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foraging.

I grew up on the edge of a large (but not very old) forest. The area directly behind the house swamped every year in spring and there was an abundance of ferns. I admit I have no idea what kind of fern, but there were fiddle heads in spring and later on we ate the roots. Well the kids did. We called them indian bananas (Which is not only politically incorrect it also doesn’t really do a good job describing the food, but it’s what we called them). I loved eating wild food as a child, and I love the idea of foraging the urban wilds as an adult.

Once again 66 Square Feet has posted something that looks relevant and delicious. As spring approaches she’s posted a couple wild growing plants to look for. The first I noticed was Japanese Knot Weed. It didn’t grow in the forest behind my house, so it’s not a plant I’m very familiar with. Most parks have rules about taking plants (don’t do it), but knot weed is invasive and the harvesting time is when it’s sending up shoots. So it stands to reason that it would be a not bad thing to grab some young shoots once they start coming up.

I found a patch next to a parking lot. No shoots yet, but it’s entirely possible I will be back here in April to try them out.

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Companion planting my seedlings.

Nightshades need nitrogen. It’s a thing. Peas, lentils, and beans fix nitrogen (not like a mechanic. they take it from the surrounding environment and make more complex molecules with it). I’m not going to put my tomatillos out until at least june, and if I start peas now-ish they should be finished by mid june.

As of yesterday the little guy was starting to make  go of it.

As of this morning dude was putting out a feeler and I got out the twine. I’m hoping that I can get a reasonable amount of growth out these guys from such a small container. They’re blue podded peas, I’m not sure if this is actually the same strain as purple podded peas but there is a blush of purple on the feeler and in the veins of the leaves.

Slowly getting towards being able to eat things from my windowsills and we’re a little less than a month into this whole experiment.

Field Trip!

This past tuesday we headed into town for a walk through the Back Fens area in Boston. Right in the middle of that beautiful area are the Fenway Victory Gardens. And yes that’s Victory Garden as in World War II ration replacement civic duty kind of garden. The oldest still surviving victory garden in north america. 70 years young.

We did some serious wandering and found a bamboo grove! This place is basically a massive community garden that has grown and changed over the years, several of the long standing tenants have expanded their plots and really created amazing outdoor spaces. They’re looking for new applicants! Sadly I think we’re going to be hanging out in a spaceship on March 18th at noon.

The area is surrounded by wetlands, and this guys kept following us around like maybe we’d scare up some mice. It’s really cool to see such a well established community garden with its own active pest control system.

Small Space, Small Production?

“A well-maintained food garden can yield an estimated ½ pound of produce per square foot of garden area over the course of the growing season” taken from The Impact of Home and Community Gardening In America.

 

I have seen other estimates that put the yield per square foot closer to 1 pound, and at least one semi-local gardener achieved better results than that last year. Daphne’s Dandelions did an amazing job cataloging the input and output of their garden last year, and they were able to get over 1 lb/sq foot, but not as much as 1.5 lb/sq foot.

Alright so math time. I am planning on having something like 30 sq feet of container space + whatever I can get out of pop-bottle planters. So 36? maybe. Ok, so that’s 36 lbs of veg over the whole season. Not too bad, but still just a small portion of our overall food consumption over the 4 months we expect to be eating from the garden. Doing a little more math got us to about 26 calories a day over the 4 months coming from the garden. I’m really hoping we can do better than that. That we can pull all sorts of crazy tricks that allow us to increase our yields without putting more energy into the system than we’re getting out.

Today I read a really crazy trick, staking zucchini. 

 

Note, the time I put into gardening is something I enjoy. Everyday I take the time to check on the little guys, make sure the water levels are ok make sure they’re getting enough sun and aren’t getting too cold. I love my beans.

 

 

I have a monoculture problem.

Since mid-January we’ve had a bird feeder out on the front porch, and we’ve seen a lot of birds. We’ll get mobs of the little guys. The problem is that we’re only getting one species, and it’s a french-fry bird. The house sparrow has completely taken over this neighborhood, and the hedge in front of the McDonald’s a couple blocks away. We live in a well treed little area of the city, with several small parks near by, there exists a lot of potential nesting areas for a vareity of birds.

We only get house sparrows.

I’m considering ditching the bird feeder, I was hoping to get and promote a little species diversity in this little  corner of Boston and that does not appear to be happening. The other half of this garden team is also very afraid of what the birds will do to our vegetables once we put out the containers in late spring. I’m sad, but I think the bird feeder was a failed experiment.

Pest Control

Or The Cat-Mower. Aside from an early incident with the bean sprouts, the cats haven’t shown much interest in the plants scattered around the house. They seem to, for the most part, ignore them. I had taken this for granted and placed the lettuce seedlings on the windowsill next to my worktable. It’s a favorite (if slightly illicit) cat perch in the house, but they’d been good so far.

We’ve planted sunset lettuce, and the sprouts are all sprouty and leafy and have some great red spotting and everything is amazing.

and then I find Apple with her face mashed into the pot. It was a kitty crop circle. I’ve learned my lesson and moved the tender greens (with red spots) over to the kitchen window, a place with no convenient place for a cat-mower. Thankfully, a couple days on, the little guys are recovering. I’m hoping they grow well, and I’m looking forward to letting at least one of them go to seed.

 

Making my Pop bottle Planters

I’ve seen these featured on several websites, and I got most of my instructions from Inside Urban Green, but I made a couple small changes and I wanted to document my own process.

The required things:

Pretty simple list, only thing missing from the photo is hot water.

So, 2L pop bottle

serated knife

scissors

something to poke holes, we’ve used both a soldering iron and a scribing tool.

potting mix

hot water

put some not quite boiling water into the bottle, I then put the bottle on its side and rotate it so the water is over the glue for the label. This isn’t a required step, but it makes it easier. The hot water does a really good job of melting the glue.

With the label removed, I score the side of the bottle until I make a pilot hole. Once there’s a slit in the bottle I take the scissors and cut the two halves.

I’ve been cutting a little tab out of the bottom of the bottle, I’ve been using this for watering. It makes it really easy to add more water, I just take the whole planter over the sink and I don’t have to remove the top. Once I get around to purchasing a watering can I can also just water them in-situ.

I poke a whole bunch of holes into the top bit. The idea is to use them to help aerate the root ball. So far this seems to be working well.

Assembled! The soil is first packed very tightly into the neck, that’s the wick. No need for fabric, or string, or fancy things. Because I don’t lift the tops out to water I don’t worry about keeping the soil inside the bottle, gravity seems to be doing a good job on that one. The rest of the soil is fairly lightly packed into the rest of the bottle. Water is added through the cutout tab, and it’s ready to go.

And in action! The small planter with yellow water is my lettuce, I started it first and made a bit of mess. But so far they seem to not mind being messy. I haven’t covered the soil with anything, you don’t have to and I really like watching the roots. I’m a nerd.

and the beans today! The leaf damage is from a fairly mischievous cat who got at them when they were just pushing up.  Thankfully the beans are doing fine and the cat has lost interest.