Category Archives: Kitchen Garden

The Monastery Garden Update

BEFORE:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInstitutional plantings of agapanthus, spider condos (aka mock orange?), and some wan heather (or whatever those wan plants are that you can’t see in this picture).

AFTER:

the new front yardMatching tiered raised beds on either side of the front walkway with an Elephant Heart plum in the center on one side and a Frost peach in the center on the other side.

cleaned upFirst we had to strip out the agapanthus – a job that will never be completely done because this plant was designed by the devil – and then we removed the creeping amorphous shrubs that all the neighborhood spiders were using as their hatchery.

P1000988Then we got one of the neighbors to come dig up the beautiful weeping cherry that produces no cherries.  This was a sacrifice on my mom’s part.  I swear I didn’t force her to agree to let me put a fruiting tree in its place.

IMG_20140317_173816Then I began measuring and cutting the lumber for the beds.  Remember that I already designed the beds this winter?

P1000991I built the beds.  It took me about a week to build all the beds.  Philip leveled them in the ground and filled them with soil.

P1010002If you want to meet your neighbors in Santa Rosa all you have to do is work on a garden project all week.  Absolutely everyone will introduce themselves to you.  I love it!  You could work on a garden project for a year in McMinnville and no one will EVER talk to you or introduce themselves.  Ask me how I know.

IMG_20140319_192606Everyone in the neighborhood (so far) LOVES the raised bed design!  (They’ve all told me so and have been commenting on the progress excitedly for two weeks now).

view from porchI wanted the beds to be matching on either side of the path to give the walkway a sense of symmetry and formality.

the new front yardThis week I will be planting the beds out with most of the herbs they’ll have in them for this year.  The vegetables will go in next week.  Next year I will add more medicinal herbs to the beds as we’ll be building vegetable beds at the end of the driveway.

I’d be out there planting right now but I woke up too late and it’s already HOT out and I wouldn’t be able to water anything I planted without giving them major sunburn.  Next week I should have more to show you in these beds.

A New Monastery Garden

garden book biasOne of the worst things that happened in 2013 was my mom’s sister deciding she had to sell this house which would have meant we’d have to move.  One of the best things that happened this year was that our good friend bought her out and now owns half of it with my mom.  I can finally plan a garden here.  So on New Year’s Eve I pulled out all of my garden books for inspiration and took pictures of the front yard.  Then I measured the dimensions and graphed it out.

My garden bias is totally obvious.  It’s all about the herbs, the vegetables, and the – oh – I didn’t pull my rose books out but it’s also all about the roses.

useless shrubThis is what our front yard looked like on the last day of the year.  Remember when I took out the other spider condo?  There has been some major spider trafficking going on in the remaining one.  Check it out:

P1000435This is just a small sample of the vast collection of spider egg sacks in the undergrowth of this most useless bush.  But back to the before pictures.  There was still one more agapanthus clump on this side of the front garden.  It fell to Philip to destroy it.

view from drivewayLook at it just sitting there mocking us.  It knows, and we know, that that appearance of winter weakness is a sham.  Just a little rain and this thing will get BIGGER.  So yesterday, on the first day of the year, we set to work.

cleaned upAnd cleared that damn space!  I even swept the sidewalk.  Now we have to figure out what to do with all the stuff we pulled out.  Yard waste filled up very fast and there’s still such a big pile that Philip can’t get the car out of the driveway.  I feel so relieved to see those awful institutional plants eradicated.  Once they were gone I made a wonderful realization.  Remember the monastery garden I built at my last house?  Here, have a look:

monastery garden blue chairAnd from my office:

view from officeIt turns out that I can recreate this garden in my new one on a slightly smaller scale.  I can only allow 2′ for pathways which means no wheelbarrows.  But once these beds are filled up there won’t be any need for that.  Some of the beds will have to be smaller but I can totally do it.

graphed planThat weeping cherry tree will be getting removed once we can find someone to give it to who will dig it up.  I am so excited I’ve been spazzing out all day about it.  So, it’s time I get off the computer and do some other yard work.  Philip is going to go tackle the agapanthus on the other side of the walkway.

 

Garden Update: one agapanthus down and tomatoes in!

symetrical pathMuch progress has been made on the front garden.  First of all – those red flowers are ones that Max picked out for me on a trip to Harmony Farms with his Aunt Tara.  I put them in the walk so everyone can see them as they walk up the path.  Those two containers have bay laurels in them.  It’s considered (by pagans and maybe ancient Romans) good luck to plant bay laurel at the entrance to your house.  It keeps bad luck and witches from coming in.

I honestly don’t think it’s working that well.  But I still like the way it looks and the bay is great in soup.

another view of spider condoLet’s revisit the before.  Spider condo, aggressively evil agapanthus, lots of pea gravel in the soil.

kind of winningSpider condo went first, then I started hacking away at the evil.  In the end it was hurting my feet (I have very delicate flowers for feet) and after I got 2/3 the way through that clump I had to get Philip to finish it off.

agapanthus is my bitchAhhhh!  Look how much room there is for good stuff.  I do have plans to get rid of that other sprawling bush.  But not right this minute.

new garden canvasFirst I needed to get some fresh soil.  We really could use a couple of yards of soil but we aren’t committing to such purchases until the house situation is resolved.  So I just spread a few bags of soil.  It will have to do for now.

new soil and tomatoesNext up I planted Max’s flowers, situated the bay laurels for maximum dramatic and witch-deterring effect, and planted my tomatoes.  I can’t tell you how tempted I am to stuff a few more in there.  I have a tendency to cram things tightly in my garden.  I’m resisting the urge pretty fiercely.

the path to happinessUp close shot of the pretty Max flowers.

More Max flowersSome more of them.  That little bunch of daisies were also chosen by Max for me.

Max picksCause you know you want to be flogged with pictures of flowers my son chose for me.  Next up I have to plant more flowers.  I have rudbeckia, red valerian, echinacea, two different penstemon plants, chard, sage, chives, and lettuce.

Hopefully I’ll find the time to get all that in soon.  I can’t wait to see this space fill out.  Oh – the bare patch near the lion is still in need of much digging – the agapanthus roots are thick in there.  My poor feet are finally recovering from their many ridiculous problems so I’m hesitant to get out there and abuse them some more.  One thought I had was to cover the area with thick cardboard and then top with dirt but then it will make planting more difficult unless done with seeds only.

What are you doing in your gardens right now?

Agapanthus is the Devil

another view of spider condoThis is 1/2 of our front yard.  The other half is essentially the same.  Small, square, dirt full of pea gravel, and filled with vigorous agapanthus and an unknown sprawling shrub that collects spiders.  I want vegetables and flowers like calendula, coreopsis, black eyed susans, grandmother’s pin cushion, marigolds, roses, and zinnias.

bare spot for vegThat bare spot used to have the other half of that clump of agapanthus in it.  Philip has not removed the rest of it as I requested him to do because it traumatized him.  So I planned to fill in the crappy soil with some fresh better soil and plant a couple of vegetables.

before with spider condo

But I’m greedy for space and this spider condo was on my hitlist.  I felt sure it wouldn’t be as hard to remove as the agapanthus.  At least I could grow more than one tomato if I removed it.  I hate shrubs like this.  They’re what you plant when you don’t want to actually garden.  They’re what you plant if you’re studying arachnids and need to provide the ideal environment to lure them with.spider condo demolitionI was right.  The shrub was just a great sprawling thing that was mostly dead and brittle underneath the top layer.  Its removal revealed a startling sight.

pure evilAbout half of the agapanthus clump behind it isn’t even growing into the ground.  It’s packed into itself in a crazy-ass impenetrable tangle of root and fiber and I got blood thirsty.

I will winI thought that not having to dig them out of the actual ground would make them easier to remove – I was terribly terribly wrong.  By the way, all the time I worked on chopping up the spider condo yesterday it was in the 80′s and I sweated like mad and it was awful and gross.  This morning was no different.

cramped tough rootsThat mess is all growing above ground.  It’s thick.  It will most likely break my shovel handle.  I’m using Philip’s burly digging bar which helps but my long held suspicions about agapanthus have been proved true.evil rootsAgapanthus is the devil.

Would you look at that gnarly mean mass of shovel-breaking root?!  It’s living off of itself, people!  No wonder they always plant this in parking lots of malls and institutional buildings.  This is a corporate strength plant.  It will survive balls of fire and lightning bolts of blight.

I had to come inside to hide from the stupid heat.  You have to actually hate yourself to dig a cancer like this out of your yard in 85° heat.  I may be temporarily defeated but I now have my sights set on removing the entire mass instead of just half of it.  And I intend to make Philip remove the rest of his too.  Because on the other half of our front yard we have THREE MORE OF THESE ENORMOUS CLUMPS OF AGAPANTHUS.

december nasturtium

Garden Wish List for 2013

december nasturtium

My mind is turning towards my garden and all that I want to do with it and plant in it and the things I want to change in it.  At the moment I am struggling to make myself new clothes because suddenly everything I wear has holes in it or stains on it and I don’t have a lot of choice and I have decided that since I may be obese for life regardless of good healthy changes I make to my life – I am determined to stop being so drab.  Making clothes requires pattern work and lots of time.  I need to finish this before I get my hands into the yard – but while I’m sewing I keep trying to organize in my head all the things I want to grow.

We mostly have low maintenance shrubs and plants here.  A couple of things we do have that are awesome:

a lemon tree (not a Meyer I’m happy to say)

A white peach

a gardenia

a few roses

freely seeding salvia and alyssum

The trees and roses all need big help.  The peach has been in a barrel for years without the bottom cut out – so it need the bottom cut out as was done for the lemon so it can spread its roots.  It needs a little compost and fertilizer – as does the lemon.  Both produce fruit (I just had broccoli yesterday with lemon juice from our tree!) but need care.  The roses are in dire shape as they’ve been in the shade for years.  They are horribly spindly and thin – they all need to be moved up front to the strip of dirt in front of the porch and they’ll need rose food to help them along.  The wee gardenia has a bud but it is being crowded out by a really big hideous shrub-turned-tree that I am going to completely remove.

What I want:

Culinary herbs: rosemary, lots of thyme, Greek oregano, Mexican oregano, winter savory, French tarragon, dill, parsley, sage, and marjoram.  (I would add basil and cilantro but I’ve never done well with either)

Fruit: a yellow peach tree (or two, dwarf), an orange or tangerine (though orange might get too big), gooseberries, lingonberries, wild strawberries, currants, blueberries, kiwis, and Red Flame grapes.

Flowers (both annuals and perennials): penstemon, scabiosa, lavendar, rudbeckia, cosmos, nigella, bleeding heart, coreopsis, campion, dahlias, nasturtiums, and columbine.  Also hundreds more I can’t think of right now and probably don’t have room to grow.

Medicinals: calendula, comfrey, peppermint, feverfew, catnip, chamomile, and other things I can’t remember right now and need to look up.

Vegetables for this year:  cucumbers (fresh eating), lettuce, Swiss chard, tomatoes, green beans, summer squash.  Just the basics.  Even if I get a couple of raised beds going in the driveway I won’t have much room.  Perhaps snow peas too?  If so I should get those going soon I think.  That would be good for both salads and stir fries.

One last thing I want to grow in this garden if I can are mushrooms.  We have all that shaded area and a big oak – some mushrooms like oak trees.  I want some half rotted logs innoculated with spores to try and acclimate with plenty of mulch and obviously moisture when the season comes.  I must look into this.

So what’s on your garden wish list?

Sharon’s Mushrooms Unidentified

sharonmushrooms4

Sharon has some impressive mushrooms growing in her yard.  We wish someone could identify them for us.  It turns out I have the same mushrooms growing in mine.  Are they edible?  I don’t have time to research it right now.

sharonmushrooms7

Even if I did – I’m not sure I would feel comfortable trying to eat these without a mycologist’s identification.  I have read that in some places in France you can bring any mushrooms you find to the local pharmacy and a professional will pick out any inedible ones for you.  People love to forage mushrooms in France, this way fewer people die doing it.  Genius.

sharonmushrooms6

I wish we had that here.  There are people who lead educational mushroom foraging walks in Sonoma County.  I am going to try to find out who to talk to next year when these come back.  Maybe I can get an expert to pronounce on these.

sharonmushrooms3

I am posting an exhaustive number of pictures in order to help identify them later from my books.  Just as an exercise for my own mycological education.

sharonsmushrooms13 If those babies were edible you could make several meals out of that cluster!  And she has two of them in her yard!  No, wait, she has three.  Two big ones and one little one.

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Even if they don’t turn out to be edible, they are COOL.  I’d still like to know what they are.

sharonmushrooms2

I like fungi.  They’re fascinating.

sharonmushrooms9

And beautiful.

sharonmushrooms8

  I want to get some edible fungi growing in the dark dampish corners of my yard.  Make use of all that shade.sharonmushrooms12

I did see chanterelles growing in a really trashy yard down the street from me.  I didn’t know you could grow them in your yard.  From the looks of the house I’m guessing it was an accident of nature.  I’d like to reproduce that happy accident.

sharonmushrooms11

Right after Sharon showed me her mushroom riches I found an enormous clump of the same variety of mushroom growing in my own yard!

So this is something for me to work on some time before next year – trying to identify these beauties.  If you think you know what they are – please share!

Santa Rosa Gardens

I love this porch decoration.

This is next door to us.  Most of the houses on this street are either old or vintage (it’s an official historic district with signs and all).

I remember when this yard was lawn with some perennials.  Over the years more and more people have been getting rid of their lawns.  I don’t actually hate lawns – I mean I HATE having one myself because I loathe mowing and I think it’s a waste of space I could be using to grow food or flowers – but I think lawns are pretty, it’s just that I’m really bothered by the amount of water it takes to keep them up and how many chemicals people use to kill off the weeds in them and the unnaturally strong fertilizers used to feed them – both of which contaminate natural waterways.  So while I understand that having lawn is something many people enjoy – I can’t help but really enjoy seeing people rip them out to plant drought resistant plants or vegetables or flowers or trees.

I also remember this garden when it was just being planned and planted out many years ago.  It’s filled in beautifully.  The house that goes with it is also quite lovely and has had a lot of work done on it.

Really sweet front garden.

Mulching is really important in a dry warm climate.  This garden looks a little bare.  You have to be patient with gardens and let them fill in.  Sometimes you have to add more later to fill in gaps.

You know nothing makes me happier than to see people growing vegetables in their front yards.  Vegetables are beautiful and I object to the idea that they should be sequestered in the back like servants or the poor relations you wish no one knew about.  Now I sound like I think poorly of everyone who grows their vegetables in their back yards.  I don’t.  I promise.   Sometimes the back yard is the only good spot for them.  I just especially love to see them center stage.

You know I had to share the McMinnville style garden with you.  This is the view from my office and it makes me smile because it’s like the universe was making sure I wouldn’t forget my Oregon adventures and my antipathy* for miniature Japanese maples.

Well, I’m off to shower and make some more hamburger buns.  There aren’t any good ones on the market shelves.  I saw several with high fructose corn syrup in them.  Lordy lou – is nothing sacred?  Seriously, bread requires very little sweetener – just enough to feed the yeast beasts – there is no excuse in the world to be using HFCS in bread.  So.  Making my own buns.  I hope you have a wonderful Sunday!

*I don’t really hate them – I just got really tired of the formula for yards in Mac:

mostly lawn+ miniature Japanese maple+a sensible flowering bush+a tiny bed of annual flowers usually cut into the lawn (often in a kidney shape)=de rigueur.

And NO – not all gardens in Mac follow this formula – there are plenty of interesting and pretty gardens that are following their own stars – it’s just that there aren’t enough of them yet to distract me from the ubiquitous same-same.  Still, in the six years I lived in Mac I saw more and more gardens doing their own thing – so I think there’s lots of individuality to come.

artichokes from the garden

Artichoke Math: home grown versus store bought

I still hear people asking if it’s really worth it to grow your own food.  Usually what they mean is “Is it cheaper?”.  In our country this is how we evaluate nearly everything.  By its cost in dollars.  There are aspects of growing your own food that are difficult to quantify such as the benefit of choosing the variety of food you grow, knowing exactly what chemicals (if any) were used in their cultivation, and getting your food directly from the garden to the table in a matter of minutes or hours rather than days.

The cost of growing your food is much easier to quantify.  You can make it as expensive or as cheap as you want.  There will be a cost but you control how much you spend on garden tools and purchased compost and the seeds or plants themselves.  Depending on where you live you may have to pay close attention to how much you spend on watering your garden.  When I consider the cost of gardening I don’t include and then add in the cost of tools every time.  You don’t replace your garden tools every year (unless you’re fighting off zombies with them) so I think of it like this: gardening requires an initial investment of some things like wheelbarrows, shovels, trowels, and clippers.

The cost of water is highly variable so it will be different where you live than where I live.  Here in Oregon it’s a lot cheaper to water your garden than it is in California.  You don’t have to start watering regularly until at least a month later than you have to in California.  The water isn’t rationed here and we get so much of it falling during the spring that spring crops rarely need watering at all.  In the southwest water is more expensive and precious than it is even in California.  So there are places where this is definitely a bigger cost and concern for growing your own food.  I will counter this with the fact that there are a few ways to cut down on watering your vegetables (drip lines, heavy mulching, and under-planting come to mind).

If you’re gardening smart then you aren’t buying compost for your garden, you’re making it.  Fertilizers can also be made from things in the garden such as comfrey (you make a comfrey tea to pour on the plants).  Depending on where you live you can also get free horse/cow/goat manure from people who keep such animals.  This might be hard if you’re gardening in a large city but even most cities have farmland not far outside of it where such things as free manure can be found.  When I set up a garden initially I do buy a large quantity of compost because I always do raised beds and I have to buy soil to fill them with.  After that I don’t buy compost and I rarely buy fertilizers or pest control products either.  So my yearly garden expenses aren’t very high once I’ve set my garden up.

I’m mentioning all of that because I want to acknowledge that there are a lot of costs to consider when gardening but most people with gardens are already spending all that money whether they’re growing vegetables or not.  So it seems silly to me to quibble over those costs because the person who is gardening but not growing any of their own food is spending the same amount I am (probably more if they have any lawn) but they also have to buy more food than I do.  So what if you were watering an artichoke plant where some lawn used to be?  Or where a rhododendron used to be?  How much would it save you to grow some artichokes of your own?

Here’s some artichoke math I was doing just yesterday:

I have 5 artichoke plants that I paid about $2.50 each for.  This year I picked and ate 24 artichokes of varying size from those 5 plants.  That means that each artichoke cost me .52 cents.

I saw some globe artichokes on sale at the store yesterday for $2.69 each.  I recall that last month they cost $3.69 each.

24 home grown artichokes cost a total of $12.50

24 store bought artichokes on sale cost a total of $64.56

Even when you consider that my home grown artichokes were much smaller than those enormous ones at the store – the math still works out in favor of home grown.  The truth is, I didn’t buy those artichoke plants this year.  I planted them last year and they did yield artichokes but I didn’t count them and I didn’t eat them because I was not paying attention to my garden enough and they flowered before I could pick them.  The plants died down and then they came back this spring.  And just for the record – I didn’t water them once.  So this year I actually paid nothing for those 24 artichokes.

One other thing to note is that size is NOT superior when it comes to artichokes.  It turns out that those small artichokes – the baby ones – they haven’t matured enough to develop the inedible choke yet – which means that more of the leaves are edible and tender.  I’m telling you – they are wonderful!

I love artichoke math.

Why not plant some artichokes for yourself if you haven’t already?

An Apartment Garden in Portland

I love how more and more people are turning their yards into edible landscapes.  I especially love to see this happening on the grounds of apartment buildings.  When I lived in the JC neighborhood in Santa Rosa I had a neighbor who was a great inspiration to me – he rented a small apartment just down the street and had almost no yard space but not to be discouraged he turned the sidewalk curb strip into a miniature garden in which he grew garlic and greens and tomatoes.  In his small place he was busying brewing wine and making cheese.

It’s so easy to be defeatist and assume that if you can’t grow lots of food or make lots of your own preserves that you shouldn’t bother growing or preserving anything.  My neighbor taught me that the important thing is to be doing whatever you can for yourself, that growing your own food, even if it’s a few heads of garlic and some salad greens, is an act of freedom and of self sufficiency.  It’s about keeping your connection strong between yourself and the soil that nourishes you.  It’s a little bit like a prayer or a meditation and it’s a lot like feeding yourself the highest quality nourishment you can even on a micro-scale.  Learning how to grow things and preserve food is tapping into knowledge that is at the core of the success of human beings as a species.

In a more pessimistic view it’s also what’s allowed us to overpopulate the earth and conquer nations and fight wars.  Growing things allowed humans to settle down and stay put through the seasons.  Agriculture allowed us to stop roaming.  The evolution of food preservation is what allowed humans to cross oceans and to cross masses of land to attack other people.  Without drying and salting foods armies couldn’t go far.  So in a weird way, while I’m eulogizing the wonderfulness of growing and preserving foods I’m also celebrating what has made humans the most terrible virus on earth.

Still, those humans who know how to grow their own food and how to preserve it for later use have truly valuable knowledge and in times of war or natural disasters this kind of knowledge gives you better chances of survival.  Plus, everyone will want to be friends with the person who knows how to make alcohol from apples and who can make sources of protein rise from the ground in plant form when there’s no meat to be had.  The person who knows how to pull wild yeast from the air and mix it with flour to make bread is like a magician when there is no bread and no packaged yeast in the stores.

I am happy every time I see evidence of humans getting into the soil to grow their own food.  City gardens are hopeful and resourceful.  I always stop to enjoy them whenever I see them.  This garden has some really big beets that are ready to pick.

It’s time for some lemony beet salad!

Blackberry Wrangling Progress

I’ve been working hard and looking like I tame lions for a living.  I have some thorns still stuck in my skin.  But it’s totally worth it and all the hours I’ve put into clearing the blackberries have been very meditative.  I’ve been meditating quite a bit about the evil neighbors who killed these brambles with pesticides without my permission.  Bastards.

I’ve also been meditating on cleaner and brighter thoughts too, such as how good it feels to be out there working in the plants and the fresh winter air.  Meditation for me isn’t about clearing my head of all thoughts, because that is impossible (I’ve tried many times), but about letting my thoughts come to me organically and letting them say their piece without interruptions.  I let the stream of consciousness be heard as it is formed.  Inevitably my mind settles down after a while into a theme and a flood of thoughts about something my mind has been chewing on gets released.  I always feel better afterwards.

I’m about a third of the way though the task.

Wait, no, more like a quarter.

Crap, maybe only like an eighth.  But who cares?  You can see part of the back fence again!