This past weekend was a busy one for me. After a week of working on landscape art projects for the Presidio, I was ready to get down to business in the garden. My focus was to begin the spring planting with the long-term goal of diversifying our crops. When I arrived at the garden I was pleased to see that our potato towers have sprouted and are now covered in new growth.
Also, the fava beans were starting to flower and green garlic is plentiful.
After this bit of garden porn it was time to get to work. I started by mapping out the garden and loosely planning our crop rotation. I say loosely because we have some big changes coming in the near future for our first garden, but more on that in later posts. After that I dug into the seed box and realized we desperately need some seed. It was then that I realized that we should start a CSA (community supported agriculture) to provide us with some income at the start of the season. It always seems to be the time of year that farms need the most and are the most broke due to the winter. The good news is that it is early enough in the season to put in seed orders. Also I was able to plant some early and hardy crops such as radish and collard.
I decided that I would try using straw mulch when planting. The mulch will serve to keep the soil slightly warmer and suppress the early weeds. Mulch has the added benefit of breaking down over time and providing the soil with nutrients and humus. As the temperature starts to rise and rain fall lessens a mulch layer also helps to keep moisture in the soil and evenly distributed.
As Sunday came to a close I realized how much there is left to do. I made a lot of progress, but really only scratched the surface as we have two other gardens that are ready to be jump started into spring. I would like to put out a call for volunteers. If anybody would like to get involved and get dirty I will be coordinating work parties primarily on weekends as that is the only time I really have free. Also I would like to put out a request for old windows that can be donated to build a cold frame for vegetable starts. I can be reached at email@example.com and would love to hear from readers who would like to volunteer their time, money, or materials as well as anyone who just wants to say what’s up. I’ll leave you with a photo of the garden as she stands.
” The use of our bodies for work or love or pleasure, or even for combat, sets us free again in the wilderness, and we exult” -Wendell Berry
The time has arrived, dear readers, to venture again into our own version of the wilderness to explore things more intimately, more vividly, more extremely. As we might have mentioned before, 2/3 rds of the Amyitis crew have decided to temporarily leave our beloved city of San Francisco to re-vision our path in agriculture. While the adventure of Amyitis has been an education in itself, we see the value in revisiting some more classical types of experiential education. For better or for worse, we hope to bring back a new insight to our practices here in the city by taking an intensive peek at green thumbs the world over.
After my recent journey into permaculture with Kevin Bayuk and David Cody (who begin their winter PDC next week) my inspiration drove me to dive more deeply into the world of holistic thinking and design. Permaculture had its origins in Australia out of necessity in the 1970’s. Brackish soils and paralyzing drought were some of the issues dooming Australian farmers and landowners everywhere. A, then, slow-moving idea (or more accurately a group of ideas) called permaculture housed a group of time-tested, environmentally conscious, and highly productive strategies and techniques under one set of clear principles. Nearly 40 years later, permaculture has now become a fast growing and ever-more widely accepted design strategy having communities, courses and certifications available globally. One of these communities is the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia run by Geoff and Nadia Lawton. Designers using permaculture’s design lense strive to create and encourage systems that are beyond sustainable; regenerative. People like Geoff have spent a lifetime training them. I have decided to spend 10 weeks on Geoff’s farm to learn to see through this lense a bit more and gain a mastery of some of the more popular techniques made famous by permies. I hope to return empowered and inspired to see Amyitis through to its next phase.
Katie Conry has taken advantage of her work situation to explore S. E. Asia and beyond willingly working on organic farms in places like India, Malaysia, and Nepal. I feel encouraged and inspired that Katie’s interest in food has driven her forward both in the world of the blogosphere and into the garden. I trust Katie will also come back inspired and ready to apply her energy with a new lense. We wish her well and await her safe return.
Eben Bell will be here to take care of your Amyitis queries, comments, and collaborations. Look for him at the Free Farm Stand on Sundays in the Mission, or perhaps you local Mission street corner. Keep posted as Katie and I will be sending posts from the Southern Hemisphere.
Until then, Happy Gardening!
The backyard season is a fickle one. Season length can vary by a number of weeks depending on the yard’s orientation to not only the sun but to the surrounding built environment and city location. Such variances are fun exciting and challenges to play with when planning a seasonal harvest strategy. But, death and taxes being inevitable as they are, it seems all good things come to an end. And no matter how much longer one backyard season is compared to another, Autumn happens.
I am grateful for the harvest season and its assured feeling of powering down. The end of the growing season provides its own sorts of great dramatic endings. Like any good music or film wrap-up, the harvest compiles its own “greatest hits” and usually goes out with a celebrated and dramatic bang. As the photo demonstrates above, our late season tomatoes came in an explosion. The September heat gave way to a great wave of super-ripe and super-sweet black princes, green zebras and pink Brandywine. They were all featured in The Corner’s heirloom salad along with Timothy Holt and Naomi Brilliant’s Roshambo Farm tomatoes. The harvest season also puts a skip into my step. While I love to work, this winding down allows for some great protracted thinking and experimenting that the busy growing season usually doesn’t allow for….. and naturally, some much needed time off!!Alongside the tomato harvest I found one of our main connoisseurs, the tomato horn worm. While I am grateful that he likes our tomatoes, he’s not our ideal paying customer. I have some research to do about how he got in there in the first place. I’d seen his relatives on farms back in Vermont, but never before in a back yard. It’s too bad they are not good eating. I might have had me a snack.
In other news, our worm bin is fully thriving with all of the scraps from our harvesting. Here, volunteer Natalie Kilmer cuts our scraps into smaller pieces for the little buggers; more surface area = faster composting.
To prepare for the rain (that is falling in buckets as I write this) that comes here every winter we’ve started sowing some cover crops in our newly emptied spaces. Fava beans, vetch and rye will coat some of our bare ground. Cover crop provides much needed nitrogen fixation and erosion prevention over the winter months. Intensive veggies might not do well during the winter but the cover crops will give us something back while we wait. We’ve also begun experimenting with remineralization with local rock-dust, a bi-product of quarries. And also in anticipation of rain, we’ve buried our inoculated logs from last winter. With any luck, the new moisture brought on by winter will induce fruiting. I’d love to see some shiitake at The Corner over the fall. Cross your fingers for us.
Lastly but never least-ly we’re happy to announce the addition of a new member to the Amyitis Team. Katie Conry has joined up with Eben and I to help manage our web presence. Keep popping back to our blog and see the exciting changes she’s bringing to the blog. We’re delighted to have her as part of the team. I think, dear readers, you will be too.
Herb spiral flowing off a circular garden theme
Amyitis recently installed a private educational garden for a client in the NOPA area this past week. The homeowner was keen to have us try to create as much space as we could for vegetable cultivation. Her adolescent daughter is inspired and anxious to start producing food there. The inspiration comes from her school program which offers a bit of garden education as part of their regular curriculum.
Their backyard space is relaxing and elegant. The space was ornamentally landscaped at one time for sitting around a gas fire pit and enjoying the sound of the swaying bushes all around. Amyitis saw the potential to keep that type of tranquility and yet produce a good amount of food at the same time. The backyard is a circular “room” sandwiched between the main house and a renter’s in-law apartment. We decided to work with the circle theme by adding a raised swale made from sheet mulch. This sheet mulch technique allowed us to increase the amount of planting surface by mounding. It also allowed us to re-use materials and garden “refuse” harvested from the site during prep. I was inspired to start using some permaculture techniques that I have been learning through the San Francisco Permaculture Guild’s fall design training. Sheet mulching was one of the first lessons we learned. The photos below demonstrate the process a bit.
First Layer of finely chopped organic matter
A layer of cardboard provides a weed barrier
a layer of mulch is added to the cardboard layer
The top layer is covered with soil and watered in
To add more gardening space to the small backyard, we built a raised bed in contour with the set of stairs running from the back yard to the exit. Since the whole yard is sloped toward these stairs, some rainwater should run from the main garden to this small bed in heavy rainfall events. We designed the bed for ergonomic ease as well. Because gardening often can have you hunched over or kneeling, placing the bed on the stairs allowed for multiple points of entry to the bed for planting and maintenance.
We were excited with the results of this project and for the opportunity to add some permaculture ideas into our list of skills. In the future this garden should be ready to produce a great deal of food for its residents. We’ll keep you posted.