Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Raised Beds Sprouting in the Parking Strip May 23, 2009

I saw this while driving home from the school run last week. I had to stop and take photos, the sight warmed my heart so much.

Parking strip raised beds with fresh soil

This is a corner lot on a fairly busy thoroughfare, but the beds are located on the side street. Five of them! No idea what’s going in but I’m going to be keeping a close eye on them to see how they are planted.

Looks like the sod was maybe smothered with cardboard and then stripped and turned over in the spring.

Parking strip raised bed with busted sod

Then, in with the black gold!

Shovel in fresh soil

The guy who made them was in his garage, headphones on and table saw blazing. I didn’t have the nerve or heart to hover and stop him to ask about the raised beds, but it looks like either he or someone else there is already an avid structure-builder and gardener, judging from the house-side street garden.

Streetside trellis and Mexican feather grass

Pot of coleus, black mondo grass and ?

Spirea &  hydrangea?

Purple flowered vine

Forget-me-nots & ?

Golden perennial

A little leftover good soil, dumped into the arterial side of the parking strip. Guess maybe something’s going in there too!

Compost piles on parking strip

Extra wood, board ends or fodder for the next garden building project?

Extra wood

I know, I’m a freak, but stuff like this just sends me over the moon. There are so many folks in my neighborhood adding raised beds, ripping up sod, and otherwise making more space for gardens right now. It’s a revolution!


Worm Bin Bee April 22, 2009

My corner of the world is lucky to have a new organization, Sustainable NE Seattle, a small but growing group of neighbors working to find local and personal solutions to some of the thorny issues facing our planet. I recently joined a subset of the group, Urban Farmers, after seeing a front-lawn-to-food-crops transformation they devised and carried out in my neighborhood (blog post on that coming eventually,  I hope).

This past weekend, one of the group’s founders put out the call to everyone that she would host a tools-provided worm bin build in her backyard. She and her husband graciously allowed a bunch of us to get sawdust everywhere and take over the place to build six big-old bins for our own gardens. They also picked up all the materials, tossed in their own scrap wood to keep costs down, and kept everyone moving on the various phases of the project while graciously teaching many of us to use power tools for the first time.

Some people hammered:

Worm Bin Work Party

Others sawed (I didn’t take a picture of anyone while they were doing it, since I have a horror of power saws and didn’t want to jinx anyone into lopping off digits!):

Worm Bin Workers

I was on drill duty with this kind gentleman, who has taught carpentry and was astonishingly patient with my beginner’s fumblings:

Worm Bin Carpentry Master

Our trusty mascot, who was happy to chase tossed fir cones whenever anyone had a break in their duties:

Sweet Retriever

The other resident animals, who might not have been too happy with all the banging and sawing but were curious about all the activity anyway:

Hens in Backyard Coop

At one point I was making pilot holes for someone else to drill in the wood screws. We were a two-drill assembly line, and we did so many that I pretty much got over my fear I was going to put a hole in my finger. I liked this older Makita a lot, I can see why people get really into owning and handling wood-working tools:

Vintage Makita Drill

These gals dubbed themselves the “Womens’ Drill Team” and they got pretty into using a human-powered drill which I neglected to photograph, which is too bad because it was very cool. It’s called a Yankee Push Drill and you can see pictures of some like it here at a vintage tools site.

Women's Drill Team at Worm Bin Party

After the sides, bottoms and lids were assembled separately, they were all put together and large-bore holes were drilled in the bottom for ventilation:

Worm Bin Ventilation Holes

To keep rats from chewing through those, we stapled hardware cloth (i.e. incredibly tough screen material) over each hole. Despite various horror stories I’d heard over the years, all of the experienced worm composting folks there said that they hadn’t had trouble with rodents. So, I hope to continue that trend!

Ta-da! Two bins, finished and stacked for taking home:

Completed Worm Bins

Even with a lot of people and mostly pre-cut wood, it still took a long time to build the bins from scratch. I had to leave early (after coming late, bad work-party etiquette for sure but nobody made me feel bad!), so I have yet to bring home my bin. I hope to pick it up tomorrow, and then I’ll have to get going on shredding newspaper for the worms’ bedding and then getting actual worms. The ones I plan to use, Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida), are pretty pricey – $25 for 1/2 lb. at Seattle Tilth, so I might be able to get some from my mom’s compost pile or see if there are any left over from the gal who brought some to the bee.

It might be a smart idea to invest in a copy of Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, the definitive classic on vermicomposting human food waste. To find out more about composting with worms, this Treehugger article has a lot of info plus links galore.

For the free plan we used, also from Seattle Tilth, click here for a 3-page PDF. With a bit of scrap wood, total costs including hardware for ours were only $23 each. I’ve seen them for sale for over $100, so if you are handy or know someone who is, that’s a pretty good savings for a few hours of work.

It was great to meet a bunch of people who are interested in stuff like this, and I am super excited to start letting the worms make me some incredible compost. Starting later this week, I will stop giving our family’s food scraps to the city to compost, except for the worm bin no-no’s (meat/dairy/fish and, according to some folks, citrus – too acidic.) This is my small attempt to do a bit more to cut down on our little family’s impact on the planet. Happy Earth(worm) Day!


One Step Closer September 30, 2008

I’m not sure why I’m being such a giant procrastinator about planting the fall veggie garden. Maybe it falls under the category of “blog now, garden later,” which seems to be a major trend for me these days…

At least I got one baby step closer yesterday, finally going by the closest local garden center, Seattle’s wonderful City People’s Mercantile, to get some bags of compost. I used to make my own, but it took too long the way I did it (not keeping it “hot” like you’re supposed to) and when we moved to our current place, I kind of gave up. Maybe I’ll get back to it, since there’s nothing like home-grown for richness and safety (i.e. no weed seeds or other people’s leftover lawn chemicals). But for now, I’m pretty into the Gardner & Bloome line of organic compost products. The Soil Building Compost has helped amend my rocky/clay/poor soil immensely, although it’s a little bark-heavy for my taste sometimes. I always toss a few handfuls of the Planting Mix in with each new plant or row of seeds, and this year I’m trying the Harvest Supreme to see if it will help with my (untested) soil pH. I got one big bag of each yesterday.

Compost for the fall garden

Last winter, my poor neighbors had to look at a bunch of those bags all winter, until I finally got around to planting stuff and used them up. I think it was around June or July, eesh. To mangle a proverb, I guess the road to the hell strip is paved with good intentions (and compost)!


Raise High the Planter Beds, Carpenters August 28, 2008

(Sorry, gratuitous Salinger reference there…)

In my previous (and very first) garden, the only patch of ground that was free of summer-long shade was on the street, in the parking strip. So, if I wanted a few veggies, herbs and strawberries to nibble, I had no option but to garden out there. Not being too handy, but feeling like a raised bed was the best way to contend with tree roots and crummy soil, I pondered the options. My mom ended up getting some friends to build me one as one of my all-time best ever birthday presents. I got a lot of fun and use out of it, and was really bummed to drive by our old house recently and see that the new owners had dismantled it for some unknown reason. Maybe I should ask if I can have the pieces back, to rebuild it (by myself, this time) in our current place…

Here are some links for building raised beds. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, just providing some options.

Sunset Magazine has a fairly simple design, and they claim it can be built with redwood or cedar for under $200. Does require a table saw, though.

Here’s a really spiffy one, from This Old House. Pricier too, though, and probably needing someone pretty handy to put it together.

Prefer a video? This is kind of goofy (bonus for dog-lovers, cute labs co-star, chasing sticks and a frisbee), but shows how to make a planter bed with untreated 2 X 12’s, coated at home with linseed oil. Tells you how to mole-proof, too.

This is a Texas A & M University (Ag school) article, ” In Praise of Raised Beds,” with advice about how big to build yours and how to prepare the ground, what soil to add, etc.

Treated wood is icky. Nobody knows for sure what it leaches into your soil, so try to avoid it if possible!

Here’s an example of some raised planter beds in our neighborhood:

Raised beds

Small crosswise ones allow you to reach in and not have to step on and therefore compact the soil.

This one is a small square bed, great for a vertical crop like beans or peas plus whatever you want to plant around the edges.

Small raised bed

You can also forgo wood altogether and make a bed out of paver bricks or broken concrete (scroll down in the latter link to see a nicely formed herb bed using this method). To be legal with the city, at least in Seattle, raised beds in the parking strip require a permit, and bricks or stones must be fixed in place, not removable for easy hurling.

Raised beds make root crops like carrots and beets much easier to grow, and in an urban setting, adding your own soil from a known safe source is a plus too. Before you set up your bed, be sure to double-dig or rototill the existing soil to help with drainage. And don’t forget to add lots of compost! Anyone have a favorite? Mushroom compost? Something containing bat guano, perhaps? Or just home-grown?