I need to learn patience.

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