Thursday, October 30, 2008

urban garden 2008: recap

(me, helping Mom in the garden c. 1982)

Sometime in March, Ryan disappeared into the lumber section @ the hardware store. Not certain why we were there originally. Might have headed in to buy a new handle for the toilet (?) or possibly some lightbulbs. I found him pulling down long pieces of lumber.
"I'm going to build you a garden," he informed me.

The pieces looked sort of huge. I tried to imagine them somewhere in our small (but respectable) urban backyard. I thought about the raised beds we'd built together from scratch at our last house, the bags and bags and bags of beautiful organic worm-casting soil we'd hauled in, in time to do an early august planting and harvest greens all winter... and how we'd had to move away and leave those gorgeous beds, without ever getting the chance to do spring plantings and summer harvests.

And while I agreed with him wholeheartedly when he pointed out that we'd made an improvement on that last house for future dwellers that is impossible to put a price on, I still felt a little bitter. Sort of embarrassed to admit I gave him a hard time in the lumber section, but I did. "Where the heck is it going to fit?" I asked. "Do you realize how much its going to cost to fill this with good dirt? Are we going to stay in this house long enough to harvest? Can we afford all the stuff we'll need?"

He saw right through the snarkiness (he usually does).

At home, he laid out the lumber in a gravel patch behind the shed. I braced the boards while he hammered them together, with the dog looking on. We pulled out the weeds that were poking up through the gravel. A few weeks went by before we got around to filling it with dirt. We knew we couldn't afford to buy enough 20 pound bags of organic soil to fill the bed, so in late April, we rented a large (large) pickup from the hardware store and headed out to Maple Valley in the midst of an early spring snowstorm to buy our dirt in bulk, from the compost-managing-folk @ Cedar Grove. Assata rode up front between us like the farm dog she is (despite her year and a half of city-living, her formative months were spent on a small family farm in Oklahoma, 5 miles down a dirt road, ten miles south of Kansas). We plunked down 21 dollars at the counter, and I drove the truck down into a giant dirt field, where a giant loader scooped up a bucketful of "vegetable garden mix" and advanced on us. 2000 pounds of dirt crashed down in the bed of the truck, sagging the cab down around the wheels and setting off the load limit alarm. We gingerly manuevered our way home. Spent several hours shovelling the dirt into the garden frame.

Raked it, leveled it, and molded it into furrows. Shoveled some of the excess into buckets, pots, bins, and a couple whiskey barrels from the West Seattle Nursery to expand our growing potential.

Laid out our seed packets, (sugar snap peas, kentucky wonder pole beans, beets, carrots, tulsi holy basil, lavendar) and transplanted the two tubs full of starts (zuccini, spinach, and cucumbers we'd started from seed in peat pots and yogurt cups on top of the washer and dryer a month before) that we'd been lugging in and out of the laundry room to soak up sun all month. visited the Seattle Tilth Fair ( in the rain with a few hundred other giddy seattlites, gathering up boxfulls of lovely starts---- tomatoes, hot peppers, eggplant, broccoli, summer crookneck squash, butternut squash, pearl onions, walla walla sweets, brussel sprouts, leeks, lemongrass, oregano, sage, pineapple sage... and a few others I'm forgetting now.

Sprouts emerged, and popped leaves, and vines. I spent my mornings barefoot in the teeny tiny rows (so narrow I couldn't actually turn around,) glorying in the appearence of plants from seeds, (astonishing to me every time, even though I've been privy to this small miracle since I was a kid in cloth diapers keeping mom company in the garden). Watered them gently. Clucked encouragingly to the transplants.

And as it all picked up and grew, I began to realize I might have been overly enthusiastic. The "Giant" bed I'd accused Ryan of planning to build was, in fact, somewhat overcrowded.
We adjusted, practiced training shoots and vines up trellises and in circles around tomato cages, transplanting some things from here to there, pulling out unpromising producers to better utilize their space. Made me feel like a real farmer, making the tough decisions. I found I wasn't tough enough to properly thin my beets or carrots though, (their greens are so CUTE), and settled for hoping they would all just find a way to grow on top of each other. (They did the best they could).

(the crowded carrot and beet greens: way too cute to thin).

Sometime in late May, early June, we began eating what we'd grown.

Most of my photos are still trapped on rolls of good ol' fashioned 35 mm film... bunches of giddy green spinach, bowls and bowls of wee cherry tomatoes that packed more flavor in their tiny bodies than a dozen beefsteaks or grocery story hothouse varieties... handfuls of basil and piles of crimson beets, zuccinni every night for weeks, dozens of perfect knobby yellow crooknecks, 6 perfect butternuts the size of Assata's snout, a beautiful little eggplant, sweet finger length carrots and hundreds of sweet sugar snap peas eaten right off the vine...

Its now the 30th of October, and we are still enacting that most decadent of rituals...
harvesting food from our backyard and preparing it for our table.

Put in some spinach and chard seeds a few weeks ago, tho i fear i waited till too late in the autumn. They've sprouted, but we'll see how they weather the cold. There are still 2 hardy stalks of brussel sprouts working at growing those perfect little globes, and more beets and leeks and carrots to harvest. The last of the tomatoes are ripening on the kitchen windowsill there are jars of dried herbs in the cupboards and pickled beets in the fridge. I'm already plotting what we'll start in peat pots on cookie sheets on top of the washer and dryer come February and March.

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