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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.

my patio farm overview

I’m going to run through this Mapleton-Bklyn style, which is to say, quickly, cleanly and without too much gratuitous editorializing.

Indeterminate tomatoes in the earthbox: Doing great. No ripe fruit yet, but lots of flowers and small green tomatoes.

Zucchini in the earthbox: Bigger than ever. Here’s a closer up pic, and this is AFTER I trimmed off a bunch of leaves for the second time last night.

zucchini growing in earthbox

Old, slightly neurotic Deborah might be a little concerned about all that whitish stuff on the leaves. But new Deborah who has no time to be neurotic says, “As long as there are zucchinis growing, who cares?”

That’s a Japanese eggplant to the right of the zucchini. It’s made a few flowers, but nothing eggplant-ish yet. I don’t blame the plant though, I blame that damn zucchini! (Next year two zucchini in one earthbox, they can duke it out among themselves).

Determinate tomatoes: Doing OK,but I’m not seeing a lot of fruit. Here’s a pic:

determinate tomatoes in earthbox

Potted herbs: Thriving.

herbs in big pots

That’s a blueberry bush in the half whiskey barrell. I’m not sold on this blueberry situation. Maybe they do better on the east coast? I’m giving this one another year because my friends had a blueberry bush that didn’t fruit for them the first season, but fruited like crazy the second season. We’ll see. But if it doesn’t give me lots of fruit next summer it’s out on its blueberry butt!

Radishes and carrots: Doing great! In the picture below you can see the radishes are really growing. I pulled one radish out of the ground because I was curious if it was already making little radishes. The answer is: not as far as I can see. It just looks like any other new plant root to my untrained eye. I stuck it right back in the ground and it doesn’t seem to have minded the disturbance. In the picture below you can see teeny little seedlings starting to pop up. I believe those are the carrots. Welcome friends!

radishes and carrots in wood planter box

And finally, this is off topic a bit, but I went to the coolest nursery for work this week. It’s called Rainforest Flora, it’s in Torrance, and it is the biggest grower of Tillandsia (air plants) in the country. If you live in SoCal it is definitely worth a fieldtrip. Although beware. I dropped $70 in about 15 minutes flat; $35 on an amazing staghorn fern, and the other $30 on these two guys in the photo below (the other $5 was tax).

new indoor plants

The plant on the right is kind of super ’70s, right? I’m into it!

radish seeds sprouting

On Saturday morning I planted some radish and carrot seeds. I took this picture four days later.

CAN YOU EVEN BELIEVE YOUR EYES???

I read (in my bible) that radishes can go from seed to vegetable in three weeks. That seemed absurd, but it doesn’t anymore!

I recommend that all new gardeners plant radishes. I’m not sure I even like radishes. But this rapid sprouting is so gratifying!

Also, I recommend that Southern California gardeners subscribe to Dirt du Jour (Kristen, I’m talking to you!). It’s a Daily Candy rip off for the gardening minded. You can read my LA Times blog post about it, or check out the site for yourself here.

Here in Los Angeles June is often not a nice month. It suddenly gets cool and cloudy. It feels like the bad parts of an east coast April. Un-fun.

june gloom

So maybe it is the weather, or maybe it is walking by a neighbor’s house and seeing 10 tree-like tomato plants growing in actual dirt in actual sun and feeling consumed with jealousy, but whatever it is, this patio farmer is starting to feel a little gloomy herself .  I’m growing all this edible stuff, but can I really EAT from My Patio Farm besides the occasional one ripe blueberry, or two ripe tomatoes? I grew all that lettuce and in the end it was enough for exactly two salads. 

It is so exciting to watch everything grow, but more like a science experiment than a culinary adventure.  And I really love culinary adventures! Oh well, I suppose there is only so much one can do with such limited space. At least we don’t buy many herbs anymore.

On a less gloomy note: here is a picture of Jonah enjoying his new kitchen.

Jonah and his new old kitchen.

He enjoyed it just enough for me to get some carrot and radish seeds planted. The radishes should be cool: they are inside out radishes–white on the outside, red on the inside. It’s my first seed experience. Wish me luck! 

 Radish and carrot seeds planted.

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!

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!

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.