Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Late Starts

Being somewhat new to growing 'real food' (I've grown herbs, greens, and flowers, and I've been around a lot of gardens, and somewhat recently, farms... ), it didn't occur to me - until it was long past the "six weeks prior to last frost" - that I would need to start some of my seeds in pots, indoors. And even if it had, I don't have a single inch of indoor space for extra plant pots.

I've started some anyway. Growing up, a delicious treat grew alongside the garden's edge - we called them 'ground cherries,' or 'husk tomatoes,' but they didn't really look like either. They were berry-like, small, sweet and yellow, and grew inside a husk. I've looked for seeds or starts for years and couldn't find them.

Apparently they're a type of Tomatillo and Territorial Seeds had a few organic types to choose from in the 2008 catalog. I ordered two varieties, but never planted them. In fact, I forgot about them until about a week ago.

Shiv had some no-longer-used pots, so I borrowed them and planted my seeds. I thought a greenhouse effect of some sort might help, so I re-purposed some plastic storage boxes, placing them over the pots to trap the heat. I think it might be working - I see wee plants popping up. Forrest seemed to think it could work, and did the same with some tomato seeds.

I'll keep you posted, and if they transplant successfully and actually produce fruit, you'll have to come by for a taste.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Honey worth waiting for

It's the holy grail of honey. I first saw the jars while volunteering with Sustainable Ballard at an Earth Day event just over a week ago (see earlier post) and knew I had to try it.

Today, Dave Reid of the Sail Transport Company delivered a jar to my doorstep, where I happily exchanged a check for a three-pound jar. The glossy, rich golden-brown shade resembles that of new motor oil, but didn't require a drop from farm to delivery. For those of us thinking about our carbon footprint and how we might pay for and access food (other than what we grow) when oil prices skyrocket, this is nice to know.

The honey comes from Buck Hollow Farms in Poulsbo and arrives in Seattle via Whisper, Dave's sailboat. I don't know whether the personalized service is typical, but it came to my door from his slip at the Shilshole marina thanks to Dave's pedal power.

Forrest says, "we've discovered the 'crack' of honey." We shared a honey-combed spoonful with the neighbor. He agreed.

I'm amazed that, growing up, I didn't like honey. But then again, it's understandable when I remember that most of the honey available then was supermarket-style, mass-produced and processed.

This is not that. Until recently, I bought my honey from the Ballard Farmers Market. It's really good stuff. But that's not this, either. This is it. The stuff. I'd call it honey love. You might want to order yours now. It's really too good to pass up.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


How important is it? It's essential.

And tasty, too. As a kid, a favorite thing was to pull a bright orange carrot from the ground, wipe off the loose dirt, and savor every crunchy bite of the earthy sweet flavor.

Now that it's near the end of the month, I'm finally reading my April PCC Sound Consumer. The publication always contains great information, but one particular paragraph caught my attention, "Eat More Dirt."

I've long been baffled by our current preoccupation with dirt and germs and the proliferation of all these "anti-bacterial" and disinfecting soaps, sprays, and gels. I'm convinced this can't be good for our immune systems.

The Sound Consumer "News Bites" piece supports my suspicion. It begins, "Biodiversity beats sterile home for healthy babies," citing a study by Rodale Institute, an authority on health, food, gardening and more. It goes on to say that our bodies need germs and dirt for a healthy immune system, and to possibly even prevent allergies and asthma.

While I don't advise eating a handful (although what kid doesn't at some point?!?), especially with all the environmental toxins around these days, a little dirt, especially if it's the nutrient-dense kind from your organic backyard garden, isn't a bad thing. I'm looking forward to pulling up my carrots, wiping off the dirt, and taking a deliciously satisfying bite.

Of course there's more to it than that. We're losing our soil, and thanks in large part to big agribusiness and our utopian idea of the perfect lawn, contaminating what's left. Franklin D Roosevelt once said, "the nation that destroys its soil destroys itself."

We're learning that yes, organic agriculture could feed the world, probably should, and there's a movement afoot to help organic farming grow and stop subsidizing the big agriculture businesses. We have a long way to go but the studies are plentiful and reassuring.

Further along in the News Bites, a paragraph about organics and the food crises states, "UN research shows that organic practices outperform chemical-intensive farming, while improving soil fertility, water retention and resistance to drought" (source - This isn't the first time I've read this, and I hope that message spreads like the earth worms in my compost bin.

Here's the link to PCC's Sound Consumer News Bites, and if you'd like more information on soil health, history and geology, check out David R Montgomery's book, "Dirt - The Erosion of Civilizations." A UW Professor of Earth and Space Sciences, he really knows his dirt.

(Photo: Garden plots, 4-27-09)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

And because it's Earth Day...'s an interesting perspective found on, "On Earth Day, Forget About the Planet..." Worth a read.


In the "what will they think of next" category, a Chicago-based artist has infused his DNA with a petunia, creating what is being referred to as a "Plantimal." The resulting plant features genetic material from both plant and human animal and looks exactly like ... a petunia. However, it reportedly has "delicate red veins."

Sometimes it feels like my DNA is co-mingled with the DNA of 'place.' While I feel little connection to the house I live in, spent many of my years in, I feel very connected to the land surrounding it. We're fortunate to have a spare 'lot' adjoining the structure I call home, and my best memories are the years spent with grandpa in his garden, tending his tomatoes or beloved peach trees. While my grandfather's green thumb doesn't appear to be in my genetic code, my connection to the earth most certainly is.

Forrest is pretty good in the garden. He lives life by the rule, "Often wrong, but never in doubt," and this applies to gardening, too. Actually, he's quite often right - he has great instincts.

My desire is to learn to better grow my own food, and maybe even preserve it, from the gardening community - Forrest, too - that's developing around me. Something my family did for years but most of my generation is so far clueless about.

The desire to mix actual human DNA with that of a plant befuddles me, however. I'm not sure why anyone felt the necessity. Maybe it's just because "they can."

(Photo: Green tomatoes, Nov., 08)

Monday, April 20, 2009

The joy of warmth

Today's warm temperature, along with the cloudless blue sky and an ever-longer day, suggest that maybe it's time to pack away the sweaters and - finally - don brighter clothing. No more drab grays and blacks!

The colors of spring are vibrant and rejuvenating. Bold red tulips and vivid hyacinths make their mark within a sea of bluebells... Looking closely, I see newly sprouted lettuce leaves displaying deep burgundies and an array of green. The possibility of growing food is far more real.

On Sunday, I helped staff a Sustainable Ballard table at an Earth Day event hosted by a neighborhood church. Later, at the farmers market, a couple recognized a fellow tabler and me as we sat drinking tea at a sidewalk table. The woman was inspired by the sermon about local food and the information we provided, and went to the market in search of fresh-grown carrots. We explained about how eating locally also means eating seasonally, and that carrots would be available before too long, but meanwhile, there's some really tasty asparagus!

Her enthusiasm was genuine and I welcomed the opportunity to share information about local food with someone so willing to learn.

I so love being warm!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ben's gift

From the back porch, I see Ben in his corner of the garden. Something has his full attention, but I can't tell what and I don't have time to go find out...

This afternoon, I wander out to the back corner and see that next to our fledgling cedar, he's made a shrine. Tree stumps hold a wooden box, upright, containing a Hindu deity, stones, a bowl and a small flower. The Buddha looks out over all the gardens.

Shiv takes any opportunity to educate me about Hinduism, so in a later conversation, he reveals that this particular Buddha is revered throughout many Asian countries, and that it will "sing" mantras to help the garden grow, like he does. Shiv has a very strong accent, and after all these years, I still have a hard time understanding all of his words, so while he tries to tell me more, I only get bits and pieces. I'll have to listen more closely next time. Meanwhile, he's planting rows of peas for the bunch of us.

My grandfather's name was Ben. For years, a wooden sign, somewhat common at the time, stood in his garden. It read, "The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God's heart in the garden than any place else on earth."* The sign is long gone, and I'm hardly religious, but those are words that stayed with me from childhood. I do think that certain places are more sacred than others, and I'm pretty certain that a garden is one of them.

(Photo to come)
*Dorothy Frances Gurny, 1858-1932

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How it began

Chatting over tea this winter, my uncle and I looked out at the yard. I mentioned our tentative plans.

"We're thinking about putting in more of a garden this year - we'd like to grow more food, maybe do some canning or preserving."

His thrifty eye noted the raised beds Forrest had put together just a week or two before, and he immediately said, "if you put in enough of them, you could rent them!" The idea of a yard filled with growing things - edible things - appealed to both of us, and the entire yard was actually more than we could manage.

Then I met Amy Pennington at February's Farmer Chef Connection and she told me about her new Urban Garden Share matching service. Sharing and bartering won out over renting - at least for now while we see how it works. So when she launched in March, I was the first in Ballard to post.

The open space north of my house has been a garden for most of its urban years. My family moved in way back in 1907, from Sweden by way of Wisconsin, and the family raised much of their own food. The barn in the backyard, demolished in 1993, housed a cow, a horse and chickens. My grandfather was just seven years old when they moved in.

When my grandparents purchased the deed in the mid-20s, Ballard had long since been annexed to the city and the neighborhood was growing. The barn continued to be home to chickens but also found new use as storage for garden implements. My grandfather's garden was the jewel of the neighborhood for all the years they lived here, and my 95-year-old neighbor still tells the stories. He readily shared his harvest with all the neighbors, the trash collectors, and anyone who took an interest. His peaches, Roma tomatoes, peas, pole beans and "ground cherries" were the treats I grew up with.

After my grandfather's death, there was a time when the yard was just a yard, full of overgrown grass, blackberries and every other invasive weed. The fruit from the trees decomposed, and various critters took refuge in the brush. I'll give Shiv credit for the initial inspiration to start planting again, but the memory must burn deep because I'm moved beyond words by what we're creating here now.

(Photo - backyard, June 07)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The buzz about bees

One of the first things we noticed early this spring was the number of bees buzzing about the yard. We have honeybees, bumblebees and mason bees!

An e-mail just landed in my in-box with a link to a Science Daily report about why bees are dying in professional apiaries, or honey bee colony depopulation syndrome.

Honeybees are dying - that's uncontested (although thankfully not in our garden). However, as far as I know, there isn't consensus as to why. This article points to a parasitic infection as a cause. But what caused the parasite? And what about pesticide use??? Skepticism crept in as I read further... So what treatment has proved to be successful in eradicating the parasite? Wait for it... the treatment is a good dose of antibiotics. Here's a link to the article in case you're interested.

If you care about the bees (and we all should since they pollinate at least 30% of our food supply), then check out Plan Bee Central and read their special report about what we can all do. And taking a page from the Ben & Jerry's cause-related ice cream playbook, next time you're at your local grocery store, pick up some Haagen-Daz Honeybee Ice Cream (and check out their Help the Honeybees site, too - it's so worth the wait! It's open on my computer and I hear birdsong in the background as I type - delightful!). The ice cream is delicious, and it'll help save bees!

Thanks to Janette for the Plan Bee/HD links!

(Photo: Bee & plum blossoms, Shiv's plum tree, planting strip 4/09)

Waiting for warmth...

Admittedly, I'm a fair-weather gardener, so I haven't spent much time outside these past few days.

On Saturday I finished laying the stone for our last raised bed. And on Sunday and Monday, it rained. This afternoon, however, the sun came out, and I see the neighbors out working the soil. Liz has been here, too - I see vegetable starts in her plot!

Other than a quick walk-through, I'm waiting for warmth to do much more. I noticed a bluebell by the back steps. That's encouraging! The lilacs can't be far behind. I don't remember it being this cold in April, and I usually love this time of year. It's the scent - fresh rain, tilled soil and sweet blossoms. No bottled perfume can ever truly capture that.

One of the initial garden share gardeners found a place closer to her home, but thanks to Jennifer, the first of our new partners, we found an immediate replacement, a couple who live near Sunset Hill. They seem like a nice addition - I think they share the excitement.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Here are a few resources for those of us relatively new to growing things.

What to Plant and How

Mother Earth News - Organic Gardening (What to Plant Now, Pacific Northwest)

Sunset Magazine: Plant an Edible Backyard and NW April Checklist (what to do in your yard); there are a lot of other resources here, from how to grow the perfect tomato and how to grow vegetables, to how to start seeds indoors - check out Veggies 101

Plant Sales

Seattle Tilth's Edible Plant Sale, May 2 & 3, 2009 - Meridian Park in Wallingford

King County Master Gardener Foundation Plant Sale, May 2 & 3 - Center for Urban Horticulture

Farmers Markets - look for plant starts at your neighborhood farmers market

PCC - carries Rent's Due Ranch plant starts

Additional Information

Finding a good, trustworthy seed source is worth its weight. Check out Seed Savers Exchange for heirloom and organic seeds. My grandfather saved his tomato seeds from year to year - sure wish I had some now!

Sustainable Ballard has a lot going on, from a monthly Urban Crop Circle gathering to learn to grow food, to a pending garden tour. Stay tuned!

Also thanks to Sunset's April issue, I just found Willi Galloway's blog, DigginFood. Lots of helpful information here!

(Photo: Shiv's cauliflower)

The spirit of it all...

Yesterday, Shiv pointed at the shoots coming up in his parking strip plot - he has several spaces between his yard and ours - and exclaimed, "Enough for all of us!"

I wasn't sure how he'd feel about sharing the land with other gardeners - he'd happily take over the entire yard, and recently asked for more space. He and his brother-in-law, a recent immigrant from India, wanted to plant more. But I told him that Forrest and I intended to plant this year, and I hoped to include others. We've shared the space before - our friends Anthony and Helen had a fabulous garden next to Shiv's for a few years, but they moved to Santiago early in 2008. I liked that feeling of community that came with a number of others involved, and wanted to recreate that.

He seems to have caught the spirit. The new rows of cauliflower do, indeed, look like enough for all of us, and the giant grin on the old man's face said he likes our new community garden.

(Photo: neighbors Caden & Shiv, summer, 2007)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A great day for gardening!

Saturday, April 4, was the beginning of our new garden community. Thanks to the just launched garden matching service, Urban Garden Share, we're now sharing our yard with three additional gardeners (five including partners/spouses).

These three join my partner, Forrest, and me, along with Shiv, who lives across the street and has been sharing our space for years, and Ben, who recently moved in next door. We're all excited - in addition to our individual plots, we've decided to create a shared "squash patch" - where we'll grow zucchini, pumpkins, and hopefully both summer and winter squash (at appropriate times, of course).

I'll post pictures as the garden progresses. Meanwhile, it's just about time for lilacs and bluebells to flower - a splash of color in no time!

(Photo: the beginning - April, 09)