Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Urban Gardeners

This is our small urban garden. Even though we are on the third floor, we are the only non-commercial residents in the building so we get access to the small rectangle of dirt in our "backyard". We get to our spot of green by climbing down the fire escape. It's a beautiful, warm inviting spot of about 200 square feet with a palm tree on one end.

We (I) decided we should turn the patch of oxalis "out back" into a garden in early April. I guess that's when the gardening bug hits for someone from Idaho. What I have learned since then is that people start their gardens in March here in San Francisco! Who Knew?! The only thing my inner clock inspires me to do in March is build another fire in the fireplace.

The really amazing thing for me about the garden space is that it sat fallow for six years. Nothing was done with it. The only thing that grew there was oxalis season after season. A very clean plot of dirt for a city gardener! I would even venture to say "organic".

Mr. Green agreed to the garden - a bit reluctantly - and the fun began. We did some internet research to find out about getting rid of the oxalis. What we found out was it's almost impossible to get rid of. In order to really make it go away you have to dig down twelve inches and sift the dirt, throwing away all the bulbs. Then you have to weed it consistently, never letting even one plant bloom. After five years, it will be gone. Yes, I said five years.

Undeterred, we pressed on. The next weekend just happened to be sunny and beautiful. We borrowed a shovel from our neighbor and descended the fire escape. It really didn't take very long to get the almost solid green matt of plant matter off the top of the soil. I only wish I would have taken a picture before we removed it! In the shot below you can see some of it piled on the patio. Needless to say, there was a lot.

The shot above is during the sifting process. We went to Home Depot and bought a piece of screen. The ingenious Mr. Green cut the bottom off an old trash can and made a huge sifter with the help of some scissors and duct tape. Sifting consisted of one of us shoveling three shovels of dirt onto the screen and the other rocking the can back and forth until all the dirt sifted through, leaving a ridiculous amount of oxalis bulbs to remove. We worked two or three inches of forest mulch into the top six inches of soil as we went. The forest mulch bags made great containers for the bulbs and they, and all the plant matter, got hauled to the compost pile at the dump the next weekend.

It took an entire weekend and two evenings just to sift the dirt. Quite the arm workout. We came in each evening covered in a fine coat of dust with streaks of mud on our arms and faces and barely able to lift our arms. And yet, I have to say that it was much easier than it would have been with the soil I'm used to in Idaho. The Outer Sunset soil has a lot of sand - because it used to be a sand dune - and was very easy to sift - no clay, no clods. We did find some construction debris. Hunks of cement, pieces of tile, nails, etc. We managed to get the whole thing sifted, mulched, organized into rows and planted in two weekends plus three

During the process Mr. Green fell in love with, and took total ownership of, the garden. I came home from work on the Monday after we planted and he said we were going to have to do something about the cat. He caught her digging and chased her out. Seems she thought we were creating a huge sandbox just for her. By Tuesday evening, after online research by Mr. Green, we were the proud owners of a "ScareCrow" (see top picture). This amazing, and odd looking, device was just what we needed. Hooked to the hose, and set in the front edge of the garden, it watches. If something enters its line of site and triggers its infrared eye, the rainbird attached to the top sprays back and forth really fast three times. Scared the crap out of me! To see a description click here: ScareCrow. Mr. Green bought ours at Orchard Supply Hardware OSH which I hear is a pretty cool store. I've only forgotten to turn it off twice. . . and yes, I got wet both times.

The cat only got wet once. It was in the middle of the night and she promptly came in and hopped up on the bed to let us know. She steers clear of the whole space now. She goes down with us and hangs out while we are weeding or walks the fence line and sits looking down at us, but she doesn't get near the dirt. Smart cat.

Below is the progression from sifting to organizing to planting.

We planted all organic plants and seeds, mostly from Sloats Garden Center Click Here. They are a bit pricey, but just down the street. We made the rows so it would be easy to weed, planted every other one. We were expecting A Lot of oxalis. We covered the "walking rows" with some brown paper on a roll (very similar to grocery sacks) that Mr. Green had.

Then we waited. This was not easy for Mr. Green. Being a new gardener he wanted everything to come up right now. The first week he commented that he certainly understood why people bought plants instead of planting seeds. . . for the instant reward of seeing green in the dirt!

With a couple of rounds of weeding and Mr. Green's TLC the garden has flourished over time and we now have tomatoes in bloom (Everyone says we won't get tomatoes, but I'm holding out for enough sun in July!), 3 types of beans in bloom (these little buggers were supposed to be bush beans, but they are All Over the place.), beets that are about an inch and a half in diameter (I've never planted beets before and can't wait to EAT them), scallions almost ready to eat (also a new plant for me) and four different kinds of peppers in bloom (these guys seem small to me, but, hey they are blooming), cucumbers (also a bit small) and a pathetic stand of carrots. I've never had great success with carrots. My dad could grow them like crazy and used to give me a couple big bags each fall (out of sympathy, I think). OH, and Squash! Looks like the plant from Little Shop of Horrors!

So far we have picked three batches of spinach, which grows really really well here. Delicious! We've had salad & also steamed a bunch. I'll pick the last batch off these plants on the weekend and then start over with fresh seed. Mr. Green has also enjoyed a pile of radishes & already replanted them. I'm not a huge radish fan. He loves them. The second batch of the season is coming along well.

The best part of the garden is coming home from work, pouring a glass of wine, sitting on the 2nd story balcony in the late afternoon sun and chatting while we watch it grow. I realize, just now, that this is what my parents used to do when my dad would get home from work in the summer. Only they were looking out at 80 acres of farmland. I used to join them. We are creatures of habit, aren't we? Makes me smile.

I'm so looking forward to the larger produce!

I love touching the dirt. If you have a spot of land, plant a garden. It's a great way to get your earth fix.

Oh, and the Oxalis? Literally haven't seen more than one or two plants while weeding. Guess that whole sifting thing was worth all the effort!

1 comment:

  1. So happy to have discovered your blog! I'm adding it to my follow list. You have a wonderful story-telling manner, and I couldn't stop reading to the end of each post on this page. Particularly loved this one, showing us how you planted your garden. I look forward to much, much more.