Archive for the ‘It’s Always Greener’ Category
I only visited one of the five sites on last weekend’s first annual Urban Farm Tour, organized by Oakland’s Institute of Urban Homesteading. But I was pretty blown away.
I toyed with the idea of saving these photos, hoping I might do an interview and full story on Kitty Sharkey, who lives on her 4,000 square foot “Havenscourt Homestead” in East Oakland.
But I couldn’t wait — I was too amazed and inspired by what I saw.
Kitty — a 9-5 working woman in love with her 52 goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and cats (plus several bee hives) — lives on a smaller property than I do. Her own little 2-bedroom home was bought as a foreclosure, just three years ago. THREE YEARS, and she’s done all this.
What might I do in that time…
Kitty’s front yard is an official Bay Friendly Garden — she tore the lawn out (much as I’m doing now!) and put in low water plants.
The driveway used to run from the street to the garage at the very back of the property — now, just the front portion is for parking, while most of the length is used for veggie gardening! The secret to getting huge plants in containers? Poop, Kitty says. Amending the soil with manure has done wonders for her tomatoes and other vegetables.
Somehow, there are 52 animals on this homestead. That includes goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, and cats — but doesn’t include the two bee hives on the garage roof. All that and a hammock occupy most of the backyard. Remarkably, it doesn’t actually smell like a barnyard! Kitty practices the “deep litter” method of maintaining the animal coops and pens, which allows manure to compost in place underneath a deep layer of hay or pine shavings while keeping things relatively odor-free. Whatever she’s doing, it works.
At right, Kitty addresses the crowd while the goats pull and nibble at the bottom of her shirt for attention. Maybe I should get goats on my homestead… ;)
But that isn’t the whole story.
Her yard at home might be bare — much to the disappointment of friends and visitors — but that’s because Pilar spends most of her time starting 400 varieties of vegetable and herb seedlings in an old greenhouse — a.k.a. Sunnyside Organic Seedlings — tucked into an industrial zone in Richmond, California.
A neighboring greenhouse hosts the beginnings of an aquaculture system (with a Target-bought above-ground swimming pool full of hundreds of three-inch koi fish), and a third holds 10 or so chickens, including a few accidental roosters who will soon be somebody’s dinner.
Outside, one of her staff, Kenji Warren, keeps a vegetable garden for the Bay Area Rescue Mission — at a volunteer day last week, a dozen volunteers harvested more than 100 pounds of Swiss chard and planted a few hundred cloves of garlic, most of which will be donated to the organization’s food kitchen.
The remaining greenhouses and gravel-strewn lawn on her 7-acre plot give plenty of space for dreaming, she said.
After moving here from another Richmond site early this year, “suddenly there’s room for vision. Before, I had no space to think about anything other than Sunnyside.” Will that mean more chickens? Building an office on-site for her boyfriend’s business? A few more rows for Kenji to tend? Crazy ideas — or at least good crazy ideas — are welcome, she said. So are donations.
In the meantime, she’s happy with all her seed start trays. Walking down the rows of upcycled wire, pipe, and garden hose tables, she points out a tray covered in what looks like short white hairs — these onions are one of her favorites, she said, especially when they’ve just started to sprout.
But organic, heirloom onions, oregano, arugula, and artichokes aren’t the only things she hopes to start here — in addition to selling seedlings, she said, “we’re growing farmers.”
In Richmond, not only are climate conditions ideal, but there’s also high unemployment.
Greenhouse Manager Rebecca Blanck-Weiss explains, “our larger goal is to provide job training for the community through sustainable business and organic food.” That means bringing in local students, maintaining a coterie of volunteers, and donating food and seedlings to various organizations.
Sunnyside’s seedlings are sold at more than 40 Bay Area garden centers, or you can find Pilar manning the stand at several local farmer’s market, including the Sunday San Rafael Civic Center market, the Tuesday Novato market, and — my own personal favorite — the Saturday Grand-Lake market in Oakland.
Interested in volunteering? Follow their Facebook page for more info, but volunteer day is generally the last Friday of the month, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Your time earns you lunch and free seedlings — who could refuse?
The most liberating words a gardener can hear when he or she moves into a new place are: “You can do whatever you want back there.” When first-time gardeners Jen and Geoff moved to North Providence, Rhode Island, they got that OK — and ran with it.
[Last spring, Geoffrey dug up a large square of dirt along the back fence and we bought some garden soil to mix in with the dirt. He found some stakes and fencing in someone’s recycling bin and before we knew it, the outline for our garden was set. In two mounds plus two rows, I fit cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, parsley, potatoes and green beans. We also had a couple of large pots on our front porch for a rosemary plant and another tomato seedling.]
[ The birds took a liking to our green bean sprouts, but Geoffrey made a scarecrow out of clothes we were giving to Goodwill and that seemed to solve the problem. Even the potatoes came through for us, which was a little surprising. Sure they were small, but it’s always fun to eat food that you grow yourself anyway. When the growing season was over we picked all of our parsley, dried it out, chopped it up, and put it into seasoning shakers. I’m still using it! Our rosemary plant is also still thriving.]
[This year we decided to expand our garden by a couple of feet in each direction. Now we have three rows and three mounds. The tomatoes and cucumbers are growing faster than we can pick them, and we’ve gotten some small green peppers and a few handfuls of green beans.
Growing our food has been an exciting adventure for us. I am always looking for new, healthy recipes to try that use the veggies from our garden and we are always talking about what we can improve/expand in the coming years. Next summer we will be relocating farther south and that means a longer growing season! I can’t wait to see what our future gardens hold for us.]
Do you keep a garden you want me to feature? Send photos and a short description of what you’re doing to sftrent at gmail.
My mother has always been more into flowers than growing anything edible — to her credit, I think that’s largely because she and my dad live in the woods.
Most of the suburban acre is covered in trees — the actual lawn has been described as “postage-stamp-sized,” and even that gets little sun.
Can she really be expected to grow sun-loving peppers? Tomatoes? Eggplant? Pansies are hard enough!
We tried once. When I was 5 or 6 and we’d just moved into the Chanhassen, Minnesota, house, we cleared a small garden plot at the edge of the woods and planted carrots, rhubarb, and raspberries. We competed with rabbits for most of it, though I do remember pulling up one very small carrot — “the best carrot I’d ever eaten,” I said at the time.
Years later, mom has accepted the lack of sunshine, and has given up on fighting with rabbits and deer.
Well — almost.
Given their expense in stores, ease to grow, and very small need for sun, this spring she expanded her small herb garden into a few troughs on the patio. Anyone with window boxes, a fire escape, a patio, or even an indoor window ledge could do the same.
[I have a very shady north side patio and garden that we put in 3 years ago, and I am slowly discovering what grows well in this shady space. Bleeding hearts rule, the Brunnera were fabulous this year with a blaze of tiny blue flowers, and my irises are doing pretty well. I fight off the deer -- sometimes literally -- though for the moment I think they're busy having Bambis. The grasses are safe from them and I get excited when I read "deer resistant" on a plant label. But some of what I have is a deer buffet salad bar, so I know I'm pushing it.]
[As far as people-edible gardening, I had an herb "bowl" last year and have expanded that with two troughs and a patio tomato pot. We’ll see. I have put a "fence" of plastic around the herbs because the squirrels are convinced that they must have buried an acorn or two and are constantly rooting around, digging out piles of dirt and exposing the little roots to the air.
Sarah has been extolling the virtues of homegrown lettuce, but we don’t have much space -- and fresh herbs are REALLY expensive! It’s totally worth it to buy containers and dirt to plant precious herbs. The best thing about them is that you aren't depending on flowers to bring you the goods. With the amount of shade we have, flowers are few and far between. I’ve already enjoyed our cilantro, parsley, chives, sage, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, basil, oregano and mint. Gotta make me some mojitos this weekend -- the mint is going crazy! -- Katie]
Momma’s Fresh Mint Mojitos
- 5 or 6 fresh mint leaves
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 small lime, juiced
- white rum
- soda water
In a tall glass, crush the mint leaves, then and add the sugar and lime juice. Pour in 2 oz. or so of rum, and top off with soda water. Lime, fresh mint, and a little carbonation make the perfect summer patio refreshment!
A lot of the inspiration for my rooftop garden came from seeing photos, videos, and blogs about what other people have done with their own urban spaces. On Urbivore, I’ll periodically feature other people’s gardens, in the hopes of inspiring you too!
Of course the easiest one to start with is my own.
My first garden, on a small patio in Portland, Maine, used Rubbermaid storage containers as pots — they were convenient, cheap, easy to move, and available in many sizes…but not terribly attractive.
The containers worked just fine, and I’d recommend them to any first-timer looking for fast and cheap. But for me — OCD about symmetry — the varying sizes, shapes, and colors of my plastic storage bins just didn’t make the aesthetic cut.
When I got the chance at a fresh start in Oakland, I took it.
I knew I wanted to put containers of some kind on the roof, which for us is a porch. I did a bunch of research into what other people were doing, and found woodworking plans (like this one) for building your own containers.
I even went so far as volunteering for a rooftop project work day with Bay Localize — a local non-profit promoting sustainable practices in the Bay Area — in order to get a feel for how building and using big wooden flats might work.
After that, the idea of building and moving all those flats (and all that dirt) on our own just didn’t seem reasonable — we’re not in this apartment forever!
They had a video posted on YouTube (I can’t find it anymore!?) with instructions on how to build a milk crate garden, so I watched it a few times and modified as needed.
I searched Craigslist and found one batch of “storage crates” — 11 for $15 – and then scored the mother lode when a San Francisco gelato company posted they had 100 milk crates on the sidewalk, for free (plus $4 bridge toll). I can officially say that a Ford Escort can hold exactly 28 crates and one driver.
We laid down shipping pallets (free on Craigslist) to keep crates from directly contacting the roof. (We initially had pallets on the actual roof surface, but moved them onto the decking to prevent trouble with our wishy-washy, undecided, and certifiably crazy landlord.)
On top of those pallets are milk crates that I lined with landscaping fabric — this keeps soil from falling out, but lets water drain and air get in. We filled the lined crates with good soil — most of it came free from a Craigslister looking to dig up a backyard raised garden bed, some has come from mixing store-bought bags of soil and compost.
We also tried following Glide’s video instructions for building wooden walls out of salvaged pallet wood. They were surprisingly difficult to build (old, dried-out pallets are impossible to take apart!), and, despite being stained, the walls on our 9-crate flat warped apart after a couple months. So… no more walls.
But that’s OK: I still have symmetry! And plenty of veggies, of course.
Currently planted: Four kinds of lettuce, hillbilly (purple!) spinach, carrots, four kinds of peppers, five different tomatoes, eggplant, two kinds of zucchini, summer squash, green beans, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, watermelon, cantaloupe, two kinds of strawberries, sunflowers, violets, and an orange tree. And more crates await!