Sunday, March 28, 2010

Back yard transformation part II

Last weekend we rented a pneumatic jackhammer, invited some friends over to help us, and ripped up all the concrete in our back yard. It was hard work, but a ton of fun. What is amazing, is that since ripping it all up, our yard has been flooded with birds checking out the new digs. Goodbye cold, hard, impervious concrete, hello wildlife.


That's a lot of concrete!

Spring fragrance

One of my favorite parts about spring in Seattle is the smell of lilacs. Purple and white, both are beautiful, smell divine, and abound throughout the city.

Yesterday we pruned some of our lilacs way back to make room for an apple tree. Before sending the prunings off to a compost pile I clipped the blossoms and put them in vases through our house. They are just on the brink of opening up, but they already smell like heaven.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alleycat Acres in the paper

I am a member of the Alleycat Acres urban farming team. A few weeks ago we got some good press in the Seattle Times. A reporter and a photographer came out to our Beacon Hill site as we were busy, with a slew of volunteers, incorporating Groco compost into the soil. We incorporated 10 cubic yards of compost that day. It was awesome. A lot of work, and a lot of fun.
Here's a link to the Seattle Times article:
Below is a picture of me pushing a wheelbarrow full of Groco compost. Pretty hilarious expression.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Corned beef and cabbage

Some call this Irish-American classic stringy meat with soft vegetables. I call it pure bliss.

This year I cleaned out my vegetable drawer by adding: cabbage, brussels sprouts, potatoes, parsnips, rutabaga, onion, and carrots.

Mustardy, briny, sweet, savory, delicious. Welcome spring!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Back yard transformation part I

I am a gardener in a time of simultaneous trouble and incredible opportunity. Due to a concrete problem, I am currently faced with a lack of gardening space, but will soon have a blank slate to work with.

Last spring my husband and I started a search to find our first house. After months of looking, an adorable craftsman bungalow, in a great Seattle neighborhood, dropped into our price range. Upon walking into the house we fell in love: tons of light, appropriate updates, great energy, nice size, amazing views of lake union and the downtown skyline from the master bedroom. I was in love. After walking through the kitchen door to peep the back yard, however, my heart sank... just a little bit. What could be called the yard was completely paved over in concrete, mostly covered by a strange shed-like structure, and surrounded by a rotting fence.

 Our back yard on the brink of demolition.

Knowing that a lack of gardening space was a deal breaker for me, my husband glanced at me with that all too familiar look as if to say, "too bad this one won't work either". I surprised him when I said, "we can work with this". I knew that all we had to do was tear down the shed, rip up the concrete, build some raised beds, and I'd be in gardening paradise. By mid summer we were unpacking boxes in our new house. I dropped a couple tomato plants, lettuce starts, and several herbs in the front lawn area to get us through the first year transition (it didn't feel like home until I did that).

Now the boxes are unpacked and we're getting around to the demolition.

 Here is Jacob immediately after taking down the shed.

Our dear friend Brandon Peterson, landscape designer and owner of the Palm Room in Ballard, has been giving us tons of pointers and design ideas. He is amazing!

Our new neighbors across the street are architects and own a concrete cutter! Here is one of them showing us how to use it... the first step to concrete removal. The plan is to define the concrete removal areas with the cutter, and then jackhammer it into chunks that can be picked up and moved.

A few days ago we used some of the demo lumber from the shed to make raised beds along the side of the driveway. They're ready to plant now! The white PVC inserts along the 4 corners are there to hold hoops for the soon-to-be hoop house... a great way to extend the growing season.
It was Brandon's idea to make multiple boxes in different sizes and to offset them from one another. From a design perspective I really love it. I'm envisioning clumps of nasturtiums growing along the lower borders of the beds. Colorful chard, kale, sugar peas, radishes, arugula, and other spring veggies up top in the beds. I want to make a third box specifically for strawberries. That way the dogs won't trample the berries, and are less likely to pee on them... things I have to think about since I am able, and fortunate enough, to enjoy sharing my life with dogs.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Seed starting station

At this year's Northwest Flower and Garden show I saw Willi Galloway, of Diggin Food, demonstrate how to make a seed starting station out of an Ikea bookshelf. Inspired, last night my husband and I made a station of our own. We put it in the unfinished part of our basement, where a little bit of water on the floor won't hurt a thing.
This is how we made it:
1st we assembled the metal rack we purchased.

Here is a picture of our dog, Guthrie, sniffing the new rack

2nd put together the light fixtures we purchased. We purchased a shop light fixtures that are 4' long with a 12" wide reflector, perfect for channeling light directly over two flats of seedlings. Shop lights are also really easy to use, because they are designed to be hung with chain, which is perfect for our purposes, since chain and S-hooks make it really easy to adjust the height of the lights.

3rd, using chain and S-hooks, we hung the light fixtures from the wire rack.  According to Willi Galloway, lights should be about 2 inches from the tops of the seedlings. This is the chain that came with the light fixture, but we purchased extra #14 jack chain just in case. We also purchased 1/2" S-hooks, which we needed.

4th, we plugged everything into a timer and set it to 16 hours of light per day.

5th, I planted some seeds and popped them under the lights.

Things to consider:
1. Set up a fan to circulate air over the seedlings. Not only is the fresh air good for plant growth, but it will also help to make the seedling stems more turgid, by simulating wind. An oscillating house fan works well, since it can also be used in other parts of the house during the warm months.
2. If you are reusing pots and 6 packs like I do, make sure you sterilize them with a 4 parts water to 1 parts bleach solution. This helps to prevent certain plant diseases like 'damping off'.

Materials used:
Metal rack (3 feet wide, about 7 feet tall)
2 shop lights
4 32-Watt T-8 florescent bulbs
12 S-hooks
#14 jack chain
surge protector

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gifts for the garden

My dear friend, Amber, and I just turned 30! Fourteen years ago we celebrated our 16th birthdays together in Los Angeles, and here we are today, celebrating our 30th's together here in Seattle. I am so grateful for her friendship all of these years.
Amber loves to garden but is currently living in a small space, so as a birthday present I got her some supplies for small container gardening.

A nice pot, seed packets, a trowel, pruners, a new pair of gloves.
The folks at Ravenna Gardens helped me to pack it up pretty for her.
The seeds I picked out for her will all do well in small pots: Cut and come again lettuce, Windowbox Mini basil, Cat treats grass mix (for her kitty, Sophie), and Electric blue sweet peas

Of course I couldn't go to Ravenna Gardens without getting a couple things for myself. Those gloves are made from bamboo and are super soft... I couldn't resist. I am a seed saver, so I don't need to buy many seeds each year, but I can't resist trying new varieties like the Windowbox Mini basil from Renee's Garden seed company. I also bought a Cut and come again lettuce seed mix (I have to buy lettuce seed every year), heirloom variety Lacinato kale, some sugar peas for eating, and sweet peas for flower arrangments. All of these things, except for the basil, can be started outside in Seattle right now. The basil I got is a windowbox variety which I will grow on my kitchen window sill.

Isn't spring exciting?
What are your spring garden plans?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How gardening can save lives:

I just watched Jamie Oliver's TED wish for this year, and his speech brought me to tears. It seems as though every TED talk is able to move me profoundly, but Jamie Oliver's talk really hit home for me. The issue he addresses, the issue of obesity and a lack of access to healthy, fresh, affordable, food, and the knowledge of how to prepare it, is largely what drives me to be an urban food producer, to be a food blogger, and to be an advocate for home gardens and freshly prepared meals that are made with love.

Oliver advocates that through learning about food, what it is, how to grow it, how to prepare it, we can save lives. Today, approximately two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese and one-tenth of all health costs in the U.S. are related to obesity.

 A young girl looking at a vegetable garden display at
the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, February 2010

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

"The obesity epidemic is harming the health of millions of Americans, contributing significantly to skyrocketing health care costs and threatening the country’s productivity. Two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and nearly one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. The current economic downturn is likely to push these numbers even higher as rising prices and constrained incomes make it more difficult for families to buy healthy foods."


This is not a pretty picture, and the trajectory is not good. Obesity is a food-related disease. As we eat fewer and fewer fresh, home-prepared, whole foods, we get fatter and sicker. Obesity-related diseases, such as type II diabetes are at a record high. When I was a kid, type II diabetes used to be referred to as adult diabetes, because it was rare for children to suffer from this obesity-related illness. Today, "adult diabetes" is referenced by its medical name "type II diabetes" because it is no longer rare for children to contract this preventable disease. In 1980, the year I was born, the national average of obese adults was 15%, today more than 33% of American adults are obese.

When we grow our own food we get exercise from cultivating the land, we breath fresh air (outdoor air quality is always better than indoor air quality), and we inevitably eat fresh, healthy, sustainably-produced, delicious food.

I believe that in a time when obesity rates are at their highest, and still climbing, when processed food is both the easiest and cheapest option, producing ones own food is a revolutionary act. I propose that together we grant Jamie Oliver his wish by teaching each other how to grow and prepare healthy food.