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Archive for the ‘Urban Farming’ Category

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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!

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Sugar snap peas, mustard greens, and lettuce on my patio farm.

The blog may have gone dormant over the winter, but not My Patio Farm. This is Southern California dudes. We’ve got a winter growing season here.

I’m already scheming for my spring/summer garden, but first I’m going to catch you up on what happened over the past few months:

In December I planted sugar snap peas, mustard greens, parsley, two pots of lettuce, bok choy and a blackberry stick. We’ve enjoyed (a few) mustard green and bok choy sautees, but I completely ignored my lettuce. I think it’s time to give up on the dream of salad fresh off the deck. The sugar snap peas are flowering like crazy, but so far they’ve only produced enough sweet and crunchy pea pods to pick off the vine and eat right away, not enough for a side dish.  The blackberry stick has made a total of about 8 leaves. I’m not holding my breath that I’ll have blackberries any time soon, but it was definitely worth the seven bucks to try. And I haven’t given up yet. Plus, I put it in the same half whiskey barrell as my bok choy. I’m trying to get better about putting a mix of plants in my pots. We’ll see.

That's a blackberry stick surrounded by bok choy.

What’s happening this summer? Lots of tomatoes, another zucchini, herbs galore, maybe carrots, and perhaps some flowers. I love the idea of edible gardening, but I’m ready for some more color out there as well.

And the final idea I’m toying with: Expanding the farm with an actual bed on the hillside below the deck.  Lisa Boone, one of my colleague at the Los Angeles Times, wrote a story last year about a no dig garden. It’s basically a raised bed made out of compost, bone and blood meal and hay. It’s supposed to need very little water, and Lisa says hers has been producing like crazy. Apparently all the materials only cost $30, so if it doesn’t work, it’s not like I’m hundreds of dollars in the hole.

I’ll keep you posted. And if anyone has had any experience with blackberries in pots let me know. I want to give that little stick a fighting chance.

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It started off very exciting. Blearily washing dishes on the Tuesday after Labor Day I glanced up from the sink and saw two very exciting yellow flowers on my zucchini plant. Hello ladies!

Zucchini flowers in the earthbox

And just three days later, while doing my second watering of the day (yes, that’s happening now) I saw those flowers had started turning into zucchini!

Zucchini flowers and baby zucchinis in the earthbox

That happened fast. Here’s a close up:

baby zucchini closeup

Pretty awesome, right? Well…yes. But take a step back, and you’ll see that this damn zucchini plant is starting to take over the entire farm!

zucchini plant taking over

There’s a Japanese eggplant hiding under the enormous leaves to the right (planted in the same EarthBox), and to the left, there’s a little determinate tomato plant struggling to find some sun. I spaced out the Earthboxes a bit in the hopes that the little tomato will catch a break. But this zucchini plant is aggressive.

Watch out  Jonah

Watch out Jonah!

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I will just start at the beginning, and you will have to trust that this will eventually get to the point so clearly stated in the subject line. Ready? Lets go!

So, a few weeks ago I saw my friend Bettie for dinner. Bettie is an amazing backyard gardener living in Silverlake, who may be getting into biodynamic farming! Interesting. (Any other biodynamic backyard farmers out there? If yes, I want to write a story on you! Contact me!) 

Bettie’s specialty is growing artichokes and melons. The melons love her yard. And this year she had some volunteer cantaloupe plants that sort of popped up out of nowhere. So, rather than chucking them on the compost, she decided to give them away, and at dinner, she gave one to me.

I love the idea of growing my own melons, but the ladies behind Bountiful Container  (my bible) caution against it. Melons take up too much space, need too much dirt and too much water for the average container gardener. And so there I was with a very nice melon plant and no where to plant it. Then I remembered! My friends Michael and Jessica have a sunny, pretty children’s garden on their property with nothing planted in it yet, and what would be more perfect for a children’s garden than a cantaloupe plant? NOTHING! Kids love cantaloupe! And so I asked them if they wanted the plant.

And now we are getting to the almost point: Michael and Jessica currently have a weathered plastic toy kitchen in their garden that Jonah (my baby boy) played with once at a party at their house, and he loved it! I told Michael I needed to get Jonah a kitchen just like it and he said, “Don’t. Take ours.”

I was supposed to trade them some left over pieces of birthday cake for the kitchen, but then too much time went by and the cake was no longer good. Michael said I could just have the kitchen, but it feels so much nicer to be able to offer them a nice healthy cantaloupe plant in return. Everyone wins!

And now to the real point! If we have this kitchen, and put it on the deck, then maybe it will keep Jonah busy enough for me to work on making a sub-irrigated bucket platner like this:

sub-irrigated bucket

The guy from Inside Urban Green says no power tools involved!

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I have a plan. I am not sure when the plan will come to fruition–it may take a week, or two weeks or even a month, but I can guarantee you that before the summer is over I will turn some of these:

Coke_2litre_bottles

Into some of these:

pop bottle planter

The above photo was borrowed (stolen?) from Chris at  Mapleton-Bklyn . Not only does Chris  write nice clean, tidy, posts (very easy to read!), he is also planting all kinds of cool stuff  on his building’s roof top.  I am very inspired by his cute little soda pop garden. I think the clear plastic looks really cool, and not too DIY or recycled just for recycling’s sake.  (I like to do things that are environmentally responsible, but I like them to be aesthetically pleasing too!)

Chris’ soda pop  garden was inspired by  sub-irrigation prostelytizer/ blogger Bob Hyland of Inside Urban Green. You can read his step by step instructions on how to make one of these soda bottle planters here.

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new tomato growth

Yes, I know that’s not mint. Despite the headline, the biggest news of the weekend is the first small tomatoes I discovered dangling from the tomato plants! It is very exciting! The next step is to start tying up some of the tomato stems on the handy new not-so-well constructed fence/trellis that now exists behind them. My spiritual gardening gurus, the authors of The Bountiful Container, recommend tying them up with strips of t-shirts or old pantyhose. Pantyhose! That’s a weird word.

And now to the mint.

container mint smackdown

I have read that mint cannot be planted in the same container as any other herb because it is so aggressive it will strangle any other plant out of existence. But there were three interesting looking mints at the nursery, so I bought all three and have been letting them battle it out in the same large pot. They appear to be evenly matched. One note however: The vine-y mint (Indian mint it is called) is just for looks. I love how it trails over the edge but it’s definitely a loser on taste. Another note: My baby loves mint! He ate like 15 leaves last night one by one.

And here is a bonus pic just to brag about how gorgeous this red lettuce is, and to humbly accept blame for letting the green lettuce bolt.

red lettuce and bolting lettuce

Sam says: “I hate baths.”

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blueberry bush in a half whiskey barrel

So, you may recall that I bought a blueberry bush on a whim a few months ago  during  a trip to Carpinteria. It seduced me with it’s dusty pink and purple flowering beauty, but I started to regret my purchase almost immediately. At $32 or $37 (I can’t remember specifics) it is by far the most expensive plant on My Patio Farm, and I didn’t even know if there  enough sun on the deck to keep it alive, let alone fruiting.  Besides,  I don’t even like blueberries.

Or at least I thought I didn’t!

It turns out I LOVE blueberries, as long as they are picked directly off MY blueberry bush and popped IMMEDIATELY into my mouth.  Mmm!

But here’s the rub: I’ve only had four such blueberries in my life.  My blueberry bush takes up lots of real estate on My  Patio Farm, drinks a ton of water (drench and drain as fellow urban  blueberry gardener Chris knows), and really doesn’t produce more than the occasional super special one-berry treat. So is it worth keeping?

This weekend I started thinking the only responsible move is to rip it out and fill the enormous half barrel where it currently resides with tons of lettuce, or a squash or even another tomato plant. Maybe that would provide more edible yield per square inch of potted dirt.

But then I popped the one ripe blueberry still dangling from the bush into my mouth and thought, you know what? Who cares? This isn’t my livelihood. I don’t have to worry about my blueberry bush taking up too much space and not giving me enough fruit. I can just enjoy it for what I do get out of it. The very occasional, highly delightful blueberry!

It can’t all be about maximum productivity, right?

Right!

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