Hey what’s up y’all…this weekend I spent in the sunshine as the rain went away and the warmth has returned, at least for a bit! I’m talking 80 degrees or warmer while much of the rest of the country is either flooding or – gasp! – snowing. Oy!
The first week, we got up and personal with a look inside our bathroom, then followed up with two posts on the kitchen – one focusing on food storage, and the other all about our actual kitchen. Now, it’s time to take a look at what we grow ourselves as urban homesteaders here in Stumptown.
Our garden is our favorite area of our little 50×100 plot here in the city. After breakfast each morning, my husband always exclaims, “okay let’s do our walk around the garden!!” It’s our happy time, so rain or shine, we’re out there to kick off our day (or if he works an early shift, to finish it off). As for me, I grew up in the suburbs of Portland, with a mom who well-utilized much of their quarter of an acre lot to grow fruit and vegetables. While I was involved in a lot of the other homesteading-type things she did (canning, hanging clothes on the line, baking, DIY, etc.), gardening wasn’t a place I was asked to help out in much beyond the occasional “go pick some pole beans”. Back then I was horrified of bugs and couldn’t imagine getting excited about worms or bees! (I still get creepy-crawlies by the way, but nowadays they revolve around ants, wasps/hornets, and in Australia, millipedes. Heh.)
My veggie garden evolution kicked off with pots of basil and oregano when I lived in Santa Barbara. I planted tulips and roses in my Seattle days, but other than that? Not a clue on growing stuff to eat.
When I bought my home ten years ago, I didn’t think of it as one where I could have a veggie garden, but rather one where I could plant a few roses. Who knew… I tried one of those silly Topsy Turvy tomato planters and that was a joke, so in 2009 I created a driveway garden of potted items and a few things in the ground, because my backyard had two huge awful ailanthus trees shading it all. Of course I had no idea what I was doing so soon after the driveway garden photo below was taken, most of it died, as I didn’t realize you shouldn’t water every single day. Heh. So after a 20’+ branch came crashing across the backyard, I knew those needed to get removed, and a chance for a “real” garden was possible…even though I was just figuring it out as I went along.
Once the trees were gone the light was mindblowing. I had a bunch of cinder blocks lying around and shaped the beds that way, then over the years through trial and error, bought some more and figured out what worked best. (By the way, while I loved the idea of the tons of beds we had last year, we realized that we much preferred the aesthetic of a potager-style garden, integrating flowers with herbs with fruits and vegetables as much as possible, so we reduced to four large raised beds this year. Ahhh! Much better…and allowed so many MORE flowers as we weren’t worried about geometric paths and the like.)
Here’s what started as a driveway garden in 2009 and how it’s evolved over the past 7 years (click here to see the back half of the driveway’s transformation since then and click here to ):
In our “Big Four” (cinderblock) raised beds, we have: 1) peas now which will be peppers in June, 2) garlic and early tomatoes (hence the row cover) which we’ll add basil to next month, 3) carrots and onions, and 4) potatoes with calendula. Our nursery down the street sells bales of straw now (a whole lotta chickens in this ‘hood!) so we’re starting to use that for some of our mulch.
While preparing for this post – and because we were just curious! – I walked around the backyard and literally counted how many different things I/we have planted over the years…and was stunned! Over 80 plants…holy cow!
Obviously I’m NOT going to photograph all of them – plus being April, not everything is in bloom or beyond seedling, but here’s a peek…
Fruits & Vegetables
Here’s the fruit & veg that we’re growing this year and in parentheses, how we grow them: Spinach (seed), Romaine (seed), Snap & Shell Pea (seed), Red & Fingerling Potato (plant the eyes), Artichoke (starts), Okra (seed), Carrot (seeds), Onion (seeds), Cardoon* (starts), Rhubarb (start/perennial), Garlic (cloves from one of last year’s heads), Roma, Cherry & Beefsteak Tomato (seed), Green Onion (just plugged the butts into the ground/perennial), Chard (seed), Watermelon* (seed), Bell Pepper (starts), Habanero/Serrano/Jalapeno Pepper (starts), Scarlet Runner Bean (seeds), Cucumber (starts), Zucchini (start).
*this is my first year growing them
For those thinking they don’t have a green thumb, here’s the deal: I used to be terrified of buying seeds thinking it took some kind of magic but then I decided to start easy, with greens, and was immediately converted. Seeing that a packet of seeds costs less than a cappuccino (or – ahem – ONE veg start at a nursery) and will feed you for twenty times longer, I highly recommend it. Tomatoes planted by seed, however, need more love, however, as planting them directly into the soil rarely works, so a couple years ago I ordered grow lights from a garden catalog along with a little warming mat and timer, and it’s been so worth it! As we speak I’ve got basil coming up along with my watermelon seed experiment (usually you can’t grow hot weather stuff like watermelon because the growing season is shorter than in the traditional areas that have these, but last summer I grew okra, y’all, so it doesn’t hurt to try).
What did I grow but don’t any more?
- Green beans – I loved growing climbing varieties but neither of us really eat all that many of them, to be honest! That was my biggest lesson – don’t grow what you’re not crazy about. Grow tons of what you ARE mad about (for me, that’s tomatoes and peppers – we plant 16-24 of each).
- Leeks – Again love growing these but since I only use them once in a while, I’ll support a local grower at the farmer’s market when I need them.
- Pumpkins – These are VERY easy to grow…but they take over the world! Last summer old seeds from the compost pile sprouted in one of our beds and we let it do its thing – and it seriously reminded us of Little Shop of Horrors. We’ve given them away to the neighbor kids the last couple of years but this year I’ve put the kibosh on growing them! 🙂
- Celery – I didn’t seem to have the magic touch. And seeing like leeks they weren’t something I ate much of, just used in soups, that’s another farmer support thing.
- Kale – Grows easy and attracts pests like crazy. Oh yeah and we don’t like it all that much (husband hates, I OD’d on it).
- Bok Choy – Our neighbor gave us some starts as a wedding present and it grew SO fast and was SO pretty but again, we made some kimchi and then were a bit stumped as it all grew at once so quickly.
Oh and if you’re curious, I think beets, brussels sprouts, acorn squash and broccoli are nasty (and don’t believe the whole “oh it’s how you prepare them…” thing that the cool kids all like to say…it’s not. They’re gross according to my tastebuds…so don’t even ask about why I don’t grow ’em, hee hee 🙂
We don’t have the room for fruit trees which is a bummer, but I was really adamant about keeping a grassy patch on the back lawn, considering I took out a good 70% of it over the past decade. We have a reel mower to cut the grass once a week during the spring, never water it, and let it go yellow/brown in the summer as grass is supposed to do (I cannot comprehend using chemicals and tons of water to keep a lawn unnaturally green when it’s biology is to fade in summer!). Several years ago I did try a few columnar apple trees and a dwarf peach but the columnars never fully fruited and the peach one was so sensitive to the elements and leaf curl that they were a waste of time – so we go to the U-Pick farms for now. 🙂 Someday if we go after our dream of a big ol’ piece of property? Pears, baby. Oh how I love picking pears…
Obviously berries are fruits but we are growing so many that I thought I’d make this a separate category: Blackberry, Marionberry, Boysenberry*, Raspberry, Currant, Gooseberry, Salmonberry, Blueberry, Huckleberry.
Last year was the first year for the black/marion/raspberry bunch so this year we should be getting our first fruits. Raspberries seemed to struggle but the others are nice ‘n’ vine-y so we’re optimistic! I’ve grown blueberries for years but a couple years ago they all got hit with rust and never recovered, it totally sucked! So last year we bought all new stock and planted them in a different location on the south side – and they all got eaten by birds and other critters! Every single one! Never happened to me before! So this year we’ve netted them over a trellis and it looks ugly but we’ll see if it makes a difference as them berries are OURS for the eating! 🙂
Almost all of these have been the easiest things to grow – I keep my cilantro in part shade as it bolted a few years ago when I planted some.
Currently we grow: Rosemary, Lavender, Dill*, Fennel*, French Peppermint, Cilantro, Chives, Basil, Tarragon, Thyme, Oregano, Sage and Parsley. While we can grab rosemary year-round, I have to make sure to dry a bunch of the most of the rest (except chives, I only like them fresh) to ensure there’s seasonings for the winter. Mmmmm, and let me tell you, it’s SO worth it to do that! (By the way, I don’t own a dehydrator – I just oven dry them at the lowest temp possible for 8-15 minutes depending on leaf size…way easier for these!)
My first rosemary was in a little pot in my kitchen during the winters and I just got sick of having it in the house so I stuck it in the ground. It’s now about four feet wide and three feet tall and is the cornerstone of our front yard – not to mention bee heaven! They are also easy to divide which I love. My horticulture-y husband really got me into the concept of “oh wait if you already grow it why not just make more of it from the original” – again, one of those things that because of its unfamiliarity, sounded Hard To Do. Husband is the eternal experimenter out there – taking cuttings from all kinds of things. So this month I did that with my beloved tarragon, as I read with tarragon (along with certain other plants) that it’s actually important to divide them every few years to keep the taste vibrant. Results? I turned two plants into three (should have become four, but one must have given me the finger when I did it, heh…).
And of course there are things in my garden I’m eternally grateful for that don’t come from the ground! Clockwise from top left:
- Cooking/garden prep area and lettuce bed – The corner area was made over the winter from repurposed cinder blocks and old fencing connected into a “countertop” – what I’d been craving for what we do, from grilling (that tabletop grill was a housewarming gift to myself in ’06 – yep, a George Foreman electric, no charcoal or propane required!) to water bath canning in the heat of summer (this is where the shade is by early afternoon, way better than an 80 degree house to do all that work – I bought a portable burner to cook things in out there as well a few years back – so worth it!), to repotting plants we’ve just divided from the garden. Love it! And husband built this awesome waist-high salad bed out of old 2×4’s & fencing – SO cool don’t you think? No crouching down to pick it…and no slugs can reach it! Plus the location is ideal as it gets afternoon shade and therefore prevents bolting in the late afternoon heat!
- Rainbarrel #3 – Last year we finally had the roof replaced on our garage (I was feeling very poor when I had my house tear-off roof job done back in 20112) and I had the guys add gutters to it to take advantage of the rain, buying this originally solid-green barrel online and then both of us did some painting. It started out with garden bugs then I added some Australian animals, and um, yeah, a pink elephant, heh. It’s great though to have a secondary barrel in the back as we haven’t figured out a graceful place for a large cistern quite yet. And as a bonus this one pools water at the top when it overflows which sounds bad but we’ve spotted birds using it as a birdbath a couple times…adorable!
- Garden Storage Cabinet Thingy – This actually used to be in my kitchen’s breakfast nook as a stand for my microwave and other things, but when I finally bought a table and chairs for that area it needed to go, and so right outside the backdoor it did – a PERFECT place to have our fertilizers (seaweed, fish, and bone meal), epsom salt (for tomato & pepper planting), pet-safe Sluggo, neem oil for aphid control, jar of cayenne for ‘don’t fuck with me squirrels!’ after planting, various garden tools, and the bottom half for storing more tools and canning stuff. Yay!
- Eco-Friendly Garden Hose + Drip Irrigation Timer – The Green & Grow Hose is a new purchase, a little over $20 and worth it as our old one was cracked and crappy, so we wanted to get one that was drinking-water friendly. Not that we’re sipping from the hose all that much, but hey, no problem if we do and no more icky chems when we attach it to the rainbarrel to water or wash the dog in the summertime :). The drip irrigation timer is rad – a) I’d forget to do this regularly, which was the point of installing drip irrigation, and b) Since you need to start early in the morning, we kick it off at 5am…and so sleeping is still had 🙂
- Original Rain Barrel – This was my very first one, built by yours truly at our local tool library‘s seriously awesome rainbarrel workshop in 2009, starting out in the front yard and quickly realizing that 50 gallons is – pun intended – just a drop in the bucket considering 1/2″ of rain from the sky hitting the roof fills it up. Made from an old soy sauce drum, I painted it blue then added the flowers as well – gotta make it happy! It’s now in the back yard on the original stand I built for it, with the front yard now housing our 300+ gallong cistern that I got in 2012 (on Amazon, believe it or not, which delivered the beast for free)….which also fills up in a jiffy here in Oregon.
Nooks and Crannies…and LOTS of Flowers
While not technically food, these all relate to the creation of food and the overall happiness of our life here…
- For our bees (mostly): Bee Balm, Coneflower, Borage, Russian Sage, Cornflower, Calendula, Hyssop*, Bee’s Friend*, Milkweed*, Checkermallow, California Lilac, Flax*, Aster.
- For our eyes (mostly): Tulips, Roses, Gladiola, Nasturtium, Daffodil, Crocus, Lilac, Allium, Hibiscus, Iris, Astilbe, Calla Lily, Bleeding Heart, Hellebores, Gardenia, Shasta Daisy, Snowdrop, Peony.
- Other pretty greenery in our backyard: Black Lace Elderberry, Smokebush, Lemon Verbena, Salal, Douglas Spirea, Serviceberry, Mock Orange, Eucalyptus (snow gum – we have a silver dollar and a lemon gum in pots in the front), Hostas, Sword & Deer fern, Deer fern, Oak, Corinthian Mint.
From top left, clockwise:
- While most folks have a normal 50×100 rectangular lot here in the city, the history of our property is that the old streetcar ran diagonally down it, so for some reason when they drew the property lines back in 1925, we got what I term “the party hat corner”- essentially a rectangle with one triangular corner jutting off, that goes a wee bit downhill as well. It’s strange and hasn’t been easy to work with, but when my sweetheart flew to Portland to spend a holiday with me during our long distance relationship back in 2013, he planted what at the time we called “Dan’s Corner” with a few purple-themes pretties, including a smokebush and elderberry, the latter which is now over 10′ tall! Side note – on the right side of the photo you’ll see where our black/rasp/boysen/marion-berries are all growing along the fence – husband built a trellis out of scrap wood & wire (we heart leftover wood, let me tell ya!).
- California lilac, one of my all time favorites, from its looks to its scent to its overall bee-worthiness.
- Our Guard-en dog 🙂
- Irises just coming into bloom this week…irresistible!
- And finally, our Flow Hive super is now out on its stand, the blocks, quietly awaiting swarm time. Per our bee mentor’s recommendation, we dabbed it with some lemongrass oil as well as a “just in case”, hoping bees will either come there or to the swarm box this month. I’m dyin’ waiting for them, I tell ya! Once we get the swarm and they start getting to work, then we will add the second story with the flow frames (where the honey gets harvested from without use of a centrifuge, etc.). As a side note, we also have our names on the Swarm Registration list to get a call when there’s one in our area, as we need to make sure all bases are covered so we can actually get some honey harvested this year! Crossing fingers it will be soon…
So for now that’s all I’ve got in me for documentation. I’m going to come back next week with a look at our front yard with some more before-and-after shots, what we’ve done that’s green and sustainable, all that good stuff!
The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.
~George Bernard Shaw