Thursday, September 18, 2008

You say tomato, I say bug farm

How is it that a 15x10' plot of land can offer such a range of experiences, from the most blissful when I see new dahlia blossoms emerging, to the most dreadful, when a much awaited, heavy Hillbilly flame heirloom tomato, is on the verge of ripening, and in my eagerness to see it's changing colors, I turn it over only to discover a bed of roly-polies feasting on the flesh that was to be mine? I've had a few major disappointments in gardening by now to not think that the end of the world is near, but still, I REALLY wanted that tomato, and I am REALLY sad that it is now sitting in the bellies of creatures who I'm sure won't appreciate it as much as I would have.
I suppose I should look on the bright side. I did, after all, bring home a radish today as a fruit of my labors.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Square Foot Garden Update

Welll, summer has finally arrived, at least temperature-wise, in the Bay Area. I'm usually not thrilled with warmer temperatures, even of those in the 80's, because usually it translates into the 90-100's in our third-story apartment. But, having a garden at least gives me perspective. The tomatoes and zucchini love the heat, and I've been bringing home a couple pounds a week. Last week I also harvested some thyme and tarragon to use on a delicious herbed roasted chicken.

So far, I haven't been that impressed with the results of my square foot garden vs. the normal soil. Here are a few notes:

Square Foot Garden:
* Transplants in general take a lot longer to adjust in the square foot garden. Maybe the soil is too artificially prepared. The only thing that has done well as a transplant has been my tuscan kale. However, as I've added more and more compost in as I've replaced old plants with new ones, I've noticed the adjustment time decrease. For example, I tried planting a sage initially, and it just turned yellow and shriveled up, but I tried planting another one later in the place that the dill used to be, and it's perfectly happy.
* Tomatoes will grow, but they will be smaller and less abundant. I've gotten some pretty sweet tomatoes from my square foot box, but there haven't been as many. I'm assuming that the main reason is not enough room for root development. I had four tomato plants spaced out in a 4x4' plot.
* Weeds have been minimal, but they still exist. In fact, it took no time for some comfrey to bust through the weed fabric, and now even some crab grass has crawled its little tentacled way over into my boxes. The soil does remain much more friable, though, and so the weeds are usually pretty easy to pull out.

Regular Garden:
* The soil is more compact (a natural result of the clay-based soil we have here).
* Things take root more easily. I think that the accumulation of years and years of different plantings have contributed a lot to the nutritional value of the soil. That said, however, I need to do an analysis this fall as I build up my beds.
* Many more weeds.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Produce Season

Some produce from a couple of weeks ago

Some heirloom tomatoes in a salad I'm making - the red ones are the sweetest I've tasted!

Saffron cream butterfly pasta, caprese salad, and zucchini ribbons with
mint and toasted pine nuts. I got the recipe for the saffron butterflies
from my new Moosewood cookbook (thanks, Aunt Kathy and Randy!)
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Freeze . . . FBI!

Wouldn't you garden too if you had a pal like this to cheer
you on?
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Box #2 Update

The tuscan kale is bigger, and the lettuce is still there, albeit not that big. The eggplant (see previous post) looks half dead, but it's producing . . . I guess that's what counts in the end, isn't it? Maybe my pepper plants will rebound and grow beyond their current height of 3 - 4 inches. We haven't been having extremely hot weather here, which is great for the psyche but not necessarily great for summer vegetables.
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Non-Square Foot Garden Update

Things are growing pretty well on this side. My Japanese Black Trifele tomato plant is producing the most, but they are producing the most in both types (square foot and non-square-foot). The swiss chard is coming up nicely, and the dwarf dahlias are getting ready to blossom. Waaaayyy in the back of this picture you can see a black beauty zucchini that has been sent to the corner. That's because if you've ever planted a summer squash plant of any kind, you know that they get a little aggressive and need a place of their own. There are also some bush beans, a brandywine tomato plant, and a thai pink egg plant that are hopefully going to be producing soon.
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Herb Garden Update

So . . . the snap peas are torn out, so there's a back row empty now,
waiting to be planted. The cilantro also went to seed, so I pulled it out,
and laid down an inch or so of compost on everything. The tarragon,
thyme, and lemon verbena are looking great!
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More Pics

Japanese Black Trifele Tomatoes . . .
almost ripe!

Hillbilly Flame Heirloom Tomatoes . . .
about an inch long, even though they
should be much bigger . . . but they're
pretty nonetheless

Flowering Opal Basil . . .
they say you can eat the flowers, so
maybe I'll try a recipe this week

Flowering Dill
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Wait . . . I think I see something growing

It's only a centimeter or two long, but it's an eggplant! Isn't it cute?
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

So Maybe It's Not So Bad

On Friday, I went over to my garden again to face the withering vines and to weed. As I walked around tying up heavy tomato branches laden with ripening fruit and pulled out sugar snap pea stalks that, still bearing some plump juicy pods, had reached their fruition, my spirit relaxed. Despite the challenges that a summer can bring, life still moves forward, and things still continue to grow. Some of the death that I perceived in my earlier post was actually just plants reaching their full cycle and dying off or putting out seed. Perhaps I just expected to much in a culture where death is never considered a good thing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lesson Learned

Maybe I was hoping for too much when I left for 3 weeks on vacation and tried to make sure the watering was taken care of, but nonetheless it's amazing what can go awry in three weeks. I returned to see my basil, dill, and cilantro gone to seed, and half my tomatoes producing cherry-like tomatoes. That would be a great thing if they were actually cherry tomato plants and not regular tomatoes that I had nurtured from seed. Most of the new eggplant and specialty bell pepper plants are dead, as are a couple of my sweet cream marigolds.

The good news: dahlias, most of the marigolds, swiss chard, and a couple of my japanese trifeles, zucchini, bush beans, kale, thyme, tarragon, armenian cucumber and lemon verbena look like they might make it. But it still feels tragic.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Some of the things I planted, like lettuce, should be big and fluffy by now, but while mine stand at two inches tall, other gardeners' are doing so well. One fellow gardener advised me, "Patience. Sometimes things will sit there and do nothing, and then all of a sudden, they'll take off." Case in point, Greg (another fellow gardener)'s peony poppies: he said they were hanging out forever at a really small size, but now they have exploded.

Before and After: Box #2

April 6, 2008
Top row: spinach (planted)
Top 2nd row (l-r): tuscan kale, tuscan kale, tuscan kale, gourmet rainbow beets
Top 3rd row (l-r): mesclun lettuce, red bibb lettuce, arugula, bok choy
Bottom row (l-r): tuscan kale (1st 3), then broccoli rabe

June 13, 2008
Top row: spinach, spinach, armenian cucumber, midnight dream sweet bell pepper
Top 2nd row (l-r): tuscan kale, tuscan kale, tuscan kale, gourmet rainbow beets
Top 3rd row (l-r): mesclun lettuce, red bibb lettuce, arugula, listada de giada eggplant
Bottom row (l-r): tuscan kale (1st 3), then eggplant
Notes: The spinach didn't grow well at all. I think that it was shaded out much of the time by a bush on the other side of the fence. Finally, I yanked it, because it just went to seed when it was 2 inches tall. I also got rid of the bok choy, as it wasn't doing much, and I think I overplanted it (4 to a square). The kale is doing great, though, except for some pesky cabbage worms. The broccoli rabe didn't fare so well - perhaps I overplanted this too? I don't know. Anyway, I put some eggplant starts in the bok choy and rabe's place, but they're looking a little yellow right now, so we'll see how they fare.

Before and After: Box #1

Ready to plant!

A April 6, 2008

Top row: sugar snap peas (planted)

Middle Row (l-r): opal basil, dill, genovese basil, chives, opal basil

Bottom Row (l-r): lemon verbena, lemon thyme, sage, french tarragon, empty

June 13, 2008
Top row: sugar snap peas

Middle Row (l-r): pal basil, dill, genovese basil, chives, opal basil

Bottom Row (l-r): lemon verbena, lemon thyme, cilantro, french tarragon, sweet cream marigold

After shot: Overall

Well, you can't see everything, but the plot is pretty much cleaned up here. I have one 3x5' box to the far left, then two 4x4' boxes next to that. I didn't have space for 3' rows in between like Mel suggests in the book, but I think it will be okay. The middle box's soil is much darker because I sprinkled some compost on top of it.

Before Shots - Overall

So here is my garden when it's overgrown with weeds. Yikes!

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Boxes

Here are a few quick notes on my progress so far:April 6, 2008 - I finally got the beds built and the soil mixed. After returning from a week's vacation in Los Angeles, my husband watched my son while I trekked down to Home Depot to buy wood and screws. I had never been to the wood section to actually buy something before. I got one of those big, orange carts that almost seems to be designed to veer diagonally rather than straight, and picked out some 2x6 inch 8-foot boards. I found out that you can get them cut there for 50 cents a cut (and the first two are free), but it took me about 50 minutes of waiting and calling people who wouldn't show up to finally get the boards cut. I got the wrong screws, but my husband was able to get the right ones later. We assembled the boards in our master bedroom. Yep, no garage, but that didn't stop us. Then my husband loaded them up in the van, and I took them down to the garden myself. They were kind of heavy, but no heavier than the 46 pounds of pregnancy weight I was hauling around with my first son. What was surprising and unexpected was just how heavy 8 cu. ft of Mel's mix can be. In the book you see the person standing there with a nice looking tarp and a neat pile of soil on top. "Just fold the corners of the tarp together," the book says, "and mix up your soil." I suppose I should have paid attention to the note that you might want someone to help you. I ended up enlisting the help of my foot and kicked my soil around until it was well mixed and I had a few cupfulls up my socks. I also didn't realize how long this process would take, and because I only had an hour or two at a time, it took several visits to get all three of my boxes filled. I topped them off with some recycled venetian blind strips I picked up at the dumpsters outside our apartment complex, and voila! Brand-new boxes. Would planting and gardening be this hard as well?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Why I Use the Square Foot Method

Thanks for visiting my blog! I am chronicling here my experiences with Square Foot Gardening as practiced in my community garden in Oakland, CA. I've had a community garden plot for a couple of years, but haven't done as much with it as I could have given the great sunshine it gets. I also am still kind of new to gardening, so I am sure there will be many mistakes made along the way.

I chose to go with the Square Foot method this year for several reasons. First, another gardener who always had a beautiful-looking plot recommended it. I've grown some veggies with relative success in the past few years, but this year I was hoping to amend my soil and grow a lot more. The Square Foot method lets me do that because it maximizes your growing area. The method recommends raised beds that are only six inches deep. I'm still curious to see if this will be deep enough, but my wallet couldn't afford to build the beds any deeper, especially if I have to fill it with Mel's mix.

Second, I'm now the mom of an adorable but inevitably time-consuming 6 month old, and we live about ten minutes away from our garden, so I don't always have lots of time to spend a few hours weeding every week. And even if I did, I don't know if I'd want to spend that much time weeding. The Square Foot method relies upon raised beds that are protected by some sort of weed barrier, and you mix the soil yourself from a combination of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 vermiculite.

The upfront investment for me seemed kind of steep (think $40 for each raised 4'x4' bed, including soil), but when I added up the number of things I could grow in just a few seasons, it seems that it will pay for itself. I guess we'll see if that happens or if it just becomes one expensive hobby. Even if I fail, I can chart it up to a lot of exercise - I would pay a lot more than my investment in this garden for a health club membership!