The (R)Evolution of My Yard

5 Feb

It’s early February in Seattle, and that means it’s time to start thinking about gardening.  2010 will be my first growing season with a fairly large space to call my own.  This has it’s own set of challenges, but before I get into that, I want to tell you about how we’ve made a garden and made local, sustainable eating work during the past two summers, with limited space and limited resources.  You can do it too!

Double S and I used to live in a tiny third floor attic apartment in downtown Ballard. It was 325 square feet, an oasis amongst the trees. We called it The Treehouse, and we rocked it. We maximized the crap out of it. We cooked and made wine and baked and canned and had parties and made kombucha and made cheese and sewed and painted and lived it up.

Narrow stairs, but they had a shelf to store all of our canning and pickling jars. Double S made those veggie prints in the background.

I made bagels, in a kitchen with only a bar sized stove with two burners!

We also negotiated out way into a garden plot.  We lived in The Treehouse three summers, composted everything, were the recipients of some sweet rabbit “tea” from our gardening whiz neighbor (needed especially because the soil was so depleted), and managed to create some sweet-ass soil in our small plot. We grew tomatoes and corn and peas and potatoes and kale (we had kale for days!) and lettuce and onions and chard and…I feel a little verklempt just thinking about it.

Our garden at the height of harvest. Delicious summer salads every night!

Last year we tried corn. It was a partial success, but always looked gorgeous.

We used pretty much every square inch of our 10′ by 20′ garden plot, and last summer (we were getting itchy to move) we added a bunch of food grade containers for tomatoes and herbs.

Our front porch in the trees...with pots growing snapdragons and catnip for The Bear.

We creatively used what we could find to make cloches. Placing them against the garage wall helped us with generating more needed heat.

Our plot was irregularly shaped and we sometimes had problems with sunlight, especially in Pacific Northwest springs and early summers.  So we built cloches using old tomato cages and clear plastic sheeting, to gently urge our tomatoes to thrive until the (relatively) hot days of July and August.   You can see the cloches on the right in the above picture.

In the summer of 2009, we were prepared as the season began.  We went to Seattle Tilth’s Plant Sale for starts. What an immense variety of species!  We had a fun day of designing our garden in the Spring rain.

We supplemented by joining Edible Landscape’s plant start CSA. We didn’t have the space to start our own plants indoors, so this was a perfect option for us to get starts that were appropriate for the season, and to support an awesome new business endeavor.  The folks at Edible Landscapes have a pretty ingenious idea. They offer a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share for plant starts. You sign up at the beginning of the year, supporting the farmers and ensuring that you’ll get four seasons of plant starts. You pick your starts from a list of offerings, and they are delivered to a neighbor’s driveway where you pick them up right when you should be planting them.

Share delivery day!

Timed perfectly. Well unless you move, but more on that later.  Also, in 2009, we tried our hand at more storage crops.  Our garden was looking like gardens do in May, so organized, so full of promise.

Early summer '09--we planted our peas on President's Day. Recommended!

We had good luck dropping our chitted potatoes in this former compost pile.

Ye olde 'tater patch!

We made hand painted garden signs to demarcate our crops. Ended up not needing the cauliflower and Brussel sprouts–not much luck with those brassicas other than kale.  The “Taters” sign is for you guys, growandresist and awesome ladyfriend! They had a great laugh at my ‘taters sign, which was my first attempt at signmaking.  For some reason, I was trying to bring out a potato’s inner bad ass, giving them ‘tater versions of pompadours and leather jackets. They got better, see!

Making our signs...yes, I'm laying down the stairs.

Our attempt at melding gardening and crafting.

We also learned a lot.  Double S has gardened a lot in the past, but I was a newbie.  I read what I could get my hands on, but nothing was like the actual experience of organic gardening for two years in a limited space with limited funds (gotta save for the homestead, yo!).   Crop rotation, say.  We didn’t have the space to plant our peas in a different location–we needed the fence for trellising.  And we got the same mildew issues in 2008 that we did in 2009.  So there was learning!  We also found out that it takes a village to garden.  If you go on as many trips as we do during the summer, you need some nice neighbors who will tend to your delicate shoots and sprouts.  Thanks Dreama and Scotty!  We learned that not fully broken down compost will mostly work, but you’ll probably get a lot of fennel and squash in strange, hard to reach places.  However, that lesson brought us a bonus: Double S mastered the art of of making crowd pleasing stuffed squash blossoms.  Dust ’em in eggwash, then drag ’em through panko bread crumbs, and stuff ’em with goat cheese.  Then lightly fry, and voila, you’re getting oohs and ahhs from party guests.

We had been subscribers to a CSA and were frequent fliers at the farmer’s market in Ballard.  Living in Seattle is a beautiful thing when it comes to farmer’s markets.  In both of my neighborhoods I’ve lived in here, we’ve had year-round farmer’s markets.

Ballard farmer's market in February.

Fresh, local clams from Taylor Shellfish Farm.

Local grass fed beef from Skagit River Ranch, at the Ballard Farmer's Market.

Last summer we went to the market, but we didn’t necessarily need to.  And that, friends, was awesome!  Lots of ink has been spilled on how expensive farmer’s markets can be, but in my experience they aren’t necessarily so.  Most neighborhood farmer’s markets here have certified organic farm stands, local farm stands stating that they use “No Spray,” as well as those that don’t specify.    These no spray booths are typically less expensive, and they’re local and you can meet your farmer.  Which is pretty much what it’s all about.  In fact, Double S got the idea for squash blossoms from a no spray farmer at the Ballard farmer’s market.  The booths often may not look like they were set up by a food stylist, but the end result is the same.  Delicious fruits and vegetables.  We have some things we only buy organic, and others that we feel more flexibility around.  Bottom line, farmer’s markets can be a viable option for most people to get fresh fruits and vegetables.

Just as the growing season was coming to an end in 2oo9, we were moving into our new homestead.  When we were packing our things at The Treehouse, our landlord asked us to be sure to clean out the weeds and dead vines and things from our garden plot, because he planned on making our plot a new parking space for his boat. Dying inside. Double S and I were in (figurative) tears and still suck our teeth and shake our heads at that little tidbit. We made so much happen in that little plot. Magic, even.

PS, that song makes a great selection on a mixtape to woo girls. Just ask Double S!

Although we loved and still love the Treehouse, we always dreamed of the day we would have more space, more room to expand our growing power and less lectures about gardening techniques from local characters. See mansplaining.  When Double S and I finally decided to make that big step to homeownership, after much looking, we fell in love with our new yard before we even saw the inside of the house. Yep, the yard had us at hello. Why do I keep making Jerry McGuire references?

It’s only a front yard, technically, but it’s fenced and landscaped and has mature fruit trees and raspberries and blueberries (RASPBERRIES AND BLUEBERRIES!) and grass that we can DESTROY in the name of growing our own food. Kill! Grass, that is.

Right now we’re in the process of revolutionizing our yard from a pretty sweet and landscaped (fake river bed, anyone?) hang out space, to a lil’ urban farm. With the help of our knowledgable and awesome friend growandresist, we’re taking measurements to make at least half of the yard fertile for crop production.

Stay tuned! It is the year of urban agriculture here in Seattle, ya know. Seriously. It is! Get with the program!

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10 Responses to “The (R)Evolution of My Yard”

  1. growandresist February 5, 2010 at 8:40 PM #

    ah, thanks for the shout out! 😉 The ‘tater signed rocked…it was your ‘gateway sign’! Your landscape plans are coming along nicely. I love the ‘magic’ clip =)

  2. sonja February 8, 2010 at 7:24 AM #

    this makes me want to garden so bad!!! nice job capturing so many sweet and tasty memories of that small plot of dirt. its true, a lot can grow in a very small space!

    • ohbriggsy February 8, 2010 at 9:05 AM #

      i’m excited to start this week!

  3. dean February 8, 2010 at 8:52 AM #

    i can’t believe i just discovered this blog!!! making me miss the early spring of seattle so bad! can’t wait to see your garden this summer! and i’m now so inspired to can things. genius.

    • ohbriggsy February 8, 2010 at 9:04 AM #

      thanks dean! at first i prioritized fermenting over canning, but canning isn’t as difficult as it seems. i still love me some naturally fermented things too. i’m starting kombucha back up this week as well. good luck with the semester!

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