Although we had hobby gardens when I was growing up—and even a few pigs, some chickens and beef cattle—I wasn’t taking in the planting schedule or paying attention to crop rotation. And which seeds do you start indoors versus directly sowing outdoors? I couldn’t even tell you what brand of seeds we used, the pattern of the sun on various patches of dirt or how to determine where to plant corn versus lettuce. We planted [typical] spring-to-summer crops—none of this over-wintering business.
I am in the thick of an urban-farming learning curve in my own little micro-climate, and loving Loving LOVING it. Even if it means losing some plants to ‘legginess’, hunting for slugs and shaking my head when I notice: my chickens have eaten my kale bare. I am still trying to wrap my mind around worm bins, year-round gardening, perennial beds and hoop houses.
Recent lessons: the egg cartons don’t work too well as [indoor] seed starters. You have to water them so, so frequently and there is so little dirt it is hard for plants to establish roots. Oh and see the pic of red plastic berry cartons? Re-purposed from work (I teach at a cooking school), these make perfect covers for plant starts—to protect them from the birds. Also: I buy organic, heritage and trusted seed brands. I stay away from GMO and large scale seed companies and am a fan of: Seed Savers Exchange, Seeds of Change and Uprising Seeds.
I will say: my little girl years in red-trimmed, black rubber boots no doubt made an impression. I romped in puddles, played in dirt, fed slop to pigs and shoveled farm-animal ‘excrement.’ I picked blackberries along our driveway, and as a teenager worked in a berry cannery—with the quintessential red-stained hands to prove it. Boots pulled on, I drove around our little lawn mower tractor for hours and hours. And always with a smile pasted on my face. Who knew those innocent drives and dirty boots would not stay sealed in my childhood? Instead: it was just the beginning.
And now: I am paying attention. Now that I am building and planting and planning an urban farm. It sends happy chills up my spine when I pull on boots and romp through my own dirt. Just yesterday, I had seed packets splayed over my entire dining room table while I furrowed my brow and decided where to plant what, whether seeds went directly outside, inside or needed to wait a few weeks. I piled seeds by month, updated my garden drawing and made sure: tall plants in back, short plants up front.
I also am attempting to plant with my chickens in mind. They love to ‘come out and play’ if it is sunny (if chickens could smile… they would sport perma-grins each time I let them ‘flee the coop’). The last thing I need is to plant fennel, cilantro and lettuce where the chickens will eat it bare; my garden would have nubs and stems if they had their way. Instead, I aim to put their favorite crops out of reach—and surround them with crops they won’t eat/don’t like. And this is where some guessing comes in: I am pretty sure they don’t like tomatoes, corn (stems/leaves) and sunflowers. But I won’t plant them yet, as these plants need warmer soil and no frost. In Seattle that means June.
A quick crop update: last month I planted rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries and sugar snap peas. They are all thriving. My tulips and garlic are up, my brussel sprouts are flowering and my arugula and Italian parsley are taking over one of my raised beds.
I recently dropped a few of last year’s nasturtium seeds into the ground and they are already 2 inches high. I added a small trellis for the nasturtiums (out of old metal pipes from our basement/plumbing)—as they love to climb.
Just yesterday/mid-April I planted [outside]:
1. cucumbers (with a trellis—I plan to use the shade to plant more lettuce),
2. carrots (round 2—I plan on planting carrots each month through July. Once I plant them, I just put the seed packet into the next month’s jar of seeds-to-plant). Last year I planted baby carrots, which I will never do again. Too small! This year I planted: Darrow and Carnival Blend (purple and red carrots? I am in.).
3. parsnips. I love parsnips, and planted some last month too. I am hopeful they grow!
4. spinach and lettuce. I already planted a few rows last month and some are peeking through the dirt (see tiny sprout in picture above). This month, I added seeds to the ‘holes’ in each row.
5. cilantro and basil. Each in their own galvanized can (see top photo). An organic garden shop put out a pile of used galvanized garbage cans for free—lucky me it was the day I stopped to buy strawberry plants. I scooped up 7 cans and James drilled holes in the bottom. So far I have filled 5: cilantro, basil, 2 columnar apple trees and 1 organic purple potato (I bought a cool looking potato from Whole Foods and let its’ eyes sprout, then cut it up and tossed into can with a few inches of dirt).
6. fava beans (from seeds I saved from last year’s plants. I LOVE the notion of seed-saving. Stay tuned, more notes on this to come!)
7. fennel, green pole beans and purple bush beans: all from seed packets I bought in Italy. I am so excited to see them grow!
A friend of mine sent this little gardening story, which I just loved:
An old gentleman named Vincenzo lived alone in New Jersey . He wanted to plant his annual tomato garden, but it was very difficult work, as the ground was hard.. His only son, Vincent, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament:
I am feeling pretty sad because it looks like I won’t be able to plant my tomato garden this year. I’m just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. I know if you were here my troubles would be over. I know you would be happy to dig the plot for me, like in the old days.
A few days later he received a letter from his son:
For the love of God don’t dig up that garden. That’s where I buried a body.
At 4 a.m. the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left.
A little later on in the week, the old man received another letter from his son:
Go ahead and plant the tomatoes now. That’s the best I could do under the circumstances. Ciao,