While I was complaining about the rain in April, other people were working on their urban farms. Here’s Zach and Clara’s first garden in this location plus the fence she built plus the chicken coop and chicken fence she built. (Life is more complicated if your urban farm includes cats and dogs instead of a pair of sensible urban goats.)
Being Clara, she painted stones to use as permanent row markers. I usually use the paper packet the seed came in, which dissolves into soggy nothingness at the first rain.
Other good jobs for April? Building a pea trellis from dead branches that will transform into a leafy green playhouse by June like Gus did. Helps if you have a three-year old to keep it occupied.
And for everyone who accepted a packet of Grandpa Admire’s organic, heirloom lettuce seeds, here’s what you have to look forward to. Thanks Anna! A May flower indeed.
“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain” (The Waste Land).
My favorite urban farmer from the Midwest, T.S. Eliot, truly understood the heartbreak of April. Seduced by a couple of hours of sunshine yesterday, Tom and I rushed to transplant our peppers, corn, tomatoes, and cukes from the greenhouse into the garden.
This morning it’s 50 degrees, and the plants are huddled near the dirt with their leaves wrapped around them like winter coats. Even the chickens (resilient Rhode Island Whites) are muddy and miserable.
Too late, I consulted “The Maritime Northwest Garden Guide” from Seattle Tilth (http://www.seattletilth.org) (thanks Gus!), which recommends taking three weeks in April to harden off tender plants from the greenhouse. Three weeks!
Again to quote T.S. Eliot, “Success is relative: It is what we can make of the mess we have made of things” (The Family Reunion). Well, I’ve made the mess. Check back in a month or so to see if I can wrest a successful garden from it, too.
Several years ago, Tom chopped down the tree that held Clara’s tree house (she wasn’t in it!) and repurposed it as a greenhouse. He put in insulated plexiglass where the windows and roof had been, insulated the interior with recycled foam, installed a recycled electric wall heater, hung lights in recycled fixtures, and put in a temperature-activated fan.
I painted it green.
Early this month, I turned on the heater and started seeds in homemade newspaper pots. Today I transplanted tomato and pepper seedlings (keeping the newspaper intact), and broccoli. Tomorrow I’m going to transplant cabbage and plant corn (yea!) and melons. One of his best ideas was to run a hose from the rain barrels on the side of the house into the greenhouse so I can water easily. (The orange barrel in the picture holds chicken scratch.)
I added a radio.
A beautiful, sunny day in Seattle, and Tom is “plowing” the large garden with his 45-year-old Rototiller. We grew soybeans in that garden last year, so we’ll put in corn this year.
Meanwhile, I found my Taylor Soil Testing Thermometer (http://www.amazon.com/Taylor-Soil-Testing-Thermometer-Degrees/dp/B0030JWAVA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1362787724&sr=8-3&keywords=soil+thermometer) and discovered the temperature of our dirt is only 41.2 degrees. Most seed packets suggest tying the planting date to either soil temperature or weeks before/after last frost. I discovered a cool website that gives last frost date based on zip code (http://www.davesgarden.com/guides/freeze-frost-dates/)
I started tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, and broccoli in the greenhouse in my hippy-dippy newspaper pots. Truly, life is good.
It’s easy to see why I love these five-year-olds. They are busy doing chores to earn quarters so their pre-K class can buy a goat through Heifer International to help other children go to school. Thanks Audrey and Ava for making this world better a better place. For more information, check out http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_15?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=beatrice%27s%20goat
If you ever wonder where the Amish and almost-Amish shop, here’s one answer: Lehman’s Catalog (the source of this beautiful, oil-burning Aladdin lamp). It is full of products for people who are looking for alternatives to electrical appliances, from grain mills to refrigerators (really!) to wood-burning stoves to wringer clothes washers. Four different washboards are available, including the “Mini-Glass,” which is the perfect size for washing delicate unmentionables in a standard pail. Straddling the electronic divide, Lehman’s also has an e-catalog available at https://www.lehmans.com/default.aspx Even if you aren’t going to give up your washing machine, you might be interested in browsing for poplar produce baskets or poison ivy relief soap. Have fun!
I am not the world’s best cook. As a matter of fact, I’m famous in our family for leaving out important ingredients (like the applesauce in applesauce cake). This bread recipe, however, is totally reliable. I’ve goofed up almost every part of the recipe, and it still turns out great. I found the original recipe in the Seattle Times. My version is:
Stir together: 6 c. flour, 1 tbls. salt, 1 tbls. yeast. Add: 1 3/4 c water (temperature doesn’t matter), 2 tbls. white vinegar, 1/4 c. beer (flat beer is okay). Mix with a wooden spoon (or bread hook) until dough looks shaggy. Cover and let sit overnight.
Divide dough in two, knead on floured surface 10-15 times. Put each ball on parchment paper, dust with flour, cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 2 hours. (It won’t get especially high.)
Put a heavy skillet in the oven and heat at 500 degrees (yes!) for at least 30 minutes. Make an X in one dough ball. Keeping the dough on the parchment paper, put in the hot skillet and cover. Turn the temperature down to 425 degrees. Bake 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake another 20-30 minutes.
Voila! Bring on the butter and jam.
Getting up at 5:00 a.m. to catch a plane (3:00 a.m. Seattle time) and I actually thought I was hallucinating when I walked into this kiosk. Hence flagging down a custodian as groggy as I to capture the moment. But it’s true. There is a garden inside O’Hare airport. Pictures and information at http://www.ohare.com/PDF/News/091611.pdf It is a aeroponic garden, which means growing the vegies on towers with timed watering and lights. Kind of cool. Not necessarily organic, but maybe if you had an unused bathroom you could devote to grown greens. Or hey–combine an aeroponic garden with baby chicks in the same bathroom. A complete ecosystem!
Or maybe not.
Tom dug these organic Yukon Gem potatoes from our garden yesterday after unusually cold weather for us (30′s). They were delicious as scalloped potatoes. My favorite local source of potatoes for planting is Irish Eyes Garden Seeds (www.irisheyesgardenseeds.com) from Ellensburg, Washington. They have a rigorous planting and inspection system in concert with the University of Idaho that ensures the tubers are disease and virus free. The hardest part of raising potatoes for my very thrifty husband is throwing away the volunteer plants that show up in the spring from potatoes we didn’t find when we harvested them. But the volunteers must go! Otherwise they foster blight and scab that infects not only the new crop of potatoes but tomatoes as well.
Tom and I live in a house that’s pretty standard for Seattle (at least for those Seattleites who did not buy Microsoft stock when it was $10 a share). Our house, built in 1924, has 3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, and about 2000 square feet. In November we decided to try living in a 650 square foot studio apartment inside our house. We added a door to close off the upstairs, moved this futon into the dining room, put a table in the living room, and we were set.
I love it! Our electricity and natural gas expenses are half of what they were last year. Housekeeping is a snap, and best of all, we know we can survive living with each other when it’s nursing home time.
Part of what inspired us was a discussion on Sightline about small houses in Vancouver, BC http://daily.sightline.org/2011/09/08/home-home-on-the-lane/ and part, I admit, is my own disinterest in dusting and vacuuming. Besides, after spending a month in a VW van this summer with my old husband and my old dog, 650 square feet feels like paradise.