Apr 28, 2008

Gardening Greatness!

A few weeks ago we had another garden party. Folks who help put in plots of natives last December, joined other friends who have a greater interest in edibles to plant a patch of vegetables. My housemate, Blake, and I love having folks over, and we need lots of help taking care of the back yard. When the plums start coming, it's a nightmare.

We didn't have to buy anything for this garden party. We did borrow a chainsaw from two friends to reduce the size of one of the plum trees, which was clearly not properly trimmed in the past. All of our baby vegetables were started by my friend, Holly (thanks!!!!!) in Oakland. As always, our tools were a bit inadequate, but we made it work. Our planting space is about the size of a decent bathroom, so I've never had a desire to get a regular hoe or cultivator.

Even without ample tools, it's fun to get our friends outside. Some like to help with the weeding, others love planting, still others like to water at the end. Some just watch and drink beer. I think it's all helpful. So many of our friends have no open space to try gardening.

We can all go to a park and sit on the grass, but the care of that land is usually something we contribute to only by paying our taxes. Most twenty-somethings in these parts aren't busy on the land, and are thus, somewhat unaware of it's patterns. San Francisco is full of transplants, such as myself. Many of us will not understand California's climate until we've tried to bend it to our will by growing something. Even then, if we rely on hoses, we can fool ourselves into thinking that we know this land when we really just know how to create conditions for growth.

Little adventures into a backyard or community garden give urbanites a chance to build a relationship with the land. To understand the systems present on the landscape. Land is a perennial teacher. I learn as much from trying to grow stuff as from reading about wilderness or restoration. We should all be looking for those connections, and helping other folks make them if it's already something that we value. There are lots of self-described environmentalists out there who never get their hands in the dirt, or even boots on the trail. Perhaps they'd be better advocates if they had these connections.

If you've never read the story of our yard, it's pretty bizarre. Our landlord used it as a dump, seriously. We live in the upstairs unit of a two unit building. Grass grows into the lower unit, which is "sided" in the back with roofing materials. We have no street access from the backyard: Anything that goes in or out of the back yard must go through our apartment. When we moved in 4+ years ago, we were too busy removing the dead rodents and painting over grease to even think about the toilets, sinks, doors, luggage, tile, roofing materials, support beams, cinder blocks, rebar, etc that filled our back yard.

As our back door was often broken and our stairs into the backyard also collapsed, we very rarely ventured out there for the first two years of living here. As our next door neighbor was being evicted for an "Owner Move In", the fence between our yards collapsed. So we used his street access to remove as much of the crap as we could afford. That was an entire box truck full of heavy junk. (Side note: That eviction took place two years ago. No one lives in the house where our dear neighbor resided. If I bump into the landlord when she's around to check on things, she says that she's "very quiet". And apparently she's really serious about reducing her carbon footprint because she doesn't use electricity. )

So two years ago we reclaimed our yard for use as a vegetable and native plant patch. There were already 5 fruit bearing trees out there! Two crazy plum trees, one loquat, one pear, and one apple. We also tend and harvest the fig tree in our evicted neighbor's yard, ("quiet" landlord be damned). The soil's not great in our yard, given that it's full of plastic bags and other trash, we're not surprised. But last year we had a slew of tomatoes, and we hope to get some decent vegetable this year.

Right now we're tustling with the pride of feral cats that dominate the backyards on our block. They're all spayed and neutered, so the cluster has reduced over the years from about 15 to around 6. They love our yard in no small part because my housemate started feeding them when our neighbor (who fed them previously) was evicted. I don't feed them because I'm very conflicted about the situation. The few times that I did feed them in the winter of 2007, I became worried and attached to one who was very sick. Anyway, they're digging in my vegetable garden because since we turned its sandy soil, its quite like a natural litterbox. Mmmmmm, toxoplasmosis in our summer salad, yum. But no worries, if they keep at it, there won't be anything left to eat. They've killed over half of what we put in (well, the cats and a bit too much stewardship in the form of over-watering while I was house sitting just after we planted.)

Whatever, we'll be happy with any yield. We can't fully feed ourselves on the fruits and vegetables of our garden, but we can save a little money and eat very locally. We're experimenting with gray water right now. Taking our dishwater and the excess from the shower out for watering. So far so good. I'd love to get through the summer like this, but it will in part depend on how hot it gets here. Last July was bizarrely hot for SF. I'll post pictures when the crops get bigger!

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