Saturday, March 29, 2008

A pile of dung!

My intention for this weekend was to level out the soil, mark out some beds, build a compost area out of chicken wire, and maybe, just maybe, sow some rocket (aka arugula).

Well, that whole plan turned into a pile of dung. Literally. After helping out at the Portsmouth Neighbourhood Clean-up event round the corner, I went round to the garden. I knew something was in the air when I arrived. A big heap of horse manure sat in the entrance to the community garden.
I phoned the garden manager to ask who it belonged to. She thought that probably the city had dropped it off. Very nice of them. Were they listening to me???

On closer inspection, it turned out that it was semi-composted. Too fresh to pile onto plants (it was still steaming a little bit and it definitely smelled of manure) but not that wet either. I decided that it probably would be good as a top dressing right now, to be forked in a little bit later.

I spread it on about 1/2 inch thick all over the plot, piling it on a bit more in the area where I want to grow winter squash and strawberries. Managed also to pull more weeds out as I went along.

Of course that meant that I couldn't do any beds or sow anything (in any case, I was getting tired and hungry). The last few days of snow, hail, rain and sunshine mean that April is round the corner and things should be picking up. Maybe I'll actually get some gardening done soon instead of just digging and dealing with shit...

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Managed to take opportunity of a rare break in the weather to gig in some fertiliser (organic garden vegetable fertiliser from Howard Johnsons, makers of Zoom! - not sure about the quality but can't fault the attractive packaging - and I got it half-price). Hopefully it does something and I still have plenty to do side-dressings.

I have been wondering about the space I have to grow stuff, given the list I prepared earlier. Since I am an organised type I drew a plan of the plot.

Some factors that influenced my decisions to place things:
  • Winter squash are in the area where I suspect someone before me had a compost area. Should be fertilised enough for it to do well.
  • Beans are grown along a trellis on the side. May have to change that if I get a neighbour on the plot next to me. Thought first about growing them along the fence but garden manager warned me of the projectile qualities of the big stakes that may prove too tempting for neighbourhood kids. May have the trellis in the middle and use it as shading for more delicate plants that may otherwise be roasting over the summer.
  • Strawberries are also far, far away from tempted passers-by.
  • I initially forgot about the compost bin. It's in the exact location where I've been stacking piles of ripped-out weeds.
On other news, I finally met the garden manager. She seems nice and fired up by the job. Apparently, 5 people have volunteered to be Produce for People coordinator this year (!). I'll be playing back-up in case the "official" one can't do a week. Just by chatting we also organised a garden clean-up combined with a seed exchange.

On yet still other news, I seem to winning out over the weeds. Possibly.

Next week: Probably laying out of beds, getting rid of more weeks, sowing rocket (aka arugula) and building a proper compost area with stakes and chicken wire.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Some statistics

In absence of any real work and the presence of rain, here are some stats about the garden plot.
Hopefully digging in some fertilizer next week, and getting rid of some more of the weeds.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Thinking of actually growing stuff

I am mainly going to use the Territorial Seed Company, which is based in Oregon. This appeals to me because a) the plants are local to the climate and therefore may do well in Portland and b) I can walk over to a small nursery that stocks the seeds. I also still have a few old seed packets lurking around, which I am going to try, and I have some strawberry plants from last year in pots. For the rest, I am going to use bought seedlings. All my tomato plants I've ever grown from seed turned out to be weedy and thin and straggly. It is very good to know your limits.

Here is my partial list of what I would like to grow:

  • Green beans - pole variety (having found out that it is probably too hot here for runner beans...). I still have 'Kentucky Wonder' and some unidentified beans from the seed exchange at Earth Day.
  • Peppers - hot and bell. I'm going to buy plants so will need to see what is available.
  • Tomatoes - preferably heirloom. I will buy plants. I may have some grape tomatoes on my porch, too.
  • Zucchini/summer squash/aka courgettes. I like the look of 'Romulus PM' or 'Sungreen' in the seed catalogue. I never liked the yellow ones enough to grow a whole lot of them.
  • Patty pan squash. The 'Flying Saucers' in the seed catalogue look wonderful. I've never grown them before but I may really enjoy eating them.
  • Winter squash. There is so much choice, especially if pumpkins are also considered. I have to say that I prefer squash in terms of taste. 'Marina di Chioggia' looks very weird but strangely I'm very attracted to it.
  • Collards. I love green leafy vegetables. I also like cabbage. I'll probably try 'Flash'.
  • Roquette/arugula. We can eat buckets of that stuff. Doesn't matter what variety.
I'm also considering cucumber, broccoli and corn. Maybe I should also plant some carrots for the guinea pigs. Hopefully my patch is as big as I think it is...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

An emerging obsession with poo

I admit I'm obsessed with poo. It started with envious thoughts of the much-mulched plot. Well-rotted horse poo apparently, by the truckload. I am unfortunately light of a truck and therefore also of poo.

Trying to be as organic as possible, I decided against inorganic fertilizer, although it does handily fit into the back of an average-sized car.

What of bagged compost? A quick cursory glance around the Internet shows that mushroom compost seems to be the most available in hardware stores. This is actually the straw after mushrooms have been grown on it. Opinions seem to vary as to its benefit, a nutritional breakdown I found suggests that it contains around 2-0.5-2 (that's the breakdown of the main plant nutrients: nitrogen for leaves, phosphate for roots and potash for seeds). Some gardeners do not recommend it since usually it does contain some pesticides and it may make your soil more alkaline .

Fresh farmyard manure is of course still an option but in smaller quantities. I used to use chicken manure in my previous garden and although it stinks to high heaven I was impressed with its fertilizing qualities and the fact that it came in a manageable tub.

The search for fertilizer led me to a recent local craigslist post:
"All the goat poo you can use, and then some. Come out this weekend and fill up anything you want with goat poo. There is plenty - we can clean out the stalls if we need to to fill your vehicle."
I was nearly hooked.

Rabbit manure was something that I had never really considered before. Now I am viewing my guinea pigs through new eyes, wondering if they could fulfill my need for their poo more quickly. It would certainly solve the problem of what to do with their spent litter. (Which brings me on to compost bins, as in, I need one).

Of course, there is always blood meal, bone meal, and fish meal. Three guesses what is in them... Yes, lots of nitrogen (in blood and fish meal) and phosphate (in bone meal). Unfortunately, not much potash and it requires mixing the right quantities together. Of course, seaweed and wood ash are main potash sources, so all I have to do is go to the beach and start a barbecue...

Anyway, part of this weekend will be spent sourcing fertilizer, so watch out much-mulched plot!

Monday, March 3, 2008

First impression, Part 2

Sunday afternoon went on and I still feel the after-effects today. All will become clear in a minute...

I started digging. The shed contains some tools but woefully is missing a good hoe or a spade. The garden claw was useless. I chose a sturdy garden fork to lift up the weeds and then turn them roots-up, in the hope that next time I come round they will have died off a little bit and I can rake them together. Here's hoping.

It was tough work, bringing on profuse perspiration. I also had to fight jeans that kept sliding down, a shirt that was riding up and the thoughtlessness of not bringing any water. Or gloves. Blisters came and went.

Another gardenmate appeared, the one with the much-mulched patch. Bringing edging stones. Showing me the correct usage of the gate lock. Telling me about the kids who sneak in and steal vegetables. Noting that she had asked for my plot to be given out last so they could build a wormery on it, if it hadn't been allocated.

After a couple of hours, this was the result of digging:

The weeds were mainly chickweed and grass, with a few dandelions mixed in for good measure. The soil is not too clayey, as far as I could tell, with surprisingly few stones. One corner of the plot must have had a compost bin on it previously - the weeds were just doing too great and the soil had a nice, almost black look to it.

Thirty minutes' ride back on the bike. I was covered in dirt, I couldn't even wash my hands because the standpipes are still off. My legs ached. I craved something to drink. The cold beer at home was excellent. I love my plot.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

First impressions, Part 1

Today was the first day I met my plot. It was gorgeous weather, I had just cycled there for 30 minutes. Nerves were running high: would I like it? Would it like me?

I never knew that surburbia is so close in Portland. Rows of brightly-painted, lawn-manicured, exactly-aligned houses. Weird. A basketball court, full of teenagers trying to break the concentration of their opposition by bad-mouthing them. Cute in a weird way.

The community garden is surrounded by fence and artsy gates, both in bright steel. Looks pristine. As I ride up, someone is getting ready to leave and eyes me suspiciously. An older man and what I assume is his daughter. The lock combination is the secret passcode, the magical 'open sesame'. I feel that the lock code is quite a responsibility for a young whippersnapper like me.

And then there it is - the plot.

Older man points out the envy of the garden, much mulched (and not his). Seem to be nice people. As he sees my obvious despair at the amount of weeds he suggests that there are tools in the shed if I want to get started.

I start digging...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Putting the community into gardening

Part of the "contract" for keeping a community garden plot is, obviously, to keep it maintained and living peacefully alongside other gardeners. Another stipulation is that at least 6 hours per year have to be spent on helping with work parties, garden projects or related events. I guess that is the community part of the community garden.

There is a list of projects for which you can volunteer as the registration form is completed. For example, you can help out in the office during the day, help with city-wide projects or work in the own garden space to help out other gardeners. I finally decided to be a City Garden Fair and a Produce for People volunteer. Perhaps I should have done a bit of research into both before making my choices but in the giddiness of getting a community garden I forgot.

So let's do a bit of digging (great gardening metaphor!):
  • The City Garden Fair seems to be held at the Portland Farmers Market in September and involve some sort of growing competition. Actually sounds like quite a lot of fun and not so much like volunteering! I could be wrong though....
  • Produce for People is more "worthy". Produce in your plot that exceeds your own needs (or your friends' needs - think zucchini gluts!) are collected and given to local food banks. A great way to get fresh vegetables to people who may not be able to afford them otherwise. There may also be some teaching component to help people to start growing some of their own food.
I really like the idea behind both projects, luckily. I will no doubt mention them again as I go on.