City Farmers in the Rainbow City

Welcome to the first of a series of posts introducing each of our contributing gardeners in their own words. These ten gardeners will be checking in on a weekly basis over the course of the season, sharing their knowledge and questions with readers and each other, with the mix supplemented by guest posts by other talented gardeners and how-to articles and product reviews by the bloggers behind Gardenaut. We're looking forward to sharing a season on Gardenaut with a group of contributing gardeners who represent a wide range of experience levels, gardening settings, motivations, and specializations, and will offer blog readers a variety of ways to browse and follow these individuals or their shared interests as our archives fill out. Enjoy!

That window pane will have to wait until winter. It's garden time.

Seattle has a reputation for rain, but gardeners here know the climate's much more complicated than that. We like to think we can grow anything up here. The ocean moderates the temperature, so we seldom see more than 3 days above 90 in a year. It's not California, so we can't grow the heat loving plants like watermelon, but we do have much longer days in the summer, so we can garden after you've all gone to bed. Not that darkness ever stopped me. It does rain all winter long, saturating the clay subsoil until it can't take any more and then flooding all the basements. Then sometime around late July the rain just stops. But by this time our gardens' roots have tapped deep into the clay subsoil, and with proper training, can survive most of the drought.

I'm an organic gardener, as are most folks out here. Government-sponsored organizations work on outreach all the time - after all our gardens drain into Puget Sound, a bathtub of seawater full of sensitive purple octopi, spawning salmon and growing dead zones of unknown origin. There are community gardens in every neighborhood, and I learned to garden in several of them. Each one has a handful of state-certified "master gardeners" who, in exchange for their training, pledge to teach others.

I garden on a small (5000 SF) urban lot with my three-year-old son, G. In the summer, he and my wife Emily help harvest and eat our two principal crops, peas (snap and shelling) and tomatoes. G will eat anything we grow, but won't touch unknown vegetables from the store. So the garden has proved an indispensable tool for expanding his palate. As befits an urban garden, we've taken advantage of every nook and cranny to cram in fruit trees. They grow flat against the porch and arch over the driveway. We've also snuck in currants, jostaberries, blueberries, and strawberries. G eats most of these before I can get to them. Better him than the birds.

We garden with chickens. They get to free range when there are no seedlings coming up, and I've noticed a big decrease in slugs and cutworms this year thanks to them. But in the springtime, they destroy almost as much as they help, so I keep their eggs better than storebought by tossing them fistfuls of clover (a cover crop) every time I walk past.

Fanny and Lottie in the compost bins.

I realize that when I talk about my garden I'm gushing, like a parent with children in the honor program. How annoying! So I should confess up front: We have money problems, we make parenting mistakes, and every time I plant lettuce the whole damn thing just turns bitter and goes to seed before we bother to eat any of it. Still, I can't think of a time I wasn't happy in the garden. So I'm making some structural improvements to G's "pea house" this year and we'll see if we can't just live out there this summer, just the three of us (soon to be four).

Let's get this party started.


Emily said...

Four?! This is what I get for being out of touch! Congratulations! :)

MamaBird said...

Love this! Wonderful start to the Gardenaut 10 reveal. Can't wait to hear more about your garden and esp curious if you know how to 'put up' any of those tomatoes...

Joshua McNichols said...

Mostly we go for mass consumption of tomatoes when they're ripe. I love the brandywines, and have fallen in love with tomato sandwiches. I play little games with myself like "how thick a slice of tomato can I include and still consider it a sandwich?" I also play a game called "how much arugula can I wrap up inside a slice of pizza?" Emily is more moderate, but I'm hoping my kid will want to play along. We do end the year with a huge batch of tomato sauce before the fall chills kill everything off. This we freeze in individual-sized tupperware containers and eat all year. Though my son has expressed a clear preference for "factory sauce" over "garden sauce."