Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Raised Bed Cover and a Couple of Crows January 11, 2010

The uncharacteristically deep and long freeze Seattle endured in December subjected winter veggie gardens to a real beating. Many unprotected plants, including some that were hurriedly swaddled in floating row cover, did not survive. Even some carefully shielded by a pro gardener under the warming embrace of a hoop house just couldn’t hack it after days in the 20sF or lower. This was one mean frost!

That’s why, when I saw this plastic tent-like structure in a parking strip recently, I wondered if its contents had made it through okay.

Hoop house for winter greens

Looks like it might be a pretty easy DIY project, just a few lengths of PVC and some heavy-duty plastic. I wonder if the low and compact shape, as compared with a hoop house, trapped warm air inside more effectively and helped to keep things alive? The lettuce seems to have survived:

Lettuce through hoop house cover

Are the crows just decorative or do they deter potential pilferers? I took them as a warning and didn’t poke my camera inside for a closer look.

Crow guards for raised bed

Later, some real corvids were spotted on a house’s rooftop. They like to look in rain gutters for tasty tidbits.

Crows on roof


Parking Strip Raised Bed Update July 25, 2009

A few months ago, I wrote a post about a row of raised beds that had suddenly appeared in the parking strip of a house on our route to school. If you have a spare second, click here to see the “before” photos.

The other day, I was back by that way and almost crashed the car when I saw the transformation that had taken place. I guess the question of whether raised beds with good soil assist in the growing of delicious veggies in a tough spot has now been definitively answered. Check it out!

Tomatoes and nasturtiums with a simple wood frame trellis:

Tomato trellis by stop sign

Carrots, lettuces and marigolds galore:

Carrots ahoy

Broccoli, chard and a bunch of squash that is going to have to colonize the sidewalk if it gets any bigger:

Summer street bounty

One bed left, maybe for fall veggies?

One bed left to fill

The narrow bed on the arterial, no raised planter box but things still look pretty happy:

Street veggies

The furry farmer, who came out to see what I was doing:

Inspection team

The Seattle Times had this article on the front page of its online edition today, discussing the newly relaxed rules for growing veggies in our city’s parking strips. The revolution is underway!


Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale – This Weekend! April 30, 2009

This is to me the most exciting plant sale of the year. It’s nearly all edibiles, mostly organic, and you can just see people quivering with excitement about bringing home their plants and looking ahead to the delicious harvest.

In past years, I have braved the mobs and gone early on the first day, the better to have a good selection, but I’m betting that this year will be a record-breaker in terms of attendance so I might go on Sunday instead and just take what’s left. They are supposed to bring in a new shipment of plants for that day, so I figure there’ll be at least something interesting as long as I don’t get my heart set on anything in particular.

Will this be the year I finally break down and buy a stevia for sweetening my summer iced teas? Or try something really unusual like Persian Cress (similar to watercress but can grow in drier soil)? Or actually attend a demo put on by a Master Composter?

Seattle Tilth Edible Plant Sale

Meridian Park,4649 Sunnyside Ave N, Seattle

Saturday, May 2 from 9am to 3pm and Sunday, May 3 from 11am to 3pm

For more info about the sale, including PDFs of what’s for sale, click here.

Do you have an all-time-favorite can’t-miss plant sale that you move mountains to get to every year?

Edible Plant Sale Notice


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!


“Sustainabilty” Suspect? February 19, 2009

Filed under: edibles,garden shows — greenwalks @ 3:05 pm
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The theme of the NW Flower & Garden Show this year is “Sustainable Spaces Beautiful Places” so I was really expecting a lot of the show gardens and booths to showcase innovative ways for us to all make our gardens and public spaces more sustainable. So I was pretty surprised at the slim pickings I found on the day I attended.

The seminar schedule offered a few talks related to this subject, but none during the time I was attending. In fact, they seemed mostly to be clumped onto a single day instead of being spread throughout the week. Wonder why?

The very concept of a massive indoor garden show, where thousands of tons of plants, rocks, furniture, and sale goods are hauled in by gas-barfing trucks and then hauled back out again is, by nature, not very sustainable. In fact, it’s pretty wasteful! So the “theme” really felt like paying lip service to a hot topic without backing it up in reality.

I searched nearly in vain for any examples of edible plantings – a small container garden collection by local nursery Emery’s Garden was pretty much all there was, and although they did a great job of showcasing how beautiful vegetable planters can be, they were not in the high-profile “show gardens” space so they may not have had as much of an impact. (Caveat – at times the crowds were so thick that it could be I missed something!)

Striking edible container

Aside from a few flower and veggie seeds for sale, there weren’t even very many food crop things to buy at the booths. I did see one kiosk of rhubarb starts and asparagus crowns, but I don’t think they were organic:

Rhubarb plants for sale

Raintree Nursery was there and they had a few things for sale, including mushroom-starter kits that could be fun to try someday. I do love shiitakes.

Grow your own shiitakes

I was excited to go check out the “Green Living” section of the sale area but it was pretty small. Okay, unless I was really missing something, it was pathetic! One booth selling rain barrels,

Rain barrels for sale

some people offering lavender essential oil

Copper lavender oil press

and one lonely guy at a roofing booth – that was pretty much it. I hate to be cynical here, but if your whole show is supposed to focus on sustainability, it seems like there should have been a bit more. Did I miss some huge swath of the show because I was too frazzled to pull out the map and really study it?

I had hoped to come away with a lot of new ideas for how to set up areas of my garden to work more in harmony with the land and climate where it is sited. I guess I’ll just have to keep trolling the blogosphere and visiting the library! Did anyone else who attended find sustainable gardening products or ideas to take home? Please share, if so!


Gone to Seed January 29, 2009

So many gardeners have already marked their seed catalogs, sent in orders, and received their exciting little packages. The most enterprising have already even started their seeds growing. Me? I’m still in ponder mode.

My mom is a bigtime seed-starter and January is the month when she spends many an hour flipping through the seemingly mile-high pile of catalogs she receives every year. She asked if I would like to look at some of them, since I was only mailed a couple this year, so I took a gander.

Seed catalogs

(Top row, from left: Thompson & Morgan, Johnny’s X 2, Nicholl’s, Park, Tomato Growers, Seeds of Change, Abundant Life, and Territorial)

With limited time and brainpower (I would say lately, but I think it’s a permanent condition at this point), I was not able to peruse them as thoroughly as I would have liked. Also, even the most realistic estimation of my probable success with starting, planting out and caring for even a few varieties of veggies and flowers in my small garden would probably indicate that I shouldn’t order much, if anything.

But how to resist the siren calls of these catalogs, which promise ease of growing, deliciousness of produce, and the beauty and bounty of summer when it’s so cold, colorless and dreary out in January?

Just a few of the temptations I will probably resist (this year, at least): epazote, chamomile, “Caveman’s Club” gourd, black Spanish radish (nero tondo), Mexican sunflower, agretti (an Italian green), and scarlet runner beans (no trellis big enough). Also noticed some other unusual offerings, like salsify, scorzonera, wolfberry plants (goji), and a hardy olive tree. I didn’t even allow myself to look in the back pages of any of the catalogs, where all the fun garden gadgets and tchochkes are described so alluringly.

What will I actually order? Well, my mom is so kind to start many things for me every year, such as snap peas, bush beans, marigolds, lettuces, calendulas, pansies, parsley, and basil, among many others. I usually direct-sow arugula, mesclun, and nasturtuims and let sunflowers grow from seeds the squirrels missed the previous year. If I can dig down and remove some of the evil clay underlayer below my veggie patch, this year I might get a few root crops going – purple dragon carrots and Misato Rose radish (aka Red Meat in other catalogs). My mom and I agreed to both try Nero di Toscana kale (sometimes listed as dino kale) and multi-colored chard, to get our dark leafy greens. I’m on the fence about Hungarian breadseed poppies – I love the idea of something that comes up from direct-sown seed and grows to 3-4 ft. tall, but I wonder if I’ll regret its tendency to resow and crowd out other plants. Spinach, borage and gloriosa daisy will round out my order from Seeds of Change, since I want everything I can to be organic. I hope they have what I want still left by the time I get around to ordering, maybe this weekend…

Did you restrain yourself with your seed order this year, or did you get carried away on an imagined summer breeze and abandon all reason? Oh, and another question – do you bother with paper catalogs anymore, or do you do all your seed perusing and ordering online?


California Goodness December 1, 2008

You know, I truly love Michael Pollan, but I always get a little annoyed when he talks about eating seasonally and locally, living as he does in Berkeley, CA. Easy for him to say! Here in Seattle, the locally grown stuff is waning fast to a winter pittance, and if all we ever ate was local produce, we would never taste even a bite of one avocado, banana, grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, mango, papaya, etc etc and the list goes on.

I’m not advocating against making good-for-the-planet choices and being mindful of where our food comes from. I just wonder if Mr. Pollan would be so quick to advocate for localvore-ness if he lived in, say, Manitoba.

A recent visit to the California Avenue Farmers’ Market in Palo Alto proved illustrative of this point. Here we were, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, strolling around in the sun. It was in the 60sF, so a lot of people weren’t even wearing jackets.

Strolling the market

Palo Altans have not one, but two Markets to choose from when they wish to buy direct from producers. The other, on Saturdays in downtown Palo Alto, has been around longer (since 1981) and is therefore more established. They are run by different entities, not sure what’s up with that. We flew in on Saturday evening so we only had the Sunday market option.

Here is just some of the goodness that was on offer. Root veggies and squash, pretty standard anywhere at this time of year.

Loads of fall veggies

Biking to the market, also possible elsewhere depending on your climate and personal hardiness.

Bike to market

But then things started to get a little more interesting. Fresh raspberries in late November, anyone? Pricey, but I had to have some to share with family and friends. Won’t have any again until next summer, so it was worth it.

Mmmmm, raspberries in late November

The raspberry ladies were also selling flowers. I loved their pumpkin vase, I’m going to have to remember to try this next year for a Halloween centerpiece.

Pumpkin vase for fall flowers

Organic lemons and limes for $2 a pound, now I was almost crying with joy. And right next to them, tiny little perfect Hass avocados. I bought some of everything and made guacamole. I wondered if the avocado pits would be proportionally large for the fruit, but they were tiny and perfect too. I should have saved one to sprout indoors back home.

Lemons, limes and baby Haas avocadoes

Pomegranates are almost at the top of my all-time favorite food list. They are $3/each for organic ones at my Seattle food co-op, so they are usually a once-a-year treat. Here they were super cheap, ditto persimmons. Into my bag they went.

Pomegranates and persimmons

My daughter is not big on tasting new things but even she had to agree that the Fuyu persimmons were tasty. There sure were a lot of options for sampling!

Citrus and persimmon tastes

Oh man, I forgot to mention the pineapple guavas. I’d never even heard of those, and I consider myself a foodie! And yes, they were organic and grown locally. They tasted more like a flower than fruit, and are the little green lime-looking things at the top of the final photo, below.

I’m definitely down with the eat-locally cause. I just know it would be a heck of a lot easier, and would have so much greater variety, if I still lived in California!

California November fruit goodness