Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Blues for Over-Wintered Greens March 26, 2009

Filed under: edibles,winter — greenwalks @ 10:39 pm
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I know that over-wintering veggies and other edibles is a science. Someday, maybe I’ll bother to study it and then I won’t find myself wondering in the spring why I bothered.

My tendency is to buy starts in the fall or plant a few seeds, plunk them in the ground on the late side, and then watch it all sit there and do nothing all winter. Then, in the early spring, I spread some mulch, the temps start to warm up, things take off a bit, and then… most of it bolts during the two days I don’t bother to look at the garden.

Bolting Chinese mustard

Chinese mustard, probably on the spicy side when it was tiny – now it would probably singe our tongues off. Might have to look up recipes (alchemies?) for milder-izing it so it doesn’t end up being a total waste. A plus – the slugs ignored it entirely! Undoubtedly too spicy for them too.

Mesclun finally growing

Mesclun mix, probably one from Seeds of Change. Slowly, slowly… I think these might be salad-worthy in a couple of weeks.

Russian kale

Russian kale, starting to get a little bigger. Not sure what the ideal leaf length is for a good tasting harvest – I’ll have to hunt around for opinions, or please feel free to offer them here. I need recipes for this one too, but have also enjoyed it as an ornamental if nothing more, the filigreed leaf edges and delicate lavender ribs really get me.

Onion flower bud

I’m going to straight up admit that I just don’t get how to grow onions of any sort. I am too much of a numbskull to keep track of when they are to be planted and harvested, since it seems off from the rest of the garden. These might have been shallots at some point, they’re probably just compost now. Well, I’ll dig down and see what’s there. Maybe I’ll get a pleasant surprise.


Arugula, my favorite green and my one and only never-fail crop. Just put the seeds in whenever, it seems happy in any of my challenged gardens. A squirrel dug up half of the row and I never got around to re-planting it, but it has the best germination rate of any seed I’ve ever grown, no matter what company I get it from. If it’s all I grew, I would feel pretty invincible!

Volunteer Violas

First volunteer flowers of the season, my trusty violas. Last year it was ‘Ultima Morpho’ that was everywhere, but this one I can’t name and it has been popping up in the parking strip. I don’t usually bother to plant seeds or get starts of these anymore, they seem happy to keep coming back and I (almost) never say no to a free plant.

I had what I thought was a fun idea back in the fall, to plant ‘Bright Lights’ chard starts in a circle at the center of the veggie garden. They would grow tall, I would let them look really sculptural for a while until the peas needed to go in, all would be groovy. Well, between the squirrels rearranging the starts and killing a few, the snows that crushed the smaller plants, and now the cold spring we’ve been having so far, I’m afraid it’s time to pull out these sad little plants that never grew. I’m not going to show a picture, it’s just too pathetic.

What is your experience with over-wintering your veggie garden? Do you plant it up or let it rest? Put in a cover crop or use a cloche? I want to do it better next year or not at all!


More Planter Box Ideas November 2, 2008

If one of the items on your winter project list is to make a raised bed planter, here are a few more design options, all spotted on one street’s parking strip in my neighborhood.

This simply constructed but fairly deep (approx. 2 ft. high) bed has plastic webbing strung across attached supports and acts as a trellis for climbing veggies, not sure if it was peas or beans, since they were all done by the time I saw this.

Planter box & trellis

A second, identical planter box was just down the hill. Note that these are deep enough for root crops like the carrots that were still growing in this one in early October.

Planter box & trellis II

There was also room enough for some mini squash plants next to the carrots, or maybe they were cucumbers?

Deep enough for carrots

One gardener favors veggies, another likes flowers. This low bed was full of fall bloomers such as dahlias and penstemon, and surrounded by wood chips with nary a weed in sight.

Low raised bed for flowers

Tidily tended flower planter bed:

Tidy raised bed

I really need to get myself organized and make something similar, especially for carrots. My soil has a thick clay layer underneath the compost I’ve added and root crops are just not happening for me right now. What about you, any construction projects in your near future?


Winter Veggie Garden – Finally Planted! October 14, 2008

It was a loooooooooooooooong time coming, but the fall edibles are finally in the ground. How they will fare with such a late start remains to be seen, but at least they’re in and I don’t have to feel guilty anymore when walking past the formerly bare spot in the parking strip where they are now planted. It took a few separate efforts, over a ridiculously long span of time, but such is life these days.

First, on a sunny day a few weeks back, I emptied a cubic yard of organic compost into the small space where I’d cleared out the spent summer stuff (snap pea vines, flowering leeks, bolted lettuce, squirrel-downed sunflowers).

Compost blob

Then I dug it in and roughly raked it over. Soil looks much darker and richer now, so I hope it will be enough since I don’t typically use any fertizlier.

Raked and ready

This appears to be a daffodil, sending up a shoot totally out of season. I left it just to see what happens. I wonder why it got confused? Or even how it ended up in the veggie patch??

Freak daffodil in fall

Then I took a break for various reasons (health, busy-ness, wacko weather, including thunderstorms and hail), and got back to it last week. I have to lug everything down about 20 steps to the street, which is part of my procrastination rationale. Good exercise, though, especially the many trips to refill the watering can!

Ready to plant

A recent windstorm had caused the fennel to flop over. I ripped it out – it never bulbed anyway, something to investigate for next time I plant it.

Flopping fennel

When I got the four-packs of starts out of their flat, I saw quite a bit of slug damage. Then I found the offender, who was surprisingly small given all it had eaten – it was promptly tossed into the street after this photo.

Sneaky slug

It seems to have preferred the ‘Monument’ Chinese cabbage:

Chinese broccoli

and the tender green leaves of the ‘Teton’ spinach:

Spinach starts

Ouch. I hope they survive, I had to remove quite a few destroyed leaves.

In went four each of two kinds of lettuces, ‘Merlot’ and ‘Redder Ruffled’ leaf,

Planted lettuces

plus some Red Russian kale, ‘Old Fashion’ Mustard (could be fairly spicy), and two colors of chard – “Magenta Sunset’ and ‘Bright Yellow’ – which I attempted to plant in a circle in the center of the garden. We’ll see how that turns out. Just got tired of my usual semi-straight lines and thought to try something new (considered a peace sign but only had 8 plants so couldn’t make it work).

Then, finally, it was time for a very limited selection of seeds. Considering how cool it’s getting (down into the upper 30s at night and only the mid-50s during the day), germination is going to be a challenge for these guys.

Fall seeds

I don’t have a real science of seed planting, but just do it the way my mom taught me – dig in some planting compost, make the trench with your gloved finger, take the gloves off to put the seeds in as precisely as you can, cover it over gently with soil, firm it just a bit, then cover with newspaper (I usually use the NY Times, since I fantasize that it makes the plants smarter) held down at the edges by rocks, and water the paper every day and keep peeking to see if they come up.

All planted

Looks kind of sparse at the moment, but I hope it will fill in and end up providing us with at least a few snips for the salads in the coming months. One year I may try a cover crop to renew my soil out there, but I’ll have to really wrestle with my desire to have something edible growing during each season. For me, there’s nothing like going out on a near-freezing day and still finding some arugula leaves valiantly hanging in there despite the weather. I don’t bother with cloches or coldframes, although if it’s going to get into the 20s, I do sometimes put temporary floating row cover over the stuff I’d like to give a little extra help to.

What about you, get anything started to grow through the colder months?


Street Squash September 13, 2008

Walking around my neighborhood the other day, I saw this ingenious use of the tiny amount of space left over at the base of a privet (?) hedge:

Street squash

The squash, whatever type it was, is blossoming up nicely and maybe they’ll even have some to eat by the end of the season. It’s right there on the sidewalk, goes the full length of their place, and provides such a surprising and pleasant contrast, rambling along under the formally trimmed hedge.

Green Zone had this post recently about squash and other veggies growing in a very urban area of Prodidence, RI. It’s so nice to see food crops sprouting up in unlikely places!


Zucchini Races! August 21, 2008

One food crop that tends to do well in a parking strip is squash. It can take a lot of heat/sun and you can give it ample space to spread out, plus doesn’t need the best soil. But then harvest time comes and sometimes you have too much. Wondering what to do with all your extra zucchini? If you can’t think of any more recipes or give it away to the neighbors or food bank, you can always make a toy out of it! We went to Seattle’s Lake City Farmers’ Market last Thursday and they had a “Zucchini 500” booth set up for kids to make, decorate and race mini squash cars of all shapes and sizes.

Zucchini Racecars

The kids had a great time fancying up their zukes and putting them on the track for 3-up challenges. My daughter’s wheels got stuck the first time through but after an adjustment, her car won the next race! It was a super hilarious late-summer dose of garden silliness.

Zucchini Race


Whidbey Island Garden August 19, 2008

We didn’t see any parking strip gardens on our vacation, but then again we didn’t spend much time in towns or near sidewalks. Mostly we were out in the countryside or on the beach, so the only garden we saw was planted and tended by the woman who kindly rented us her home for a few days. She has an organic “pick and pay” setup where folks stop by, take what they want, weigh it and pay on the honor system. It’s not a huge patch for a rural zone, but it dwarfed what most of us city folks can manage to shoehorn into our tiny lots.

Whidbey Organic Veggie Garden

She had a lot growing out there, nicely laid out and well fertilized with compost and chicken manure. Since we were staying there, she told us to help ourselves. It was great fun to head out there with a basket and pick a few things every day. There were a few blueberries and raspberries left, but mostly we homed in on the salad stuff, like edible flowers (borage and a variety of colors of nasturtiums) and fennel:

Harvest Basket (Fennel and Edible Flowers)

We hope she’ll let us return again – we had a great time and the garden was a huge part of the enjoyment.

Whidbey Pick & Pay Garden

If you are interested in her garden or the possibility of a stay in her lovely cottage, her name is Maggie Jacoby and she can be reached at 360-579-4238.


Neighbors’ Gardens August 13, 2008

Walking around my neighborhood in NE Seattle at a leisurely pace (set by my 5 yr. old) gives me time to absorb all the wonderful ways people have chosen to use their parking strips for gardening.

Today I met the lovely gal who put in this raised bed on her somewhat shaded north-side parking strip:

Tall peas

She said they got over 50 lbs. of snap peas from these two small rows, with only morning sun! She hasn’t had as good luck with beans, either pole or bush, and the slugs ate her lettuce, but they seem to stay away from her arugula and the blueberries are coming along nicely.

She’s got fruit trees and lots of other lovely stuff out there too, I’ll try to post photos of those another time.