Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Franklin Street Garden

This is the garden we have been working on for the past year. We also grow stuff on our porch and a second lot we have begun sharing with a few community members. I would love to be able to eventually grow enough vegetables and herbs for all year long and still have enough to share.

The garden lot from the street. It is a vacant lot between two occupied houses approximately 30' x 60'. We are growing towards the back of it.

The beds, before you get to the wild array of brambles, ivy and trees.

The beds, again.

Our newest and laziest bed. It is a sheet composted bed composed of layers of cardboard at the bottom and then alternating green and brown materials (weeds that I chop, composted leaves, etc). This method is written about in the book Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza. It is often recommended to build the bed all at once, alternating layers and wetting down each one with a hose. Since we don't have a reliable water source, I just wait til it rains hard and then add some more layers. I'm not sure what I will plant in it yet.

Beds with hoops for cold and insect protection. This year I ordered an Agribon-19 row cover which boasts 4 degrees of frost protection in the early spring and late fall to extend the growing time. I cover the hoops with the row cover and secure around the sides with rocks. Its warm enough to take the covers off but I replace them when I leave the garden because someone keeps nibbling in the night!

Red cabbage, butterhead lettuce and collards planted closely together. I use block planting, squeezing in more plants in less space. The plants shade the soil to conserve water and discourage weeds that would normally pop up between widely spaced rows. Here is an article in Mother Earth News about biointensive gardening, which uses little space for lots of crops.

This variety of butterhead lettuce is "Ermosa". I tried it for it's heat resistance and so far it is handling our warm spring like a champ. It is available from Johnny's Selected Seeds among other sources.

Our tiny raspberry patch courtesy of Yve and Marty last season. I have read raspberries are very prone to disease and to always buy certified disease-free stock. Well, so far so good with these non-certified guys.

The kale, freshly pillaged by some nibbler. Luckily they only hit a few plants. I put netting over it right after I took this photo.

Ramp o Rama in New York

Jason and I visited some friends Yve and Marty near Rochester, NY last weekend. We relaxed in the grass with their cats and were sent home with an amazing array of extra farm tools, perennial flowers, and ramps! Ramps are wild leeks that grow in damp, semi-shady woodland areas. They are beautiful plants with a delicate but pungent garlicky, grassy flavor. We transplanted some of the ramps to try and start our own patch since we haven't found any wild locally yet and of course we ate the rest!



I am stealing a bit of Marty's Thyme

Yve and Marty's barn

Picking daffodils with Yve

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fava Beans Enjoy the Cool Snap

Favas like it cool and can remain hardy to the low 20s. It has been such a warm spring that I think the fava beans are displeased. Ours are putting out their first flowers finally. The variety is Broad Windsor, an English heirloom from the 1800s. Like most other legumes, favas fix nitrogen in the soil, so I am using them to try and stretch the use of the old potting soil from last year. Nitrogen fixation happens because of little Rhizobia bacteria living within the plants' root systems. When the plant dies, the fixed nitrogen is released and made available to the next plant that grows there. Adding inoculants of these bacteria to the seed before planting can make your favas produce tons o' nitrogen. Make sure you select the correct inoculant since there are different ones for different plants. I'm going to chop up the plants after we harvest the beans and dig them into the potting soil. Green manure on a small container scale!

Wild Edibles Walk # 2

On Sunday, April 25, two friends and I went on a second walk with Melissa and David Sokulski of The Birch Center and Food Under Foot (see previous post for links). This time we were on the South Side under the Birmingham Bridge. Some things we saw...

MULBERRY TREE: The berries are edible and ripen around Father's Day. The unripe berries should not be eaten.


Melissa, David and their canine friend contemplate some pathside edibles.

JAPANESE KNOTWEED: The edible stalk is stringy and fiberous so peeling is definitely advisable.

COMMON MUGWORT: (Artimisia vulgaris) Appears to have many uses in herbal medicine, as an beer flavoring ingredient in the Middle Ages before the widespread use of hops, and as an inducer of more vivid dreams. It contains thujone which is toxic in large amounts and should be avoided by pregnant ladies. It is fragrant when crushed and since it is the second plant, along with burdock, that is absolutely overunning the lot we recently started gardening on, I can't wait to chop it all down and put it to use.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wild Edibles Walk

Jason and I went on a walk to identify edible plants in Frick Park here in Pittsburgh last Saturday, April 17. The walk was led by Melissa and David Sokulski of The Birch Center and Food Under Foot. They educate people on the potential of weeds and wild plants to provide food and medicine. A lot of wild plants are wicked good for you! We didn't pick the fiddleheads in the park and will wait til we find a patch that will be just fine if we harvest a few. However, things like wild mustard that are invasive can be ripped out wherever they pop up and the parks encourage people to do so. Just make sure you have identified it correctly first, and that goes for eating any of these guys of course! Here are just a few of the things we saw...

PLANTAIN (plantago major): broad leaf plantain is a common weed that inhabits yards alongside dandelions, clover, and other edible weeds. The leaf, root, and seeds can all be eaten and the crushed leaves can be used to alleviate pain from bites, stings, and sunburn.

ONION GRASS: oniony...use it like chives or scallions! Since it is in the family Liliaceae, and some lilys are poisonous, just make sure it smells oniony before you eat it.

VIOLET: Mild flowers and leaves, both edible and pretty in salads.

MAY APPLE: Plants are poisonous but the fruit are edible, if the deer don't get them first.

BURDOCK: We have an infestation of this stuff in one of the lots we are gardening in. The root is most commonly used...grated, pickled like kraut or cooked but the stalks are also edible and can be peeled like celery. Melissa did not recommend eating the leaves and said the roots are best dug on small, first year plants like the one pictured here.

GARLIC MUSTARD is an invasive plant that is everywhere in Pittsburgh right now. The parks encourage people to rip it out wherever they spot it. The leaves and roots are both edible and Food Under Foot lists a Garlic Mustard Horseradish recipe that uses the root. The leaves turn more bitter once the plant flowers but mellow out if you use some vinegar and fat when cooking.

FIDDLEHEADS are unfurled fronds of young ferns that are tender and delicious. This website includes some recipes on pickling extra fiddleheads since they are only available for a brief moment in early spring.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Salad Greens Window Box

This box is about 8" deep and contains a tiny bit each of red-veined sorrel, scallions, watercress, miner's lettuce, arugula, and mache. I sowed the seeds directly into the box quite close together. When you want to munch, you can pick leaf by leaf or cut the whole plants about 1/2" above the soil. Some will grow back in a few weeks for a second cutting or you can plant new seeds of quick growing greens like arugula and cress when you harvest them. It might only make for a few salads but they will be fresh and tasty any time of year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Building A Tomato Bed

Jason and our dog friend Cowgirl labor over a tomato bed. The soil in this lot is basically fill and rock a few inches down so the tomatoes will appreciate how deep their new bed is. The wood is tounge-and-groove floor boards that I found at Construction Junction, our local building material reuse center. The fact that they slide together gives the bed extra support. Awesome.