Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rabbits. And off on vacation.

It was hot here today and it's been two days without rain, so I got some water on the garden. Most of the plants look pretty good, but many of the very newest bean seedlings are now missing their leaves. The stems are still there, but the cotyledons and freshest leaves are gone. I suspect rabbits or other rodents. Luckily they've left the more mature plants alone. And they don't seem interested in cucumber seedlings either.

We're about to head out of town on vacation for almost two weeks. Luckily, we've got volunteers lined up to handle the watering while we're gone. I'm not sure how much rain we'll have--the forecast looks a bit on the dry side (just scattered thunderstorms, and those too unreliable to count on for young plants).

I'll very much miss the gardens while we're gone. But the one good thing about going away in the summer is that when you get back, the plants have jumped ahead with new growth. I'm very curious to see what the garden looks like when we return.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Inspiration: The Urban Homestead by Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne

A lot of people ask where we got the idea for the 200 Foot Garden. It came from a number of sources--lots of time working in community gardens, writing about them and their issues (including in my short play, Pumpkin Patch). Plus we've been reading a ton of books on agriculture, food, and farming (and really like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin).

Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne's book, The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, came just at the right time for us. As we read it this spring, its section on guerrilla gardening really got us thinking. That's when I saw the spot for the 200 Foot Garden. They also publish a terrific blog, Homegrown Evolution, on urban agriculture and homesteading. (And they even posted the story and video about our garden.) The book is one that we first got from the public library, but then decided we needed to own a copy. The blog is both fun and interesting (I like the post with the chicken coop made of IKEA parts). The post that mentioned our garden generated a whole discussion about Scarlet Runner pole beans--and I learned that the blossoms are edible! I can't wait until we have some.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Budget and funding

At the moment, this is still a very small-scale project. As I mentioned in an early post, I received hundred bucks on Father's Day that I decided to put towards this project. We've gone through that cash, plus a little bit more. We've spent a little more than $160 so far, which includes signage ($16 just on laminating), seeds, pots and potting soil, soil testing. We were able to get compost donated and the lime at a discount. Volunteers have been extremely generous about sharing their tools, wagons, and supplies (and even tomato plants).

One of the best things about gardening is that it can be low-cost, and if the budget for this project stays small, it will be easier to replicate and modify for other venues and sites.

While I was at the garden today, a woman asked if she could donate to the cause. I'd been considering adding a "donate" button to this blog, in case people are interested. She said she could give me cash right there, which caught me by surprise (and explains why I'll never be rich... a sensible person would just have said, "sure" but I just stumbled around and said, "well, if you go to the web site, there will be something there...").

As this project expands, and I hope it will, we will have the need to spend more for plants and seeds, tools, mulch, additional soil testing, and soil amendments. So, for now, I've added a "donate" button to this blog, where people who are interested can contribute money towards the project. (And next time someone offers me money on the street, I'll be sure to take it and put it in my "saving for seeds" jar).

Small Work Day

We did just a little bit of work this morning--weeding, staking tomatoes, and replacing damaged signs. There were five of us--me, Tracy, Yvonne, Ilana, and Lura Lee, which was plenty of hands for the work that needed to be done. Next year, if we grow a lot more plants, or we extend the garden (all the way to the T would be interesting, and would make for a VERY long garden, with lots of different challenges), we'll need more people. But for now, a few hands at a time does great.

(Noah, with Yvonne and Ilana pulling weeds, and Tracy fixing signs.)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

mini-work day on Sunday 10 a.m.

We're going to have a mini-work day tomorrow (Sunday) at 10 a.m. If you want to help out or just want to talk to us about plans for the garden, please come on by.

There won't be much to do--a tiny of bit of weeding, maybe some watering, lots of admiring seedlings and plants, put new signs up, and chat. I'm sure we'll be there less than an hour.

Walked by the garden at lunchtime today everything looked good. A couple new lemon apple cucumber seeds have sprouted. I don't think any of the Tatume squash are up yet, but I'm not sure.

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Beans Have Sprouted

We had extremely hard rain last night and this morning, enough to flood parts of the Muddy River near our house. Our 200 Foot Garden is on high ground, but I did wonder if how our plants would handle the deluge.

I checked them out around noon, just as the rain stopped and it looks like they all made it through pretty well. Some of the cucumber plants look a little beaten up, but they'll recover. The mulch made a huge difference in terms of keeping the soil in place.

And, even better, a whole lot of the bean seeds have sprouted. I'd realized late last night that I didn't check to make sure that the new mulch wasn't too heavily covering the seeds we planted. The beans are strong enough to push through, but I went along pulled back some of the mulch so the less muscular cucumber seedlings will be able to push their way through. It looks like both Scarlet Runner and Kentucky Wonder seeds have sprouted. If we can get a few warm days with sun, they'll be catching up the the plants we put in no time.

(you can just barely see the new sprouts to the left of the bean plant)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

200 Foot Garden Video (from the Brookline TAB)

The Brookline TAB story also has a video from our planting day. Check it out:

200 Foot Garden in the news

Yep, we actually made the papers this morning. The Brookline TAB came out did gave us a full-page spread on the cover of the Brookline Life section. The story, entitled The Skinniest Farm in Brookline, does a great job of capturing the project and our planting day, and also had some terrific pictures. I'm glad more people will learn about this (and maybe we'll plant some seeds for future projects, too).

Yes, We Have Mulch

I found a big surprise on the garden this today on my daily early morning walk. Mulch!

I'd talked briefly with Donna, the property manager at 99 Kent Street, about possibly adding mulch, and she'd said that they might have some in piles somewhere. Apparently yesterday, she had her landscape crew lay it out along the entire garden for us. It's just what we needed to keep down the weeds and keep the soil from running away in the thunderstorms scheduled for tonight and today. Plus it looks nice, too. Not to mention that they were very careful in placing the mulch--not a single plant on the entire stretch was damaged.

So a big thanks to Donna and her crew!
(Here's a picture of the mulch, my son Noah, and our dog Comet)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Starting to climb

I did my daily 7 a.m. check on the garden this morning. Some of the pole beans are starting to wrap themselves around the fence (some with a little help, but mostly on their own).

Unfortunately, the great signs that Kate Rhodes decorated from us were damaged by the rain. We laminated them, but also punched holes to attach them onto the fence. Lesson learned. We'll have to find a different way to attach them. Luckily, I scanned the decorated versions into our computer before hanging them, so I should be able to reprint them using our color laser printer. The signs definitely work--I saw people reading them (what's left of them) this morning while I was doing my check-in.

Also, I realized (thanks to careful fact-checking from Neal, an editor and reporter at the TAB) that I've been citing the wrong name for the standard cucumbers. They're not Market 87, instead they're Marketmore 76 cucumbers. Somehow my brain played around with the numbers and name. I bought these seeds from High Mowing Seeds.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Perfect Weather (for plants)

Today we had a full-day rainy soaker. Maybe not ideal for playing with the kids outside, but it was just what our plants needed--some deep watering for them to start settling in and extending those roots. And it'll be a big help to get all the seeds we planted full soaked. I stopped by the garden early this morning, and everything looked good and the soil hadn't washed away. Looks like we lost one Tatume seedling to stem breakage, but that's going to happen. I did see a rabbit on the other side of the fence, down the hill a bit. I hope he doesn't decide to wriggle under the fence and take a taste of our crop.

Tomorrow should be mostly sunny and warm--a good cycle for us. And no need to water tomorrow, after all the rain today.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Plants Have Made It So Far

I watered the plants this morning around 9 a.m., and it looked like everything made it through the night. Even the tomatoes look like they might survive (barely).

I was able to water the entire strip with just a watering can and bucket. It took me four trips to the spigot, which was a workout, but not too bad. We might bring in some hoses (on a wagon), for other watering days. We'll have to see.

Now that everything has settled in a bit, and I had a chance to water, I can see that the soil is pretty fine (friable) without much organic matter in it, which means that when it starts to rain, we'll lose a lot of soil due to runoff. Mulch is the best way to solve this, and I've talked to the property manager--she said they might already have a mulch pile on the property that we can use, which would make life easier. If not, we might need to arrange to buy some in the next few days.

The weather forecast is for rain all day tomorrow, with thunderstorms the rest of the week. The plants will be glad for the water, but hopefully everything won't wash away before we get the mulch in.

By the end of the week, we'll need to have some sort of watering and work schedule put in place.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We Did It--Planting Day was a Hit

I'm sure there are quite a few sore backs and hands in our neighborhood tonight, but we did manage to get the 200 Foot Garden planted today.

The weather was perfect--sunny and 70s. I was out there a little before 8am, trying to get a head start on hacking out (with the hoe) the grass and weeds that covered the strip of ground we needed to plant. It wasn't long before everyone else started to arrive, and we set up a system. I continued doing the large-scale hacking and whacking (and so did Cathy Neal), and the rest of the folks worked on doing two passes to remove the weeds and shake all the dirt from the roots and bag everything up.
(Dorothy and Yvonne picking out the weeds and grass)

It took us about 2 1/2 hours, but we finally got everything pulled out and the soil cultivated such that we could plant. Cathy Neal of Bountiful Brookline brought 8 bags of compost donated from Allandale Farm, along with two bags of lime to help amend the soil. The soil needs a lot of organic matter (we hardly saw any earthworms), so next year we'll want to add even more compost.

By 10:30, the sun was hot and we were glad for the ice water that we brought and the mint ice tea that Lura Lee, our backyard neighbor, shared with everyone.

(Cathy, Sarah and Kira)

At 7 this morning, I was busily typing up the planting map that Tracy and I worked out last night (while waiting for Harry Potter to start). The map/plant list helped us make sure that we got all the plants evenly spaced across the garden, and so that we end up (we hope) with a more interesting visual pattern. To make it a little more manageable, we broke the garden into a pattern based on 20-foot sections. (Oh, one surprise--the garden is actually 180 feet long, not 200, but don't tell anyone. A little hyperbole isn't a bad thing in gardening.)

(plants waiting patiently)

Tracy and I used the map to lay out all the potted plants, and then everyone else went straight to work getting plants in the ground. It helped to have so many experienced gardeners there, who could help out with advice if folks needed it. Once the plants were set, we went back and filled in with remaining seeds (this took a while). While Sarah and I planted seeds, everyone else watered (very hard work) and cleaned up.

Lots of people stopped by to ask what we were doing, including many residents of the nearby apartment complex, who were delighted with the idea of the project. The steady stream of appreciation for our work made it all seem even more worthwhile. The signs that Kate Rhodes made will keep people up-to-date even when we're not around.

Everyone who worked today was extremely generous with their time, energy, and tools. The one photo I wish I had (but missed) was when Tracy arrived with all the kids in a parade of wagons and tricycles, carrying all the seedlings--thanks to Noah, Bobby, Caroline, Quilon, and Benjamin for being our young helpers today. Our more mature workers today included Tracy, Kira, Sarah, Louise, Cathy, Roberta, Lura Lee, Jose Pablo, Maeve, Yvonne, Dorothy, and Leslee. Having a dozen adults there working made it possible for us to get this whole garden in the ground in about 4 1/2 hours.

(we filled the sidewalk with a dozen workers)

The Brookline TAB (our local paper) also showed up--Neal conducted a few interviews, and Dave was there taking photos. With any luck, some info will appear in Thursday's paper.

The day felt like a tremendous success all around. The plants got in the ground, we got to know our neighbors better, and there was plenty of exercise in the sunshine.

We have a few challenges ahead--mostly around finding ways to keep these plants watered and thriving. We also need to find ways to organize more work and watering days, perhaps setting up some sort of schedule.

Right now, we need to let our muscles recover and try to be patient while these young plants try to take root.

(Tracy does a final bit of watering)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tomorrow We Dig

Tomorrow, from 8am - 12 pm, we'll be pulling weeds and putting in the vegetable seedlings. I think we should have at least 6 people there working, maybe a bit more. We've got a rough plan that should help things move smoothly, and I've worked up a planting map, so we know what needs to be planted more.

It'll take a while to hack out the weeds in 200 feet of garden, but with enough hands it'll go quickly (I hope). We have 90 plants to get in the ground:
10 Tatume Squash
23 Blue Lake Pole Beans
5 Scarlet Runner Pole Beans
8 Lemon Apple Cucumbers
38 Market 87 Cucumbers
6 Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans

plus we'll plant an additional 100-150 seeds, to fill in.

The weather should be good, so that's a plus. We've got signs (thanks to the fabulous Kate Rhodes and her cousin), and I know the water works (though we have to haul it, one watering can at a time at the moment).

There will be some surprises, I'm sure. We'll see what they are tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

New Fence is Complete

The new fence is all done and it looks great. It's not as tall as I thought it'd be--it's just standard height. The poles I saw yesterday must have been cut down. Moving the fence back to the retaining wall changes the whole sidewalk experience, very much for the better. It also really, really wants me to be able to plant the entire strip of ground, not just along the fence. Cathy Neal of Bountiful Brookline thought an herb garden would be a good idea, and I completely agree. It'd smell great and be a great sensory addition to what we're doing. Maybe I'll be able to sell the property management on the idea of a perennial herb garden (rosemary, lavender, creeping thyme, sage, and more). Still, one thing at a time--we need to get the vertical garden planted first.

After walking the site this morning, my original idea of just hacking out the weeds in spots where we were planting doesn't seem quite so smart anymore. I think we'll need to clear the at least the fence half of the entire strip on Sunday--so 200 ft x 1 ft. We'd better make sure we bring lots of hoes and shovels and strong arms.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Plans Coming Together: Planting This Sunday

We're starting to put the plans together for planting this weekend. Looks like we'll put stuff in the ground (and take a bunch out of the ground) Sunday morning, from 8am--noon. I should have at least half a dozen folks out there to help (if you're in Brookline and want to see what's going on (or want to help), come on down). We're right near 99 Kent Street.

Cathy Neal from Bountiful Brookline called and offered to pick up some donated compost from Allandale Farms and also pick up some of the dolomitic limestone that we need to improve the soil. (Thanks, Cathy!)

It's starting to feel like this might actually happen.

Soaking up the Sun

We had a nice sunny day today, which was good news for the plants I've started. My backyard neighbor let me put the pots out in her parking area/patio, so they could get a little extra sun (they don't get much on my back porch). I've got about 40 cucumbers and 25 pole beans raring to go.

I had to give up on a bunch of small pots that were supposed to have Blue Lake Pole Beans in them--the cool wet weather rotted them out entirely.

On the plus side, the first Scarlett Runner seeds have sprouted, and
here is the first Tatume Squash poking its head through the soil.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Good News (and a little bad news)

I talked to the property manager for the site and got the super good news. The fence is on schedule--in fact they're working on it right this very moment. We have permission to start planting as of this weekend.

In an interesting twist, they're repositioning the fence, so that the posts will be set right into the concrete retaining wall that borders the parking lot. This shifts the whole thing to the other side of the two-foot wide strip of ground. This is actually good news, because it means that our volunteers don't have to spend time climbing and balancing on a 12-inch-wide retaining wall. It does change the aesthetics a bit, in that the commuters on the sidewalk won't be confronted so directly by this wall of veggies that I'd hoped for. And it'll be a little harder to pick--there will be two feet of dirt (and flowers) between the commuters and the veggies, but I don't think it'll make much difference. We'll see. I hope the impact, visually, isn't lessened too much.

The hard part with the new fence position is that the plants will have to lean over about six inches of concrete to get to the fence. I hope that this won't cause problems when the plants are young, in terms of stem development.

More good news--it looks like the fence will be a little taller than the old fence, maybe 15-18 inches taller, I'd guess close to 4.5 feet high. This is a big help for the pole beans, which can easily grow 6 feet tall. We'll have to do less trimming. And, if we can get the planting dense enough, we'll have a stronger visual impact from the fully grown garden.

I got permission, again, to use water available at the site, which will be a big help. We might just use watering cans from the spigot, we'll see.

On the downside, we can't put in a compost bin, which means that we'll have to cart away all the weeds and waste. Not a huge problem, but it makes a bit more work. I understand why they don't want it on the property. Maybe next year. (Maybe someday we'll even have worm bins.)

The really tricky part is that I've got an intensely overscheduled weekend--a family social event Friday, a neighborhood ice cream social I'm organizing on Saturday, and a writing workshop I have to help with on Sunday. Oh, and I've got a rare (but well-paying) freelance writing gig that needs to be finished by the middle of next week, which means I need to work on it this weekend). Somehow I've got to schedule a time to start putting seeds and plants in the ground this weekend, and pull together a bunch of volunteers to do it. Should be a challenge. (I'll post a time on this blog soon, for interested volunteers. We'll need folks with hoes, trowels, and compost. And a wheelbarrow or two. And paper yard waste bags.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More Sprouts Up

Five (out of ten) of the lemon apple cucumber seeds have sprouted! It helped a lot to get them on the heating pad in the basement. I think the rest will be fully emerged by tomorrow. I'm still waiting on the other seeds that I've planted, but they're all outside, where it's a lot cooler. I might bring them in to warm up their soil too, if I don't see much action tomorrow.

The cool, moist weather rotted out a good number of the Blue Lake Pole bean seeds that we planted a couple weeks ago. Some we tried to start in small six packs (which wasn't enough room, I think), and others in small pots. Very few of the seeds in the six packs germinated (maybe 4 out of 24), and about half of the others have finally emerged. When I dumped out the six packs, there was no sign of the bean seed--they'd just vanished.

No word yet on when the fence replacement will occur. I've got my fingers crossed that it'll happen this week.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More Seeds Planted

Finally I got a chance to plant some more seeds this afternoon. On Tuesday we drove our Zipcar over to Mahoney's Garden center in Brighton and bought a bunch of potting soil and 4" and 6" pots (using up most of the rest of my budget), but I didn't get to plant anything yesterday..

For the new seeds, I mixed together some seed starter mix, potting soil, and a bucket of compost from our outdoor compost bin. (My worm bins don't have a lot of extra castings at the moment.) I planted ten pots with lemon apple cucumbers, nine with scarlet runner pole beans, and nine more pots with Kentucky Wonder pole beans. I'm running out of room on our back porch. With any luck the plants will be up and ready to go as soon as the fence is replaced.

The weather in Boston has been unseasonably cool and wet, for weeks and weeks. This has slowed the germination of all the seeds I've got sitting outdoors. We had sun today, but highs were only in the 60s. I have a whole bunch of Blue Lake Pole Beans in small six-packs that have yet to germinate. I've actually taken them back inside and put them on the heating mat and under the lights to see if I can get them to sprout. We'll see. They might have rotted out in the cool and damp.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen Blue Lake Pole Beans have sprouted. The photo above is of the cucumbers and beans waiting to get in the ground.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Good News: soil test results are in

Got good news via e-mail this morning. I received the results of the soil test that I sent to UMass and we're still good to go. There are no dangerous levels of lead, cadmium, or other heavy metals, which was the big concern. I'm very relieved. This was an important hurdle for this project--if it had come back dirty, then the project would have to be off (we could just plant flowers, I guess).

The report is quite detailed, giving the percentage of organic material (we could use more) and other essential nutrients (we need more magnesium), and they even tell you what soil amendments you should use to bring the soil to its most productive level. In general, though, the soil is better than I'd expected.

I realize that we need to do a soil test of our own community garden plot, ASAP, to know what we should do to improve the soil.

So, now the big thing keeping this project from leaping ahead full throttle is the fence replacement. I've got a call into the property manager to try to get a status update. I hope this return of the rain won't delay things, because I've got 40 cucumber seedlings on my back porch eager to get in the ground.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cucumbers are up (inside)

The weather here in Boston has been abysmal lately. Constant cloud cover, rain almost every day, and cool temps. Good for the greens in our family garden plot, but not good for starting the cucumber and bean seeds for the 200 Foot Garden.

Even though it's July, I decided to bring the cucumber seed pots indoors and get them on the heating mat and under the lights. Cucumbers like lots of heat when it comes to germination.

Looks like I made the right choice, because they've already sprouted. I'll get them outside on the back porch as soon as possible, but I might keep them under the lights for a few days, if the weather stays this gloomy and cool.

I still have the bean pots on our back deck, but I might bring them inside, too, and see if I can get them some light and heat.