Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ballard's first Edible Garden Tour!

Saturday was Ballard's first-ever Edible Garden Tour, and what a perfectly sunny day it was! Could not have asked for better weather...

While I'd secretly hoped for an endless stream of visitors to show off our hard work (might not have been ideal for the garden, however), a respectable and continuous flow of garden tourists stopped by to look, ask questions, and enjoy our collective accomplishment. New projects were begun, friends came by to see what we've been working on, and ample food & beverages were consumed. Hearing oohs, aahs, and favorable comments was a nice acknowledgment.

Perhaps now that the tour has passed, the energy spent to beautify the yard can again be focused more on the food growing in our gardens. But I do think during this mad dash to the finish, our little garden community has flourished.

(Photos: Shiv, watering, first thing a.m.; new projects - Christopher & Andy; Forrest's new greenhouse [and Kasey's fort until next year]; Yukko talking with a visitor about Thai basil; bbq [Jen, Chris, Joyce, Andy]; Forrest sits)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Meet the gardeners!

Forrest and I feel pretty lucky to have met such a terrific bunch of garden collaborators.

The result is amazing - the beds are productive, the weeding a collective effort, and together, we're creating a beautiful space for all of us to enjoy (with Ballard's first Edible Garden Tour as a hard and fast, very motivating deadline!).

While I think we're all enjoying the process and the shared wisdom, I am extremely grateful to each and every one who's come on board to create this thing that's far more than the sum of its parts.

Here's a little bit about all of us:

Laura & Forrest

“When I fully realized that we are a part of nature, to no greater or lesser degree than any other plant, insect, or animal, it was purely transcendental. And I didn’t learn that camping or hiking in the wilderness, I learned it in our garden here in the city.” - Forrest

Laura (that's me, your blog host) spent much of her childhood here at this house in this garden with her grandfather, who taught her much about life but not enough about gardening (perhaps not paying enough attention…). So she’s learning by trial and error and finds weed pulling unusually satisfying – although fewer weeds would be preferred. Even more satisfying is sharing the space with others who find it equally satisfying, and to see the space so fully used again.

Forrest seemingly comes to gardening through osmosis – his mother creates a garden wherever she goes, be it Georgia's Barrier Islands (Tybee), the north of England (Newcastle), or some remote setting in Ireland. Forrest has great instincts, is exceptionally resourceful, can be counted on to get things done, and makes sure that none of us have a single dull moment. He fully trusts his indigenous gardening partners- squirrels, birds, and moles- and is learning to trust his new human partners, too.


Expose some dirt and Shiv will plant in it. Originally from India, his Punjabi accent is thick and his Hindu faith devout. Arriving in Seattle in 1980, his ancestors are religious teachers and farmers, and his mantra’s help the garden grow. His is the largest plot in the garden – and he also has the parking strip, along with plots in his own yard. He’s an inspiration – his garden produces something pretty much year ‘round, from mustard greens all winter to peas, tomatoes and the ubiquitous zucchini in summer. He’s lived across the street since 1991, has planted here for at least 10 years, if not more, and often brings his own water, digs weeds for exercise, and shares the bounty readily. He is often joined by his brother-in-law, a recent arrival from India.

Jennifer & Christopher

“May your garden always make you smile.”

Thanks to Urban Garden Share, Jennifer and Christopher are now garden collaborators. Their apartment, fortunately for this little community, had no more garden space than a small balcony. In Seattle for a number of years now, Jennifer came to Seattle originally from Ohio but by way of Georgia, where Christopher, like Forrest, hails from. Jennifer spent much of her childhood tromping through her grandparent’s garden and teasing her cousin, who would eat an onion like an apple – with the dirt still attached. She now expands on those memories as an adult by digging in the dirt everyday and nurturing a garden that in turn, nurtures her by providing daily surprises and growing friendships.

Andy & Yukko

“Please help yourself and your neighbors by growing your own community gardens with shared spaces.”

Andy & Yukko found the garden through Jennifer & Christopher. Andy is – like Laura, an anomaly these days – from Ballard, but Yukko grew up in Japan. They currently have a small garden at home, but were ready to do more. An interest in small-scale agriculture has been percolating for quite awhile, and they believe that urban farms can make a big difference. Here, they’re not just growing food, but they’re helping to grow a community.


Liz grew up in Ohio gardening with her mom but hadn’t done much gardening on her own. But her interest in gardening never waned, and she’s now growing a gorgeous garden complete with colorful edible flowers. Her Sweet Valentine lettuce is a bouquet of unmatchable proportions, and her beets are extraordinary. Liz is excited and grateful to finally have a space in Seattle in which to grow vegetables, also thanks to Urban Garden Share.


“Gardening is an attempt to deepen my conversation and connection with the earth.”

Ben lives in an apartment of the house just north of the garden. This is his first year in Seattle, and his first attempt at gardening. He became interested in gardening while living in a California orchard, and was continually inspired by the medicinal herb gardens tended by friends. Noting all the activity as the community garden got going, he, too, was ready to grow some food. His salad greens and herbs are thriving, and neighbor and prolific gardener Shiv offers continual advice.

(Photos: Andy & Yukko, early days; Yukko & Jennifer; Liz; Shiv; Christopher & Forrest)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Three days straight

We've worked three solid days to get the garden "public ready" for next Saturday's Edible Garden Tour.

On Friday, it rained. The timing couldn't have been better. We had a photographer here from The Seattle Times, shooting for a piece that will run in an August (date unspecified) Pacific Magazine about Seattle's sustainable communities and community gardens. He was here barely five minutes before the skies opened and we had our first downpour in 30+ days (although I'm told it rained hard during the night, but I didn't hear a thing). Jennifer, Christopher, Andy & Yuko were here to help and for the shoot. Shiv stopped by to share some gardening wisdom (and some early zucchini).

On Saturday, we had a garden work party, and in addition to garden partners, Sara, Tim, Joyce & Greg came to offer a hand. We were able to get a good portion of the wood chips spread, weeds pulled, sod removed and a garden compost started. Good food followed, including some ice cream with freshly picked strawberries.

Today, Sunday and the summer solstice, Forrest and I finished spread most of the remaining wood chips in the side yard around the garden and back areas; we bought a few more plants, made a rock path, created several trellises, and put in some solar lights. Seemed a fitting way to spend the longest day of the year. We also drove by a couple of places we'd heard about - a swale someone had created on their parking strip, and a fabulous parking strip garden with triple-bin composting. Ideas!

This next week, some clean up, general weeding, more chip spreading (under the corkscrew willow and along the front south path) and a bit more planting and we'll be ready for Saturday's show. It's exciting to be able to share this with so many - I couldn't have imagined it looking better than it does. And there's so much to eat!

(Photos: Friday - Jennifer spreading wood chips; Yuko, Christopher & Andy [and Seattle Times photographer]; Saturday - Forrest & Greg; Sunday - grape path; garden view

Friday, June 19, 2009

Weed smarts

Garden expert Ciscoe Morris writes in The Seattle Times, "Obey the Half-Hour Rule." Really great advice... He suggests we spend a half-hour every single day pulling weeds from the garden. That alone will keep weeds manageable and ensure lush, healthy vegetable growth. He writes that weeds compete with vegetables for the nutrients the soil and sun provide, so weeding daily allows the vegetables to get everything they need. Had I only started the half-hour regimen months ago!

Good news - it rained last night! While not as much as we need, it was enough to partially fill up a few of the rain barrels.

(Photo: dragonfly perched out in the 'back40' array of weeds (near the raspberries)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Beets, barrels and bark, for free!

Gotta like free stuff... especially when it might cost a fair bit otherwise. Had delicious slow roasted beets for dinner tonight, compliments of Liz (a garden collaborator), got two new rain barrels from a Sustainable Ballardite, and the bark, of course, is from TreeMendous, as previously noted. Nice!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Praying mantis

Just out weeding the "northwest corner" of our yard (actually the southwest corner, but it's planted with all natives), and a praying mantis lands on my arm. I didn't think they'd survive, but sure enough, here was this tiny insect...

Several weeks ago, Kasey and Tessa, who live down the street, brought over a just-hatched jar full of the insect-eating insects, and let them go in the yard. They were cultivated for a school project. Kasey, who just turned nine, can name almost any plant in the yard. Forrest and I look to her as a resource to help us identify the mysterious plants growing here that seemingly planted themselves (I thank - or curse - the birds and squirrels for that). She said they were good for gardens and would eat bugs like mosquitoes. Mosquito magnet that I am, I welcomed their arrival.

Mantises can apparently live about a year in warm climates - of which ours has been since their arrival. They'll die off in winter, but they're a friend to gardeners in summer months because they'll eat undesirable insects. Unfortunately, they can also eat desirable ones, so I'm glad they're where they are. There should be plenty of non-beneficial insects to keep them happy for now. And I'm assuming - hopefully rightly so - that these are the type of mantis that are legal to have in the US - apparently there are some types that are not.

Wikipedia has all kinds of interesting information about them:, and some really cool photos, too (since this little guy was far too quick for me to get a shot).

Update: Apparently those kept in captivity are doing far better than the one that landed on my arm - they're a lot larger. I'm told they're feasting on a steady diet of "spit" bugs; the neighbors have now depleted their supply, so they've come for ours. They're welcome to all they want - our mantis either hasn't found them, doesn't like them, or has another food source, and I quite despise them.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A natural progression

After many hours of work and help from Jennifer (gardener profiles coming soon!), the squash bed is ready, cucumbers and basil are in, and the strawberries are happily watered and covered in new mulch. We learned that cucumbers should be planted about a foot apart and will climb if given a trellis. We added greens to our pasta and had fresh strawberries for dessert (on ice cream... mixed in with a bit of balsamic...!).

Herbs are all going gangbusters. The mints and lemon balm are truly prolific, as is the oregano in the front beds. If you plant these at home, make sure you give them room to wander, or contain them well!

The grape vines are spreading further and wider every day, and tiny little dots are forming on the vines.

We've had no rain for 26 days now. Gray sky for much of today, but no rain. The forecast now says Wednesday.

Forrest and I today acknowledged that this year is, indeed, a learning process. How much to plant, where to plant it and how plants work together. We have more mustard than we can possibly use, plenty of lettuce, and soon, peas. My tomatillos (ground cherries!) look promising. The tomato plants reach further upward every day, and I see the shapes of tomatoes to come. Caprese' salads for weeks on end! Does anyone know if homemade salsa can be frozen? A bumper crop of raspberries is anticipated.

Next up is laying down the truckload of wood chips from TreeMendous. They'll be placed between the beds, and hopefully in a whole host of other places, too. Hoping for a lot more - we've promised signage opportunities during the Edible Garden Tour in exchange.

Just two weeks till the garden tour, and much to do between now and then. Forrest and I think a volunteer work party might just be the thing - and a barbeque to celebrate the hard work. More on that to come, and photos, too (sorry no current photos; camera still broken, not replaced, and my computer won't read Forrest's card... )

(Photo: Shiv's gloves)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rain, please

With bones and blood firmly entrenched in the Northwest, and ancestry rooted in cold, northern climes (England, Sweden & Ukraine), you'd think I'd miss our dreary wet skies, typical for this time of year. I don't. I'm quite happy with our record-breaking May / June sunshine.

Except the garden (and my allergic nose) is in dire need of rain. The rain barrels are empty. I dislike watering at this time of year as a matter of principle. It's one of those, "shouldn't be's." Yet water we must.

A colleague and I were caffeinating ourselves at Sunset Hill's new Picolino's this morning, and got talking about water. And the very real possibility that in our lifetime, we'll see wars break out over water. I'm always baffled when I learn of people moving to Arizona, or Las Vegas, or ... dare I say it, Texas. With water shortages springing up (no pun intended) even in some of the country's wettest areas, just what are they thinking?

Meanwhile, the heat is divine, and some of our unhappier plants are showing greater signs of life - the mimosa, the jasmine...

Rain is finally predicted for Saturday (of course on the weekend, when we could have got more work done). And while you'll rarely catch me saying, "Rain, please," I'm looking forward to a drippy gray sky. But for no more than just a few days!

(Photo: Garden collaborator Andy, getting the last drops from a rain barrel)

Sunday, June 7, 2009


We've been here before. We've pulled up sod, planted shrubs, flowers, groundcover and herbs, and delineated beds with stones. And now we're doing it all over again. Same places, new growth. We have new holly, ivy, hawthorne, nightshade and morning glory.

Here's what I want to know. Is it ever really manageable?

What we call our northwest corner is actually located in the southwest, but we planted it with northwest natives. And now in addition to the ferns, bleeding hearts, and cedar, we have excessive amounts of money plant, dandelion, grasses and various other "weeds." The grass is insatiable!

On the upside, it looks like we'll have some blueberries this year, and the raspberries are unstoppable. The peas, lettuces, kale, chard and mustard are getting bigger and better by the hour. We're all sharing the wealth. And fellow gardeners are helping with some of the overall yard maintenance. It's nice to have help.

I'm not sure how many days we've been without rain now, but I think it must be a May/June record for Seattle. The garden could use some. The rain barrels are about dry. Maybe we can all do a rain dance?

(Photo: just one of many overgrown sections of the yard - poppies, weeds, grass fronds... the list goes on)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Heat wave

Suffice to say I've been remiss about blogging. Away for just over a week, then coming home to back-to-back meetings and the heat that was completely missing in Georgia, I haven't had a minute... However, the weeds and grass haven't stopped growing, so each day I take a few minutes to pull a few more, attempting to slow the exponential growth that happened while we were away.

The good news is that the edibles are all coming along en masse, too. The mustard greens continue to amaze - the hot, peppery, spicy leaves resemble a horseradish flavor - and they'll clean your sinuses, too. Which isn't a bad thing with so little rain, and cottonwoods rampantly shedding their fiberous fluff.

I'll be back on track with regular posts soon, and will update all pictures. Maybe even a quick Savannah recap - we finally did meet a farmer! Hilton was his name, and he was there with his wife Robbie, selling their organic vegetables and eggs from the back of his truck at one market, an actual booth at the second. Sales were brisk as they were the only farmers present.

The heat is expected to continue - a little overcast this weekend, but not much cooler. Maybe enough to hold the weeds at bay 'til I can catch up!