Tuesday, June 5, 2012

One week later...

Finally!  Three summers later - a very large zucchini for stuffing!  The past two summers my friend, Lara, and I had a very iron clad system.  I would cry about how inadequate my zucchini were for stuffing and she would bring giganormous zucchini with the unspoken understanding that I would stuff them and share.  Well, now it appears that I can grow them successfully in the front!  Lara, if you are reading this...do not panic!  I will continue to make you stuffed zucchini and I will even give you the recipe so you can make them as well.  Drum roll please......

This block is approximately 12x12.  The zucchini and sqush were featured in the previous blog.  They grew this big in a week!

The living fence has also grown quite a bit within the week.  It appears that the east side is growing at a faster pace than the west side.  I am pretty certain that is a result of sun exposure.  I planted a variety of tomatoes called banana legs.  They are really odd, and the tomato bush grows low to the ground.  I don't think I am loving them.  I will have to post pictures of them next time. 

I love the way the tendrils of the green beans twist around the concrete mesh on the fence.

More tendrils

Cucumbers, so many cucumbers!

As predicted...the sunflowers are going to be huge!

Corn.  The first year I grew corn my daughter freaked out.  She was convinced that something horrible would occur.  Way too many horror flicks! This year I planted Martian Jewel corn...hehehe...maybe I will wake-up to a mini crop circle.

I'm loving this combination.

White cherry tomato bush.

View from the neighbor's yard.

I spy....

So, it's been about three weeks since my last post.  It is really incredible how a little heat - well, a lot of heat promotes significant growth.  I thought it might be fun to track the progress of certain veggies - hence, the "I spy..." title.  I am still debating on a name for the "farm."  Yes, a name!  A project this large should have a name.  The chicken coop was named Coop de Ville, thanks to my friend, Melanie Doerman.  So if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.  I seem to be at a creative stand-still. 

I've had the pleasure of meeting some really nice people.  In fact, Rafael, a passerby, shared that he was so inspired by our landscape that he ripped out 500 square feet of grass to plant vegetables!  I can't wait to visit his place and document his progress.  Rafael shared an anecdote that continues to resonate.  He said that when he was "a young boy" his father always told him that his actions would impact people one way or another. He proceeded to tell me that my committment and spirit had positively impacted him.  My conversation with Rafael was humbling to say the least. 

We chatted a bit and I offered a bit of advice in regards to maintaining an organic growing area.  Here is our latest bounty which proves that it is absolutely possible to establish a balanced ecosystem with a little effort.

We have been yielding anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen strawberries daily!

This little guy started out green, but ended up white.


Tomatillos = Salsa Verde...watch out!

Cucumbers on the bean pole.  Haha...my "bean" pole appears to be an equal opportunist.

White cherry tomatoes - they are supposed to taste like candy. I'm patiently waiting for them to turn color.

I see the silhouetto of a little cucumber (this must be sung to the Bohemian Rhapsody tune by Queen).  Galileo, Galileo...

A lot has transpired in my newly established haven.  For example, the other night there was a huge commotion.  A baby raccoon fell and broke a branch on his way down from the neighbor's tree.  We jumped up to hear the mother raccoon scolding the baby.  The baby attempted to flee to the side of the house, but he was abrubtly redirected by his mother.  Raccoons have the most eery scream - absolutely creepy!  This morning I carefully lifted the pine branch out of the north-east garden box. 

Raccoon antics!

I'm hoping they don't start pilfering my garden goods! So far so good.  Now for the usual photo documentary tour:

The tomatoes and green beans are really starting to fill in!

The north-west box.

The zucchini and pumpkin foliage remind me of elephant ears.

South-east box

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spring Fever

As promised, I have photos of our vermicomposting bin!  I was a bit concerned in the beginning because the worms were not eating the green waste.  It turns out that they really do appreciate fermented greens in addition to warmer temperatures.  We keep a bowl on the counter and collect our organic scraps until the end of the week. I suppose you could consider it an ongoing science experiment.  I ended up buying coconut husk from PetCo and newspaper to use as worm "bedding" - it is extremely important to keep the box moist because the worms rely on moisture to breathe.  Additionally, distilled or filtered water should be used within their contained environment.  The wrigglers have a difficult time with chlorinated water.  They also have a challenging time with exposure to light, so if you choose to go the vermicomposting route try to keep the peeking to a minimum or observe at night with a flashlight.

Our box is made of cedar fence planks and a plywood cover.  The hardware was purchased at Habitat for Humanity.  The box sits on a concrete block base to allow for ventilation and drainage.  Each box has wire hard cloth stapled for the bottom.  If you are interested in the construction, leave a comment and I will post photos of the construction process.

This is what the inside looks like :)  As you can see, the worms have had a voracious appetite as there is not much left!

This guy is hopeful...waiting patiently for worm scraps.  I love his cute little face!

Spring/Summer is my favorite time for veggies.  There are so many things to plant and inevitably I always run out of room!  I have a small garden in the back that is sectioned off from our new addition - a dog that loves to rip my plants out.  I thought it would be fun to play with color in the back.  This is just a section of what we have going on.  I planted lots of tomatillos in the back - lots!  We have volunteer sunflowers that are of the Mammoth variety. 

We don't have the fence completely constructed, but you get the idea - lots of color!

Moving to the front...as I mentioned in an earlier post, I was determined to grow from seed.  Well, I think I waited too long to get started.  The seedlings are just now taking off.  I did manage to transplant a watermelon and pumpkins with success.  I ended up direct seeding green beans, corn, zucchini, lettuce, parsley, cilantro, and still waiting for the winter squashes to pop-up.  It's odd, you would think winter squashes would be planted in the winter, but apparently not.  All my seeds state planting should happen after the last frost.  I trust in the seeds.  Often times I think humans have a tendency to meddle.  They will come up when they're ready :)

Eggplants and tomatoes...soooo many tomatoes!

This Spring/Summer we have lots growing.  Here is a list of what I've managed to cram in our raised beds and hanging baskets:  Tomatillos, white cherry tomatoes, white eggplant, organic yellow and red corn, jalapenos, banana peppers, bell pepper, anaheim chilies, green beans, cucumber (armenian and burpless), zucchini, peter pan squash, sunflowers, white onions, strawberries, chocolate mint, orange mint, peppermint, thai basil, sweet basil, cilantro, parsley, lettuce, chard, sungold cherry tomatoes, pineapple sage, lemon verbena and spinach.  Whew...that is a LOT of cramming!
I thought it would be both aesthetically pleasing and fun to construct a bean pole out of bamboo.

The bean pole will support both pole beans and cucumbers.  I'm so excited...grow, grow, grow!

I love the shape of this box.  I can't wait until it fills in.

Onions, jalapenos, sunflowers, spinach, lettuce and a trellis for my winter squash.

Sunflowers...just wait, they will be ENORMOUS.  Please plant organic sunflowers if nothing else.  The bees are experiencing a phenomenon referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder.  This is an epidemic world wide (recognized by the United Nations) and an indicator that environmental degradation is taking its toll.  Sunflowers are often treated with insecticides that are detrimental to bees.  I will dedicate a blog to my research on the honeybee, but there is a lot of great information on the Internet.  Key words to google: neonicotinoids, systemic insecticides, and colony collapse disorder. 

A hole!  Yes...a beautiful organic blemish which means NO PESTICIDES here!

The living fence is growing early girl tomatoes, banana leg tomatoes and both green beans and purple pole beans.  This is our gift to the community.  Feel free to pick, but please do not hoard.  We ask that you participate in our love for our urban farm landscape, but leave some for others to enjoy as well!

Here it is...the long awaited fence.  It was a beast to build, but I'm very happy with the design.

Tomatoes and pole beans

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The First Growing Season

Since I planted so late in fall, I had to use transplants.  I bought all my transplants from Garrisons Nursery in Upland and Mt. Fuji in Upland.  I love Garrisons Nursery because they are extremely knowledgeable about organic growing, and they are committed to raising their plants/edibles with the least amount of exposure to chemicals.  Also, Garrisons Nursery has an extensive awareness of environmental issues.  I always love chatting with them.  I should mention that they also donated a golden yarrow (California native) for the garden.  Mt. Fuji generally has a large selection of veggies.  If you go there you must talk with Frank - he's both entertaining and knowledgeable. He will give you the real scoop on what is and isn't organic. My friend, Amanda, donated a groupon for Mt. Fuji so quite a few transplants came from their nursery.

Yet another participant in my urban landscape project was our previous neighbor, Jagger.  He gave me a bag of organic root stabilizer that worked wonders.  He also donated a huge 5 gallon barrel of organic kelp tea, but I have yet to use that. 

Worm castings are also a great fertilizer and you can get bags of castings from Garrisons for $7 or $8 a bag.  We decided to create our own vermicomposting bin (worm bin) in an effort to recycle our organic green waste.  I will blog more about that later.

People constantly questioned me about whether or not I was concerned about potential veggie thieves.  I really wasn't at first.  I chose to channel my energy elswhere and focus on the benefits of the garden.  We had a living fence planned all along, but we did not have the funds to complete it.  A good friend of mine, Claudia Garcia of Royalty Business Solutions, donated a generous amount towards the fence, but we could not proceed until we had matched funds.  Within that time frame, we had two incidents of cabbage theft.  The first time was heartbreaking.  I felt violated and discouraged, but then I recovered.  The second time was irritating because I had planted the vegetable with an aesthetic design in mind and I was frustrated that the perpetrator ruined my design! 

Overall, this has been the most rewarding experience.  We have had so many individuals stop by and talk with us, ask us for ideas, and admire all of our hard work.  Our living fence is now up and looking fabulous.  This year we will be training tomatoes to grow on the grid between the wood of the fence and green beans.  This is our contribution to our neighborhood.  We hope that people will be considerate and take only what their two hands can hold so everyone has a chance to reap the rewards of all our hard work. 

The living fence is a combination of redwood, stained Douglass fir, and concrete mesh.  I am still designing a gate.  My next venture will be a soaker system to water my urban farm.  Watering is becoming quite the task.  Summer crops include:  zucchini, eggplant (3 varieties), organic corn, organic watermelon, white cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, anaheim chilies, rosemary, mint, basil (3 varieties), peter pan squash, pumpkins, green beans, onions, tomatillos, and organic sunflowers.

Winter Transplants for West Side of Yard

They grew so quickly!

End of Fall Harvest

The Cabbage was Enormous!

Fall Transplants for East Yard

Transplants North East Yard

Design for Texture and Color

East Side Progression

Swiss Chard

Worms are not as destructive as people are brainwashed to believe. I had a ton of them and all my vegetables survived. The biggest challenge was aphids. Hosing them down regularly is a must!

Our broccoli was incredible!

Celery, Lettuce, Kale, Chard, and Beets

Jose mixing concrete for the fence posts.

The beginning of the fence.