Tag Archives: gardening

Growing & harvesting potatoes

21 Oct

Last month I wrote about preparing our winter garden. At the time, I knew I would soon need to harvest potatoes, as the potato plant was beginning to yellow and die:

When most plants start yellowing in our garden, it’s very sad and I try to figure out how to save them. But when potato plants turn yellow, I get very excited and watch eagerly as the plants start to die. A couple of weekends ago, the plants looked terrible and were very close to being entirely dead. Since there was a break in the rain, I decided to harvest. Continue reading

Turning a shelving unit into planter boxers as we prepare our winter garden

21 Sep

Though I’ve found little time for blogging in the past month, I have found time to dedicate to at least one non-work, non-political activity – gardening.

I’ve been gardening for several years now. First at my wife’s parents house, in their huge back yard (we built many raised beds and a chicken coop – it was a huge undertaking). Then on our apartment’s balcony. And a year and a few months ago we moved our container garden to our new home, with much more space, and we added several larger containers.

But over all of those years, gardening was just another thing I did – something I enjoyed and that kept me busy and sometimes distracted. I can’t explain what happened to me this spring, but something changed and gardening is now a way of life for me. It’s integral to my daily, weekly, and monthly routines. Continue reading

Throw Down for the Town this Saturday

9 Aug

There’s been a lot of bad news in Oakland lately, and I know sometimes it’s easy to feel down about the City and to feel like there’s nothing you can do about it. But this Saturday, August 13th you can, at the Ella Baker Center’s Throw Down for the Town: The Oakland Service Festival.

The concept of this day is pretty awesome. Ella Baker Center put out a call for projects, and groups and individuals organized their own service projects as part of this day. That means that not only are there service projects spread out throughout the city – unless you live in the hills, chances are there’s a project a walk or a quick bus ride away from you – but there are many different types of projects you can participate in. You can beautify a park, set up a book room, garden, build with Habitat for Humanity (hmm, might you find another Oakland blogger there?), create a dog park, help with a community market, and so much more.

Here’s a map of all the locations: Continue reading

May showers bring June flowers in our garden

7 Jun

Last time I checked in here about our garden I was harvesting, but out of luck, not work. I had neglected our garden for months, yet it was still somehow producing. I promised myself at the time that I would spend more time in the garden, and I’m happy to report that I’ve kept up with this promise and my work has yielded some wonderful results.

A couple of months ago my wife and I planted a new round of crops – lots of lettuce, pole beans, onions and later on four beautiful tomato plants and a pepper plant. A week or so ago, we added more lettuce and two alpine strawberry plants. Continue reading

Harvest from my neglected garden

9 Feb

In October I shared photos (that were actually taken in September) that showed my garden at the height of its beauty and production. Shortly after that, my wife and I harvested the summer bounty of tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, radishes, and more. It was all totally delicious – I made the best salads I’ve ever had from the harvest.

I probably harvested again haphazardly at least once more before the end of the campaign season, and I think I recall planting some seeds – more radishes, carrots, and some mixed greens (kale, chard, collards, etc.). But then it was the end of campaign season, and after that we went on our honeymoon to Hawaii, and then it was Thanksgiving (the first we’d ever hosted at our home), and December flew by. Continue reading

Our new garden

14 Oct

Next to our amazing new (to us) home, is a large driveway. In the past, it was used to store cars, but luckily the wooden bridge over the creek that leads to the driveway has deteriorated enough over time that it’s no longer safe to drive cars over it into the driveway. Luckily, because we’ve found a much better use for the driveway. Though it’s concrete, and not a big patch of dirt, it’s still a great place for a garden – a large container garden.

When we moved in early in July, we brought all of our balcony plants with us, though they all looked a bit pathetic after many days of being neglected during the craze of moving and wedding planning. We nursed them back to health though and a few days after our wedding bought some larger containers, a ton of dirt, some seeds, and some plant starters.

Here’s what our garden looked like a few weeks ago:

We thought we’d be drowning in squash by now, since there were plenty of cute baby squashes growing a few weeks ago. Sadly, some creature ate all of the babies and we haven’t been able to eat even one squash off of this plant.

Our tomato plant on the other hand – which I bought as an impulse at Whole Foods the day after we moved in – has been prolific. We’ve already eaten dozens of these delicious fruits and there are about 20 tomatoes still on the plant. The best part is that they’ve been ripening at different rates so we get a few ripe tomatoes every week.

These tiny peppers never got bigger, but were delicious – sweet but a bit tangy and spicy too.

We’re still waiting for these peppers to fully ripen. They’ve started to turn red so hopefully I’ll harvest them this weekend.

Lettuce was a near total fail in our balcony garden, but it’s been flourishing in its new home. It’s so great to pick some lettuce and tomatoes and whip up a quick, fresh salad for lunch.

Much like the lettuce, sweet peas weren’t so happy on our balcony, but they seem to be doing well here and last weekend I noticed the first flowers blooming.

We’ve planted layers upon layers of potatoes, all with potatoes that were a bit over the hill and not quite edible anymore. In the few weeks since this photo was taken, the potato greens have filled in the whole container and have grown many inches taller than the container. They’ll likely be ready for harvest in November, just as it starts to get cold, and it should be the perfect time for potato soup. Yum!

This was the third time I planted radish and carrot seeds in this container. Our garden is on a slope so I think the seeds had been settling all at one end. The container has finally filled in on both sides and I picked the first radish a couple of weeks ago – it was spicy and delicious. Radishes are probably the easiest thing to grow and make salads so much more interesting. They’re great to grow with carrots because they naturally thin the carrots and are ready to harvest long before carrots mature.

Not pictured here, we also have chard, kale, onions, leeks, many types of herbs, and grown cover and flowers on the small patch of dirt next to our house. Still, this garden feels like just a start and I’m sure we will fill it in more over the coming months and years.

Mini-gardening inspiration

4 May

It seems that every time I write about gardening at least one person comments that s/he wishes s/he could garden but doesn’t have space, sunlight, time, a green thumb, or gives some other excuse like that. Now it’s of course true that some of us have an easier time gardening than others, but anyone that has a window with at least some sun and the time to water a couple of times a week can at least grow herbs or small vegetables.

And now I have proof of this.

My sister lives down in the Santa Clarita Valley, north of Los Angeles. She’s been talking about starting a garden for a few years now, ever since her family went mostly organic and their grocery costs started rising. She has two young boys and she knew they’d love to have a garden. But she’d never grown anything in her life, was a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of an entire outdoor garden, and didn’t even know where to begin to plant a few herbs.

So when I was down in LA for the California Democratic Party convention in mid-April, I went with her to a few stores (it took a while to find organic seeds) to purchase everything she needed and showed her how to plant and care for parsley and cilantro. Why those herbs? They’re probably the most forgiving herbs. They grow like crazy and if you forget to water them, they’re usually easy to revive.

A couple of weeks ago, she emailed me saying that small green sprouts had appeared, and a week ago she sent this photo:

Despite her lack of experience and her fears, the herbs are doing great, and my nephews are super-excited about it. I’m hopeful that this experience will convince her to grow more produce and that it will convince some of my readers that have been hesitating to get something in the ground (or pot) to go for it.

Eating hyper-locally

5 Apr

Last month, Novella Carpenter at Ghost Town Farm ate only things she had grown or raised for two weeks straight. Though it sounded a bit torturous, it was also inspiring. Eating things you’ve grown, besides being very tasty, is also fulfilling in a way that eating other food – even if if it’s local and organic – never could be.

Don’t worry – I’m not taking up Novella’s challenge because for me that would mean eating only vegetables. We no longer have chickens, and I’ve never had cows or goats so dairy would be out. I’m not sure I would make it past day one. (Also, like Novella, I depend on tea and haven’t gone without it for years.)

But as the days get sunnier and the rain arrives only once or twice a week, I’ve started to eat more from our ever evolving and growing garden.

I spent much of the day on Saturday in the garden, planting Japanese eggplant, blue lake beans, and some more lettuce and doing some general garden tidying. I sadly didn’t take any photos so you’ll just have to trust me that the garden is looking great.

We had planted carrots in the early fall so we pulled some of those. They’re incredible! Very sweet, but also slightly peppery. They’re also full length, which is an accomplishment for us because we usually are impatient and end up pulling them when they’re much shorter.

Two weeks ago, we planted a new, much bigger batch of carrots. We read that planting radishes with them means you don’t have to thin the carrots (or thin them much less) so we mixed in a bunch of radish seeds, even though my gardening partners weren’t so excited about actually harvesting and eating the radishes.

They’ve changed their tune a bit, as in just two weeks, all the radishes had sprouted beautiful, clover shaped leaves that taste crisp and peppery. I thinned the radish sprouts and brought them home with the carrots. Yesterday, my fiance and I made a delicious salad with the radish sprouts and carrots from the garden, and some baby lettuce and avocado from the farmer’s market. Yum!

In the evening, we threw basic bread ingredients into the bread machine and chopped up some parsley from the garden. We’ve been doing everything we can to use up the parsley because it’s too abundant to keep up with.

So this morning I awoke to the aroma of freshly-baked bread, which made it much easier to get myself out of bed.

The bread turned out a bit deformed but was still very tasty.

I’ll take some garden pictures soon to share, but if you have a garden of your own (or were thinking about starting one), now’s a great time to get working. Don’t make the mistake we made last year and wait until it’s hot and dry to get your seeds or starters into the ground. Starting now means less work, healthier plants, and a much bigger hyper-local harvest in the future.

Expanding and moving our apartment garden

4 Nov

After years of maintaining a small garden on our apartment balcony, we finally decided to ask our apartment manager if we could move our garden to the benches at the back of our garage, which we can see from our balcony. He of course said yes so we moved most of our edible plants out there a month ago. They’ve been greatly enjoying the extra sunlight and most of them enjoyed the rainstorm last month (though that killed a couple lettuce plants). Here’s what things are looking like now.

Our benches are mostly covered with lettuce, greens, and herbs. I planted this lettuce yesterday:

New Lettuce

And this lettuce was planted about a month ago, right after we made the garden move. It looks like it will be ready to start harvesting next week:


I also planted radicchio, chard, and beet greens yesterday, all purchased from Kassenhoff Growers at the Temescal Farmers Market. We buy most of our starters there, as their quality is always incredible and they’re very helpful with gardening advice. Here’s the tiny radicchio:


And here’s the first crop of chard that we planted a month ago:


For cooking, nothing beats walking outside to pick basil, parsley, marjoram, and thyme:


But the thing I’m most excited about is my pepper plant. Peppers are usually annual plants, but in the mild Bay Area weather, they become perennials. We planted this pepper last year, but it only produced one pepper, last November, which quickly died because it got too cold. We kept the plant because it’s pretty, and this year, after we moved it out to the benches, it produced five peppers!

Small Peppers

Big Peppers

We’ve filled in the space quite nicely so far…

Backyard Garden

But there’s also lots of room for expansion, including this table that our manager found in the garbage room and brought to us to use. We plan to fill this space with carrots, potatoes, garlic, and onions.

Garden Expansion

Previous balcony garden updates:

Balcony garden harvest

18 Mar

It’s been a while since I’ve written an update on my balcony garden, and a lot has changed since the last update. The sad news is that most of the veggies we were growing didn’t do so well this winter. The lack of direct sunlight really stunted their growth. All of them are still healthy, but tiny. So last weekend we transported the spinach, cauliflower, chard, beets, and kale to our bigger garden in Berkeley. They’ll do much better there in the direct sun and we should have a nice spring harvest.

But one experiment did succeed – potatoes. Several months ago, we halved some old potatoes that were sprouting and put them in dirt in a deep bucket. They grew very quickly and the plants were beautiful, but when I dug around a couple months back, I sadly found no potatoes. Well, yesterday my girlfriend decided to check again, and this is what she found:


And here are the potatoes with a thumb tack so you can see just how small some of them are:


Not a huge harvest but well worth the minimal effort. We plan to get a few more large buckets and plant more potatoes soon.

Previous balcony garden updates: