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Archive for the ‘Food Not Lawns’ Category

People, the purple beast has been tamed.  I hit a bit of a snag the other day when I realized that, even though the dresser is made up of sturdy, worm appropriate wood, the bottom of the dresser drawers are made of particle board.  Argh. 

The worms thrive in a moist, dark, damp atmosphere, and those conditions don’t mix with particle board – the thing would bottom out in a matter of months.  Luckily, we had extra wood left over from our swing project, so I got to work.

I had my own little power tool day at home and felt like a bit of a badass – I cut out another drawer bottom and drilled it in, drilled some holes in the bottom, realized I need a pedicure…

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I then drilled holes in the top of what I found out is the world’s thickest dresser so the worms can breathe, and then came the gross part.  The worms needed to be taken to their new home.  And I needed to take them there.  This was the point when I knew I’d have to upgrade to a manicure and pedicure.  The worms are happy in their new home with fresh bedding, and our garden benefitted from lots of worm castings, mulched in today!  Happy worms…

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‘Tis the season – everything’s blooming.  Say hello to our newest arrivals:

Here’s my neighbor’s corn patch along with her home-constructed compost bin.  Looks like we won’t have a problem with the whole “Knee high by the 4th of July” rule:

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My bush beans are happy and blooming as well:

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The promise of a beautiful shiny Japanese eggplant:

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Oodles of ready-to-harvest lettuce and cilantro:

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And my favorite picture – on my last trip to the nursery, my compulsive plant buying yielded this beauty – purple tomatillos:

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The fruits are all coming!  So far (knock wood) the pests haven’t been too bad.  I lost a mint plant to aphids – they were too far into their meal by the time I got to them.  Aside from that, it seems like my semi-obsessive caterpiller picking is doing the trick!

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About six months ago, we got a visit from our landlord.  He oohed and aahed over our new garden spaces, and we all took a tour around the property.  After examining a seemingly on-its-way-out tree, he remembered that it had once fruited apricots!  He speculated that it hadn’t produced in thirty years, so we were welcome to cut it down to make space for something else. 

Sure glad we didn’t heed that advice, because a couple of months ago, we were graced with hundreds of tiny beautiful blossoms, the sign of things to come:

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And a few weeks ago, they came.  Tons of quickly ripening apricots.  If we could beat the birds, they were all ours!

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Apricots for breakfast, apricots for lunch, and soon thanks to my new book, apricots in ice cream!

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Ahh, the bathtub is blooming.  Is there a finer sight?  Around the holidays, I was trolling the craigslist free section (an unbreakable habit), and came across a beautiful cast iron bathtub, free for the taking.  A handful of seeds, and some recycled water later…

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From tub to tub – we keep a watering can in the shower, so every time we turn on the tap to wait for warm water, we collect the stream for use outside.

The bathtub is old news now, though.  My newest craigslist find is this awesome purple dresser.  I have a whole indoor-outdoor vision for our side yard, wherein ordinary household objects are used for less ordinary purposes.  The bathtub is the beginning, Chris is hard at work developing the sod chair (!), and the dresser is my next project. 

I started composting with worms about a year ago.  If you’re thinking of composting, and don’t know where to start, try these buggers.  It’s the easiest, most foolproof way.  You can make your bin out of most anything – we had these plastic bins sitting in the garage, taking up space.  An hour and a few hundred drill holes later…

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Okay, not the prettiest thing in the world, but the worms sure are happy.  The idea behind this bin is that, when your worms have worked long and hard processing your food waste, and have created tons of castings (worm poop to you and me), you can harvest the castings easily.  You simply nest an identical bin on top of this one, put food on top, and allow the worms to exit to a higher, more hospitable ground, leaving you with the rich poopy stuff that your garden will adore.  These fine folks have developed a more comprehensive tutorial – check it out!

Now, there’s nothing wrong with these bins – they serve their wonderful purpose just fine.  I’m just a little project-happy these days, and want to take this concept to the next level.  Enter the purple dresser, and a free upcoming Saturday to make a new home for these fellas.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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A couple of weeks ago, on our first hot Saturday of the year, I met my friend Lynelle at an organized herb walk through Tecolote Canyon in San Diego.  It was fascinating to recognize the magnitude of plants that can be used for medicinal purposes growing all around us.  Since this day, my sight has opened up to more plants around me – on a recent bike ride, I discovered that my regular route is teeming with wild fennel!  I took some pictures and notes, but I make no guarantee as to their accuracy because I might have been a little heat-sensitive and loopy that day…

The first and probably most prolific herb we came across was horehound – our guide let us know that this can be used for a congested cough, and encouraged us to chew a bit of the leaf.  Ahem.  Not recommended.  Most of the herbs we munched were pretty bitter, in order to warn you to not ingest too much.  Plants are smart. 

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The next herb was wormwood, which, as its name suggests, is used to kill worms and parasites.  This stuff was everywhere!

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All in our community backyard, we kept strolling and came across salvia (black sage), monkey flower, golden yarrow, fennel, buckwheat, gooseberry, ragweed and the dream-inducing mugwort.  We headed down to a river bed, where the Cuyamaca Indians had gathered – they left behind some grinding stones:

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Down by the water, we saw burdock, plantain and this beautiful yerba mansa:

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I have to admit, this is about the time when I started to tune out.  I had gone on a hike earlier in the day, so when hour three started rolling around on the herb walk, I was less than charming.  I do remember seeing something called the lemonade berry tree, which sounded quite intriguing at the time!

I was tempted enough by my discoveries that I found this recipe from a master forager, and may have to give it a shot – watch out, wild fennel!

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As mentioned in my previous post about the lawn, we loaded up our bikes with supplies from the hardware store and ended up with a gorgeous vegetable garden bed.  Thank goodness for the XtraCycle and for cute, inventive boyfriends!

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We set up the soaker hose last night on a fancy timer – as much as I love to garden and am committed to making it work, life often gets in the way of maintenance and watering.  Since I know my limitations, the timed watering is the best way for me to ensure I don’t neglect my beds.  I’m currently experimenting to see how little water will do the job – this morning’s watering didn’t quite make it, apparently!

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Our goal for this bed, since it faces the street on a block filled with lawns, was to make it as attractive as possible.  We had lots of admiring passers-by when we were building it, and we’re hoping to inspire others around us to use their lawn space for more important uses.

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Something strange happened in my onion and garlic beds this year – super slow growth.  I’m still getting the hang of soil amendment, and I’m sure I’ve got some more improvements to make, but these suckers just wouldn’t grow!  I finally pulled them this week to make room for the incoming spring veggies, and they’re little miny deals – just this, after months and months of waiting!  It’s hard to tell from the picture, but in my right hand, I’m holding a bunch of garlic with single-cloved bulbs, and my left hand holds the remainder of the onion harvest – small, underformed bulbs.  I’ll have to do more research on growing these in my Southern California climate – if anyone has any tips, I’m all ears!  I’m certainly grateful for what I’ve got – even these will supply me with enough garlic, onion, and onion tops to enrich my kitchen dishes for quite some time.

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I was holding off on posting about this project until I received pictures, but since I never got them, I’ll get to it!  A few weeks ago, on Cesar Chavez Day, I took part in a playground-building volunteer project through Volunteer San Diego (www.volunteersandiego.org) and Kaboom (www.kaboom.org).  I volunteer pretty often, doing small projects like sorting cans at the food bank – projects which are satisfying in their own way, but which don’t necessarily give you a sense of completion.  This was just the opposite – a full day of hard work which paid off big time. 

I showed up early at the project housing site, coffee in hand, and signed my waiver.  I grabbed a name tag with a flower on it and met up with the leaders who were giving instructions.  It turned out that each name tag assigned you to a different group project, and I was super excited to learn that the Flower People were in charge of building a community garden – such an awesome coincidence!  Most of the volunteers were involved in various aspects of playground building – setting up equipment, painting murals, that sort of thing.  Our group of 7 was slated to work off-site, down the street at a small space in a quieter section of the projects.  We were given a few small bags of soil, shovels, rakes, trowels, and about 40 plants to put in.  This patch of land was hurtin’.  I looked at the ground surface and was pretty skeptical at first.  It was filled with tree roots and rocks, and was pretty unprepared for vegetables.  We got right to work, though, plotting out four beds and breaking them up as best we could.

We had started working at probably about 9-9:30, and just kept pushing on until lunchtime.  By that time, we had prepared four beautiful bed and planted everything we needed to – it was astounding what a group of people can do in such a short amount of time.  We broke for lunch and headed up to the main site, where the rest of the volunteers were working – again, I was taken aback at how much work had been accomplished.  We left a sad looking, empty lot a couple of hours previously and came back to see a vibrant, colorful playground.  It was inspiring.

After lunch, we took a couple of hours to beautify the space – we “borrowed” some paint from the muralists and painted everything we could get our hands on.  We had lined the four vegetable beds with bricks and so we were able to paint those with words like “WATER” and “HOPE” and “GROW”.  We were a little slap-happy at that point, so slapped some paint on the fences as well.  Hopefully the residents will be so stoked with the vegetables that they won’t mind the extra flair.

As all this was going on, one of the members of my team remembered a park bench that he had sitting in storage, and offered to donate it to the cause.  He went to get it, and our garden was complete.  I plan to go back there this weekend to see how it’s doing, and I’ll be sure to take some pictures then.  I left that day feeling dirty, tired, and elated – it was amazing.  This is the only picture I could find on the Kaboom website of our particular sub-project, it’s from the very end of the day and is not very clear – I’ll share more pictures soon.

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Our mission: to stealthily remove a section of the front lawn, under the watchful eye of neighbors, and prepare it for planting edibles.  Food not lawns, people!

I took on this project a couple of weeks ago, just me and a shovel on a Saturday morning – it only took two hours for my back to rebel against me.  At first, I was trying to save the sod in order to transplant it to a walkway in our back space, so I was digging out 2′ squares of sod, about 3 inches deep, and lugging them out of the ground using a tarp to drag them across the yard.  That’s some heavy stuff.  I got about 1/3 of the way across the lawn, and decided it was time for some rethinking.

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On my second attempt, I brought in reinforcements – my awesome neighbors are all very into gardening, and they came through to help us.  This time, we were brutal – all of the weedy, water-sucking grass would go straight to compost, so our methods had to change.  We initially went through and broke up the sod into easily manageable sections, probably about 6 inch x 3 inch rectangles.  From there, it was down on our hands and knees to pull out the roots and shake off any usable dirt.  I was amazed at how invasive the grass was – we spent most of the day searching out roots, and there are still a ton of little buggers fighting their way through the soil.  It looks like the next couple of planting seasons will need to have their share of weeding time.

We plotted out a curved bed to allow for maximum garden access, and because, well, it looks cute.  We biked to the Home Depot for landscape edging in the mid-afternoon – I’ll post a picture of the XtraCycle under the weight of our purchases when I can figure out what’s wrong with the camera!

The finished product is beautiful – so much bigger and nicer than I could have imagined.  In order to make sure that the bed is ready for planting, we’ve been turning the soil to dry out any remaining grass roots and adding tons of good compost.  I figure that, since we’ve physically touched every square inch of this plot, it’s been infused with so much TLC that it can’t help but be a productive area.

The next step will be to transplant our tender seedlings and see how they do – Happy Spring! 

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