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Category Archives: urban gardening
My lunch was so delicious and aesthetically interesting today I just had to share.
Kale from my backyard, chicken (not from my backyard), olive oil, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne, cinnamon, and lemon. It’s redundant to mention salt as an ingredient right?
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.
Has it really been a month since the last entry? My deepest apologies to our loyal readers and fans for the delay. Evidently, the pressing needs and demands of a growing garden trump the documentation of it. As the sun shines longer and hotter, the “to do” list grows along with the veggies and weeds. With so many developments and so much growth, I find myself now confounded with how to explain it all. Nevertheless I will do my best to recap the developments at Amyitis that continue to make this such a great and interesting season.
I am excited to announce the addition of a new member to the Amyitis team. Eben Bell, a permaculture landscape artist, has joined up with us to help see Amyitis along its path. Until now Amyitis has been taking baby steps to success. Creating a restaurant CSA while holding down another job has thus far dictated the pace of our expansion. Now with the addition of Eben we hope that Amyitis will enter toddler hood and begin running and jumping its way into new spaces. We are happy to have Eben. His background and help will undoubtedly give solid momentum to our growing project.
It goes without saying that San Francisco has interesting weather. But for the sake of this blog and its widespread readership (ha!) I will explain it anyway. While my friends back east are enjoying the heat of May, San Francisco is like a petulant child in the throes of indecision. She’s hot one day and cold the next. She’s 90 degrees in the sun and 65 in the shade on any given day. Above all, she goes to bed early pulling the icy sheets of fog over her everyday at 5pm. Each backyard garden too has its own wild ways. Two of our gardens lie on opposite sides of the same street no more than 100 yds. apart. On the same day I have experienced up to a 15 degree temperature difference between them. In some ways this is ideal. We’ve found that the warmer garden is well suited for tomatoes while the other is best for greens. I suspect that after this season we will be able to make expert choices as to crop and variety locations. Having a variety of spaces and micro-climates has allowed us to think about product diversity in a new way. Due to Eben’s influence, I’ve begun letting certain prolific plants go to seed in hopes that we can save them. The idea being that, plants who’ve done well in a certain climate and location will produce seeds that will produce the same results in the next generation. Since this is all really one big experiment anyway, it doesn’t hurt to try to produce “indigenous” seeds to help us out. Eben’s ideas also make me excited for the rainy season here in the city. As it turns out, his interests in mushroom cultivation have carried him a bit further than myself. With his ideas and planning, Amyitis might become the gourmet fungi producer I’d once hoped.
In the restaurant.
As we continue to grow food, the Corner and Weird Fish continue to find ways to serve it up. We are grateful to the innovative staff there that are helping us streamline the way we serve them. While we eventually aim to serve a wide variety of restaurants in the city with our produce, we have had the great pleasure of having a direct relationship with the kitchens there who keep us informed about our product and how they can use it. It is clear that we will need many more spaces here in the city before we can serve anyone else. It has been a great education and a fortunate union to pair our fledgling project with a burgeoning restaurant. Go down to the Corner and Weird Fish and give them (and us) your feedback.
Its a girl?
We’ve got our first tomato! One hot day this past week Eben and I and a couple of hardworking volunteers got the tomatoes into the planter boxes we’d built for them so long ago. They are happy as…. well… tomatoes. When you’ve nurtured such a fickle plant from seed in an even more fickle environment, sign of the first fruit is worthy cause for a celebration. We hope this means that they are happy. And now our mouths and stomachs look eagerly to the future when the first taste of a Green Zebra tomato passes our lips.
For other San Francisco gardeners (or just gardeners in general) SF Grow is a great organization providing tons of resources to people like us and you. From compost giveaways to free weekly tips, they are a vital source of info on all things garden related. Be sure to give ‘em a click. www.sfgro.org
There really is no stopping a moving train. At this point we’ve gained enough critical momentum that there is no stopping or turning back. Not that we’d ever had plans to stop. Simply put; the reality of the encroaching growing season and, its unique backyard slant for us, is setting in quickly and deeply. We predicted we’d be busy, but as we’ve learned recently with our economy, predictions are one thing, reality is another.
During the past two weeks, both Jessie and myself have moved homes and started building a new garden space in the Mission. We’ve developed strategic tag-team watering plans for all of the spaces (plants don’t give us a day off!!) And we’ve begun to take the first of our weekly shipments to The Corner (18th and Mission www.thecornersf.com). We are jumping with glee each time that we do. Moments like that are when what we do most feels like a selfish act rather than an environmental or communal one. Mainly because it is. When what you happen to enjoy is also something that is good for communities and the environment, there is no reason not to be as selfish as possible. The pure satisfaction I get from bringing our own city-grown organic produce to a restaurant 4 blocks away is narcotic. All idealism aside, I like this…. a lot.
Of course I knew that I liked it when I was farming in VT, but this is something different. I am continually awestruck by how little I know each time I learn something new. Each piece of food we pull from a backyard feels like a triumph, a victory. It feels like we are regaining control of our spaces and inspiring others to do the same. And not simply because it is trendy or altruistic, but because it feels good. It feels right.
Here are some pictures of what we’ve been up to:
We’re gaining more sunlight everyday and with each new sunny moment we’re seeing great changes in our backyard farms. These changes mean more work to make sure we can pull off great harvests for The Corner and Weird Fish, the restaurants we grow for. More work means that we are in ever greater need for more hands. Our volunteers have responded to those needs in numbers.
This week Joel, Sierra, Tina, and Adrienne showed their lust for learning about food by getting dirty. They donated a Friday to getting some plants and seeds in the ground at both of our current garden locations. Blessed by a warm sunny day in the Mission we were able to get some of our seedlings in the ground. Throughout the day we planted head lettuce and scallions that we’d started from seed on our grow table. After that
we got crazy with some direct seeding of arugula, tat-soi, kale, and mizuna. While seeding doesn’t take all that long in a small backyard garden I had a great time showing people the ropes. Beyond that, I was really grateful for all the help and good company. Before long I reckon we’ll have some real black belt volunteers. Thanks guys.
Can we get a light?
While the sun sticks around a little longer now, we’ve been having some light issues on our light table in our grow room. Our squash starts just have not seemed happy. When a plant thinks winter is coming (i.e. when light decreases) it reacts by producing as much offspring (veggies in this case) as it can before the light is no longer enough to sustain the plant. In controlled environments, one strictly controls the amount of light a plant receives in order to give the plant time to mature before it decides to produce fruit and ultimately die. By systematically reducing the daily light cycle, we encourage the plant to “flower” and then “fruit”.
In our case, our squash was flowering prematurely. Which meant it thought death was immanent. We had set our lights on a 12 hour time cycle to ensure that the plants had ample light to photosynthesize and grow large before we planted them outside. But for some reason it wasn’t working. Scratching our heads, we just couldn’t make sense of why our squash thought the end was nigh. That is… until now.
I donned a dunce cap the moment I realized, while laying in bed at 3am, that the master switch to the power was being turned off every night at 8:30 by our cleaning service at the restaurant. This master switch includes our timer. So regardless of what our timer decided to do, it was lights out every night at 8:30… no questions. Some days our squash was getting a full day of “sun” and others it was getting maybe only 3-5 hours. Now, with problem solved, we need to seed a new bunch of squash. And now the death-row squash will be granted a pardon and set outside to start hardening off. With any luck they’ll brought back to health.
I believe that Homer Simpson said it best when he said “Dooooough“!! He knows as well as I do, its hard to sleep with a dunce cap on.
Link of the week
This week I’ve decided to try something a bit out of the ordinary for us and suggest a link that is off the beaten path. ”Fringe” Author Daniel Pinchbeck (2012: the return of Quetzalcoatl) writes mainly about altered consciousness and the point break of our political, social and environmental culture-wave but has also been known to wax poetic when it comes to sustainability. While I will leave the research on his credentials up to the masses, I will advocate his very interesting blog www.realitysandwich.com. In addition to his provoking ravings and rants about consciousness expansion, he has interesting views about the state of the environment and what we can do about it. While he’s no Michael Pollan, his views about personal responsibility and urban farming are worth more than a mention. Explore his blog and decide for yourself.
Lately, when Jessie and I talk about Amyitis, the subject that most often comes up is “what next?” It seems that for any bits of knowledge we’d gained from our days on the farm, we have
three times as much to learn. Every day we wonder what we could be doing that we haven’t thought of yet, what is worth our energy and how much? Is our grow room good enough? Have we been over-fertilizing or under? What else is economical to grow for a restaurant? Just how much food are we expecting to yield this season? Is there a better way? What are we forgetting?
With each question we try to answer it seems that two more appear. With only a 1/2 season under our belt because of our late start last year, we’re finding that there are questions that only time will answer for us. As uncomfortable as that is, until time passes we have to make the mistakes and choices like first timers. And let’s face it, we are novices at this after all. With full time jobs, there is only so much time to hesitate. So we are doing what we know how one day at a time.
While we are waiting for mother nature to squeeze last drops out of winter from the clouds, we’re doing our best to make plans for what is to come. But with all of our questions, we’re both feeling a little less than efficient. It still feels too early to direct seed some things. We’re not planning on planting many, if any, root veggies like carrots, beets, or potatoes because of the time and space it takes to grow them. So, naturally, we’re a bit hesitant to direct seed squashes and cucumbers just yet because of their more sensitive nature. We have chard, lettuce and scallions hardening off under the cold frame that should be ready to hit the ground soon. For those that don’t know, hardening off is the process of toughening up the plants between the greenhouse and the open field. Also, it is not too early for lettuce, peas and kale to go in, so they will get planted this week too.
In many ways it feels like the eye of the hurricane. The excitement of preparing our grow table building beds and ordering seeds has passed. And for now it appears that things have gone slightly idle. Yet at the same time, we both know that in a months time, we’ll be too busy to think. So for now we’re learning how to make the best use out of Mother Nature’s limbo time: updating our business cards and trying to find more backyard spaces in the Mission! That being said, we’re always looking for ways to find more usable spaces that are close to or in the Mission. Never hesitate to pass us along to a new reader or someone that might be interested in having their back yard space transformed into a producing, wholesaling micro-farm.
Much of what we are planting now will be going to the cozy kitchen of a brand new restaurant opening …..soon? …here in the Mission called The Corner. Another venture of Peter Hood and Timothy Holt, The Corner will be a small-plate wine and espresso bar. Their menu will focus on local and seasonal meat, fish and produce from our Bay Area as well as fine wine and coffee. Amyitis greens will be a strong part of the menu as we give them a weekly harvest. We’re very excited. It is a real privilege to see your food be magically transformed by inspired chefs. We can’t wait. Be sure to keep eyes and ears open for news of the grand opening coming very soon.
Link of the Week:
Alemany Farm is a great local farm here in the city dedicated to growing community through growing food. If you are unfamiliar with Alemany, be sure to go check out their website at Alemany Farm. They provide meaningful youth and community activities at their multi-acre city farm and grow food for their low-income neighborhood. Alemany’s Mission Statement reads:
“Alemany Farm empowers San Francisco residents to grow their own food,
and through that process encourages people to become more engaged with their communities. We grow organic food and green jobs for low-income communities, while sowing the seeds for economic and environmental justice”
and through that process encourages people to become more engaged with their communities. We grow organic food and green jobs for low-income communities, while sowing the seeds for economic and environmental justice”
Huh… sounds a lot like us… but with loads more practice and expertise. We applaud the efforts and accomplishments of Alemany and encourage the growth of them and organizations like them. Like us here at Amyitis, they are always looking for volunteers. More information is listed on their website about how to be involved with them if you have something to learn or something to share.
Exciting new things are always happening here at Amyitis. It seems that, with each week, we’re faced with a new challenge, a new experiment, and a new opportunity. Stepping back to admire the growth of this project is truly inspiring and motivational. This week we were inspired and motivated by the show of support we received from our volunteers. Joel, Sierra, and Dillon came out on Tuesday to help us with our biggest job yet; moving 8 cubic yards of soil mix into the new raised beds at one of our gardens. It was a tricky project with only the use of 5-gallon buckets and tarps to move all of that soil through a tight (and very clean) carriage house and two doorways. Scheduling this project has been tricky as well. We have fully welcomed the much needed rain but it sure makes a muddy muddy mess out of a huge and heavy pile of planting mix. Trying to dance around volunteers schedules and make peace with the weather for long enough to get it done wasn’t easy but ended up working perfectly. We had to cancel the soil move a couple times before we just had to go for it. Even though it rained throughout the day, we were able to keep things dry enough to get the job done. And while we suspected that it would be really difficult without sufficient help, we now know that we couldn’t have done it without them. As the pictures below will illustrate, we had a lot fun doing it too.
Now that our second garden is ready for planting, we’ll be able to start planting some of the seedlings we’ve had growing in our grow room. They are continuing to grow healthy and tall but it is clear that they are ready to spread out their roots. So far we’ve started five heirloom tomato varieties, lipstick peppers, red butter lettuce (MFS for those that care), calendula, Athena cucumbers, and several varieties of patty pan and flying saucer squash. It is also nearly time for some direct seeding now that we’re gaining considerable sunlight with each passing day. We’ve already moved some butter lettuce seedlings to a cold frame we built last week. In the coming week we’ll be making the plans for how to make the most productive use out of our new space.
Enjoy some of the pictures below from this week’s soil project as well as another peak at our grow table as it moves along.
Link of the week:
With the fear that I might spoil some grand surprise, I have been hesitant to announce a prideful secret: Amyitis is the subject of a documentary film now underway! And yes, theyand their gear braved the rain to film us move all that soil. Alex Beckstead and Joelle Jaffe of 4SP Films have started filming our trials and triumphs throughout a full growing season for the subject of their latest documentary. Alex and Joelle most recently produced Paperback Dreams, the story of two independent Bay Area bookstores trying to make ends meet in the digital age. Paperback dreams, which aired on PBS, is a thoughtful and in depth film that is a perfect fit for anyone interested in the future of literacy and the ever burgeoning history of the San Francisco Bay area. Paperback Dreams just might help inspire you to save your local bookstore as well as whet your chops for the in-depth look at the life of Amyitis. Find out how to watch and buy the movie at www.paperbackdreams.com.
We don’t know if they have a title yet or a release date, but you can be assured we’ll keep you posted. We have some title ideas of our own, but we wouldn’t dare yet release such nuggets of gold.
Although it has been some time since our last post, we can assure you that we’ve been hard at work here at Amyitis. While enjoying the warmth and glow of these holiday and inaugural seasons, we’ve been toiling away here to insure our success for the seasons that lay in wait. We’ve been so hard at work, both at our day jobs and at the gardens, we’ve only found time now to get you caught up.
Taking swift advantage of the recent Bay Area warm spell, we motivated to get some timely projects and experiments finished. Thus far, the results of these projects are getting us really excited as we move forward into the spring and summer seasons. Along the way, the owners of gardens #2, showed incredible enthusiasm and generosity by having raised beds built in their yard. This huge commitment on their behalf was humbling and inspiring. We’re unfailingly grateful to them and their efforts to keep Amyitis alive and well. On a day this past week I helped Michele, Amy and their builder Lucas clear brush, trees and stumps from the space to prepare for the beds. A day later Lucas had finished the beds, and beautifully. The before and after photos below truly speak for themselves. But rather than ramble on here, I will let the photos do the talking. Scroll down for a tour of what we’ve been up to.
1) Starts in our “start room” in the basement of Boogaloos
2) Jessie tending to the trays
3) MFS lettuce dicots for head lettuce
4) Hericium erinaceus or Lion’s Mane mushroom grown in our home kitchen
5) The Author with kitchen grown Shiitakes
6) Before and after photos of garden #2 under construction of beds
7) Garlic sprouting in garden #1 planted a couple of months ago.
Link of the Week:
Check out Novella Carpenter’s blog at www.ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com.
Novella is someone I met two years ago when I was looking to get my hands dirty. After just having moved to the city from Vermont, I was unsure of how to get involved in the urban agriculture movement I knew was happening all around me. As I applied for jobs I quickly realised that no job in urban farming was going to pay my San Francisco rent. Through my consistent search for a good fit, I was directed to Novella through a friend of mine. Novella was kind enough to have me come over to her very unique garden/mini-farm operation in the east bay once or twice weekly to see how she ran things and volunteer. She, unwittingly, is the inspiration for the blog you read today and quite possibly Amyitis itself. Do check out her sight and read on. What she has done and continues to do in urban agriculture is groundbreaking and fearless. I applaud her efforts and achievements. If you read her blog, you may too.
I guess you could say that sometimes when I sit with my finger on the trigger, ready to make hasty Internet purchases, I can be a little hair-brained. In this case I had shiitake for brains. Or at least, shiitake on the brain. Admittedly, the excitement of an Internet deal is often hard for me to squelch. And in the case of mushrooms (one of my favorite foods) nary can I turn away from the bright LCD screen begging for me to add another item to my virtual shopping cart. Often times, in these situations, the finger click is followed by the synapse fire.
I had written a couple of weeks ago, hinting at my lust for fungal fare, and mentioned the possibility of growing some shiitake plug spawn. Plug spawn are small wooden dowels inoculated with spores of whichever mushroom you fancy. The plugs are about 1/2″ in diameter and roughly 1″ long. They are meant to be “plugged” into holes around 2″ deep in fresh hardwood logs. Fresh in our terms means cut no more than 5 months ago. The reason we need fresh wood is because older wood has had more time to sell its fresh heartwood to the highest bidder, i.e. another fungus. We don’t want to go eating any mushrooms of course without knowing exactly what they are. And if our shiitake plugs were to mingle with a less than edible sort of mushroom, we’d be deep in the pits of wonderland or worse. Being in California, I thought that the possibility of finding freshly cut oak logs would be no big deal. Easily done. Just a phone call, right? Wrong.
As it happens fresh oak that has not been promptly chipped, shredded, split, cured, or turned into a piece of flooring is rather hard to come by. In fact it has been rather consuming to find just what we need at all not to mention without driving all over kingdom come to fetch it. To add to the frustration of finding the wood, plug spawn are living organisms with a 30 day time limit. On top of this is the onset of the holiday season and holiday shopping madness. In short, this has been less than the good time I’d first imagined. Had I known then what I know now I would have simply continued to grow them from sawdust bags, saving plug spawn dreams for a day when I was huddled in my woodland yurt amidst acres of hardwood trees. I am unsure just how many times I will have remind myself to always do my research before I let myself be reeled in by the flashy lure of a sale sign.
Alas, we have yet to give up and are still on the hunt for fresh wood. Like vampire Ents we will not rest until we plug our spawn! If any of our readership knows of a reliable source of any fresh hardwood please send them to us or us to them. Any little bit helps.
Link of the week:
In case you too are interested in growing gourmet mushrooms but want to do it in a much easier and faster way you can usually get bags of impregnated sawdust that produce great results but far less of them. Before, I’d mentioned Fungi Perfecti, a Washington based company started by one of my personal heroes Paul Stamets. For a more local source of equally great products go to Far West Fungi . They are a Bay Area based operation with a store front in the Ferry Building downtown San Francisco as well as market stalls at various farmer’s markets and an online store to buy kits and produce. They all are very helpful and informative. I buy the bulk of our mushrooms from them every week at the Heart of the City farmer’s market in the Civic Center on Wednesdays and Sundays. Check em out!