Though the San Francisco summer fog has slowed down plant production at Amyitis, we not letting it slow us down! It is true; we’ve noticed a marked stunt in growth and production across the board since the 2nd week in July. The fog brings 50* temperatures with it each day when it arrives at around 4:30pm. Like an old friend who’s overstayed his welcome, I was happy with the fog at first but then things turned sour. What once provided cool relief from the intense heat of a California summer has become a nearly icy relationship. Generally speaking, if the fog decides to burn off at all, most days it won’t do that until at least 10:30am. That leaves very little time for our plants to take full advantage of the sun’s offerings. Even though we are relatively shielded here in the Mission, this July the fog has been pervasive. We’ve taken advantage of the time off from harvesting and weeding to get to some projects.
At Amyitis’ central location we’ve lacked the time and resources to deal with our compost situation appropriately. Until now we’ve had an open-air compost pile. Frankly, it is a heap. And while some of our organic waste IS composting, most of it is not. After some thought around the matter and a little research, Eben and I decided that Vermaculture (composting with live worms) was what we really wanted to do. Vermaculture, or worm composting, is a fast, clean, efficient and relatively orderless way to produce compost from food and yard scraps. The worms can consume about half of their body weight per day. What they leave behind is called “worm castings” and is literally some of the best fertilizer money can buy. Click on the link above to learn a but more about how to do it at home.
My good friend Matt Wickland came to lend us a hand in building the beds. While there are many designs for worm bins, we took what we knew about worm behavior and took a stab at our own design. We built two bins 12″ deep by about 2.5′ square that are made to rest on top of one another. As the worms eat the vegetable matter, one can rotate the bins to keep the worms eating and take full advantage of their castings at the same time. For so many reasons, vermaculture composting seems like the perfect compost system for the urban garden. We’re hoping that our experiment will prove us right. I guess that I kind of goofed. Sometime last month I realized that our lettuce crop (which had been providing for us nicely since early April) was quite literally at the bitter end. We plant the seeds very close together and cut them often. This gives us a baby variety of many types of lettuce. Since the plant is never allowed to fully mature it continues to sprout, giving us ample harvests. Our lettuce had been going strong for a while. In a panic a few weeks ago, I planted more lettuce in spaces I had availablele; they didn’t germinate properly. It wasn’t until my third attempt at seeding new lettuce that the seedlings finally took. We finally pulled up the remaining lettuce beds that had sustained us for so long and started anew. In order to really have super-productive gardens, it appears as though managing planting schedules is more important than I had ever realized. I waited too long relying too heavily on a single planting. As hard as it is to turn over a bed that is still productive, sometimes you have to in order to keep things healthy. Lesson learned. More lettuce in late August.
Posted in building, California, DIY, gardening, gourmet food, local food, mission district, recycle, seasonality, Sustainable Agriculture, urban gardening, vermaculture
Tagged composting, DIY, mission district, san francisco, Urban Farming, vermaculture
If you’ve been to San Francisco in the last 5 years, chances are good that you’ve been to the Mission District. Over the past 10 years the Sunny Mission district has undergone huge changes that have made it a burgeoning hot spot for city tourists and locals alike. The Mission is increasingly becoming the freshest reference point for popular and alternative youth culture, music, art, and cuisine. And, with the growth of the district in full effect, some of the cornerstone businesses responsible for that growth are starting to ask “how do we do this consciously”? After all, in an age where energy and resources are at a premium, these questions are becoming not only imperative to ask, but also imperative to answer. Amyitis gardens are a response that we came up with to start to think outside of the box truck.
The ideas of city farming and urban gardening for a restaurants are by no means new ideas. It is not uncommon for high-end food establishments to source locally or even from there own gardens. Urban restaurant gardens are sprouting up here in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland as well as places like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. The High-end pioneers of this gardening movement have created a necessary awareness of the need for this type of food reform but the next frontier is making it accessible and affordable for owners and patrons alike. In cities, clean gardening space that can produce enough for a restaurant is often at a premium. Amyitis is being created from the lucky confluence of the ability, space, and resources to make something like this happen and, with any luck, make it affordable.
Owners of Boogaloos Restaurant (22ND and Valencia) Phillip Bellber and Carolyn Blair entrusted the use of the back yard one of their residential properties for the creation of Amyitis to me (David Stockhausen) and my partner Jessie Alberts. In cooperation with the buildings tenants, the relatively unused back yard space underwent the 1st phase of transformation to becoming a food producing garden. After having the dry lifeless soil tested for harmful pathogens or heavy metals we began rehabbing the soil and drawing up a plan. We first had to remove a lot of volunteer blackberries and Bermuda grass from the yard. The tenants had already removed a dead tree from the center of the yard and a days work from Phillip’s son Sam got a lot of the bulk of the weeds out. Once a lot of the weeds and invasive grasses had been extracted we the had to break up the hard packed soil with a pick axe and hoe before we brought in the roto-tiller. Next (sorry neighbors for the smell) we brought in a couple yards of loam and blood meal fertilizer to begin to bring life to the soil.
It was a bit late by the time we had found out about the space. I had been talking at the restaurant about my background as an organic farmer in Vermont ad-nauseum for the past year and a half after I moved to San Francisco. Unaware that Phillip and Carolyn had the space, I would often push for us at Boogaloos to get a little greener and source things more consciously. One day late in May of 2008 A bell went off for Phillip I suppose, and he offered me the space. Jessie having been a farmer herself (and now working across the street in a neighboring cafe) I naturally insisted upon her involvement with the project. Phillip’s excitement and enthusiasm was welcomed and was the right push to get us moving right away. With the peak growing season in California midway through already, starting a garden this late in the season considerably limited the variety what we ideally wanted to plant. We decided to stick to small baby greens such as baby salad, arugula, radish, kale and chard and some yellow squash, haricot beans, and specialty scallions for a start. Leafy greens are a good way to get started. They grow relatively quickly and produce a lot because you don’t have to harvest the whole plant. With successive plantings we speculated we could get a consistent flow of good greens throughout the fall and winter seasons here in San Francisco. With seeds ordered it was time to start building beds.