A Midsummer Day’s Dream

raised garden bed

Alicia seeds a garden box with carrot seeds before planting other vegetables in-between the rows.

By Ian Denchasy

After a very successful spring and summer planting season, it was time to revisit the “farm” in Our Urban Farm, cleaning out our various planter boxes, moving them to maximum exposure spots throughout our property, and finally dealing with the old backyard lawn we had allowed to die off over the past few months. It was a hard weekend worth of effort, but there’s just something magical about putting in a solid few hours of manual labor that will eventually pay in vegetable currency.

A fraction of what our garden has produced over the last 3-4 months.

A fraction of what our garden has produced over the last 3-4 months.

Lest we trumpet ourselves knowledgeable growers, the truth is that we have no idea what we’re doing beyond going by gut feelings, a few gardening websites, and YouTube videos. Oh, and our local middle and high schools, who have fabulous gardening programs and resources to spare, but more on them later in this post. As such, we managed to harvest enough squash (four varieties), tomatoes (four varieties), artichokes, peppers (three varieties), chard, kale, lettuce, beans, eggs, and peas to keep us well fed from April through end of July, as well as give away a sizeable amount to friends and neighbors. Nothing says community quite like a basket of fresh vegetables and eggs and keeping in the spirit of tapping local resources, most of our early season plantings came (for free) via Mark Twain Middle School’s learning garden, located across the street from our home. We certainly had a few failures; our bell peppers never took off and we probably could have positioned the garden boxes in the front of our property more optimally for sun exposure, but all in all we’ll take those minor setbacks given the bounty we did squeeze out of our tiny LA parcel of land.

WIN_20140306_123925So, with gloves on and green waste bin in tow, we removed almost all of the exhausted plants, throwing what was salvageable in with our three plucky hens, who seem to vaporize just about anything we toss in their run. The kale stalks, which were quite thick, were reduced to, well, nothing within a mere 30 minutes, while everything else was stripped clean of edible matter and given to our birds for similar disposal. We feel feeding them as much of our own grown vegetables contributes to better tasting, healthier eggs, though it may just be perception on our part. The point is that we try to waste as little as possible on Our Urban Farm, so even weeds end up as tasty treats for Extra Crispy, Original, and McNugget. Since I’m on the subject of our chickens, they are in full egg laying mode, cranking out one egg per chicken per day non-stop, and we are considering adding two more to our collection to increase the output to five per day. Both Alicia and I still shake our heads in disbelief at how easy raising chickens has been (and continues to be) and wonder why everyone with a little backyard space doesn’t follow suit.

Yard, pre-mulching.

Yard, pre-mulching.

Once all the boxes were cleared, we replenished them using our straw/hay method that’s been so successful in past seasons, tilling the current, decomposed soil and simply adding another layer (minus the cardboard) of alfalfa, straw, blood meal, bone meal, and a thin top layer of garden soil. This time around, we had a pile of chicken compost dug out from our chicken pen, so we mixed some in to supercharge the dirt before adding it over the straw. Finally, seedlings and seeds were planted, making careful note to avoid placing the same types of vegetables in their former spots. From what we’ve read, crops should be rotated with every cycle, so tomatoes shouldn’t be planted where a tomato plant existed before, for example.

New corn sprouts ready to take flight.

New corn sprouts ready to take flight.

With the sun now moving back toward it’s southern position as summer marches into its latter stage, our back corner has begun to see enough sunlight to warrant planting. Home Depot had some corn sprouts on sale, so we stuck them against our fence, augmenting them with a few left over pepper plants we had sitting in plastic starter trays. There’s still plenty of space left after popping all the corn in, so we’re contemplating a grape vine and maybe even a marijuana plant or two for Mom and treatment of Alicia’s scratching allergies.

The last step was to cover up the old lawn, which by now had mostly died due to lack of watering and was downright ugly to look at. For this, we utilized our local high school (Venice High), which gives away compost and mulch for free to anyone who wants to pull in with a shovel. We filled up the back of our little pickup truck with as much mulch as she’d hold and unloaded it one wheelbarrow at a time, spreading it across the open pathways and covering the dead grass and weeds to a depth of about two inches. If weeds manage to poke their way through, we’ll easily see them against the brown mulch and keep them under control with a natural spray mixture of water and vinegar (no salt!).

Post mulching.

Post mulching.

We came up just a tiny bit short on mulch, unfortunately, but we’ll head back during the week for another truckload to finish up; still, even lacking entire coverage the yard looks much better. Sitting on our master bedroom steps and gazing out on our efforts gives a sense of satisfaction few endeavors can replicate, not to mention the wonderful sounds of our chickens echoing throughout the property. Our next post concerning our garden will undoubtedly showcase a fresh bushel or two of produce, taking a midsummer day’s dream from our imaginations to our digestive systems – and perhaps yours.

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