Posts Tagged ‘front yard gardening’

Eating from the Shade

I wrote yesterday about how I finally have some shade on my property and a few of the things I’m growing there. I am trying hostas, British blackcurrants,  Cornus mas, Good King Henry, cow parsnip, milkweed, oyster mushrooms, and a number of other edibles  that can’t withstand full desert sun. I have planted fair-sized patches of hostas, but the oldest of them are only a year old, so when the tightly furled and appetizing-looking “hostons” appeared above ground this spring, I reluctantly decided that the plants were too young to harvest and left them strictly alone. Fortunately my friend Luke at Mortaltree blog is not so limited,  and he has kindly given me permission to re-blog his post on hostas and Solomon’s seal in the permaculture kitchen. I can’t resist pointing out that these very ornamental species are just about perfect for front yard gardening and suburban gardening generally.

Food from shade: solomon’s seal and hosta shoots.

A Succession of Lettuce

Gardeners tend to love the first salads of spring, and many of us long for greenhouses so that we can harvest all winter. But until I get the greenhouse of my dreams, I scheme about ways to have lettuce and salad fixings as early as possible.

This year I bought a roll of frost-blanket fabric from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and on a bright day in early February I dug up my lettuce beds and pots, composted them heavily, and planted them with various lettuces, planting broadcast-style rather than in rows. Half of the garden bed of lettuce I covered with a double layer of frost-blanket, secured with stones as weights. The other half was left open to the elements, and some was planted in big black pots about 2 feet high but wasn’t protected in any other way.

I supplied them with water (no need to remove the frost-blanket to sprinkle that bed) and otherwise left them alone.

On March 28th, about 6 weeks later, here’s what the beds look like:
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This bed was under the frost-blanket. The little lettuces are over 4 inches high, and harvesting can begin.
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This one is in one of the large pots. The lettuce is about 2 inches high, and won’t be ready to harvest for a few weeks.
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These are planted in the open ground. They have survived hard freezes and an 8″ snowfall and are very small, but undaunted.

From one afternoon of planting, I will be able to harvest lettuce from late March through May, with minimal effort. I will be doing this again next year, and will also plant a bed in October and try to hold it under frost blanket through the winter, to get a jump-started bed in the spring. We urban yard-farmers have day jobs and minimal free time, and this is one way to make the most of it.

Before and after: the first six months


Too often, when I look at my garden I concentrate on what needs to be done or what didn’t turn out as hoped. The recent intense heat spells have been hard on garden and gardener alike, and it’s easy to fall into frustrated negativity. So today, as I look out my front door at the view above, I want to remember what it looked like when we took possession of the property six months ago:

Okay, not everything prospered, but we eat a lot of vegetables from our own yard every night, birds and butterflies and skinks abound, and every now and then I see a neighbor or two hanging over the fence admiring the view. Amazing what compost and stubbornness can do.
Please, please, use the DH oil spill as an opportunity to think about some ways to reduce your own footprint. “Yard farming” is the most healthful and pleasurable way I know to do that. If you grow any food in Albuquerque, please consider registering with the “2012 gardens by 2012” project. Go to www.albuquerquebackyardfarms.com and click the “2012 Gardens” tab. Sustainablity and greater self-sufficiency are great causes.

Passing Pleasures: Artichokes

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      Artichokes are a wonderful addition to the New Mexico garden. They are splendid silvery architectural bushes for the cooler seasons of the year, and provide a rare treat to their enthusiasts.

       One of the overlooked aspects of front yard gardening is that neat greens like Swiss Chard can’t be used as edging because passers-by don’t know vegetables when they see them, or don’t care, and so they let their dogs urinate on anything along the sidewalk. I solve this problem by edging my front garden with artichokes: the edible part happens a few feet off the ground, and until a squadron of Irish Wolfhounds comes to my neighborhood, I’m safe.

     Now is the time to start artichokes from seed, to enjoy next spring. I like the common “Green Globe” best. The plants typically live 3-4 years in our area. The scaly buds don’t get as big as they do on the misty west coast, but they’re very delicious. A deep watering once a week is plenty once they’re established. They don’t produce over a long season, but for two weeks in late spring we revel in all the fresh artichokes we can eat, and a rare feast it is, too. If you’re interested in such things, artichokes contain abundant amounts of two antioxidants, cynarin and silymarin, which are found only in the thistle family. I’m not sure what this really means nutritionally, but it does mean that when I feel tired and out of sorts, I can eat a plate of artichokes, telling myself that a good dose of cynarin will fix me right up. It usually does, too, unless it’s the bagna cauda or the general abundance of the season that I’m responding to.
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For more on cultivation and recipes, Continue reading

Foraging: wild mustard

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Right now, the wild mustard is free for the picking in our region. I find it in unexpected places in my yard, including the middle of the lawn, and along acequias closer to the river. Needless to say, you don’t want to pick any that’s growing where it’s exposed to walking dogs, or where chemical spraying may have taken place.
When the weather is still very cold and the wild mustard is still young, it’s a great green to spice up a salad, adding a wasabi-like heat when combined with milder greens. Taste it, and if it’s too hot for salads cook it, which lowers the heat. I love to mix it with spinach, chard, or other mild greens about half and half: saute’ some chopped garlic in olive oil in a skillet, add the well-washed greens and a couple of tablespoons of raisins, and braise over medium heat until done. Garnish with toasted pine nuts, and eat.
These potent, highly flavorful greens were the “spring tonic” of our ancesters, and today we still need those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. We may not be recovering from a winter without fresh vegetables, but we still need the connection with the awakening earth that its first green shoots can provide. If you were thinking ahead last fall, you made sure to have plenty of herbs, and now you can sprinkle your cooked greens with the shoots of parsley and fennel that are coming up from last year’s plants. They’ll shoot to seed soon, so use them up now.
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Thanks Giving

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What a deeply joyful Thanksgiving I was privileged to have: here in New Mexico we had both a new president and a good long soaking rain, and in the high desert it’s a little hard to say which is more exciting. The garden is still providing some lettuce, arugula, herbs, and carrots, but I have more time to reflect on what I’m doing. This has led to thinking about what, exactly, my urban homestead means. It certainly doesn’t mean self-sufficiency. That won’t happen until I can grow coffee and olive oil. It doesn’t mean grimly making do. It’s a happy celebration of what one small piece of city dirt can produce. I have a medical practice and a number of hobbies, but growing my own food in the most space-intensive way possible is a lot of fun, and I have a website and blog to let other people know that, if they want to provide for themselves a little more, they don’t need to quit their job and move to the country. I don’t even think that’s the best way to start. Start where you are, with what you have. People with no land at all can bake sourdough bread and brew beer, and those are indoor “yeast gardens.” People with a balcony can grow herbs in pots. People with a tiny yard can utilize it. In the quest for local food, we can have the most local food of all, and if we have more garden space at other points in our lives, we’ll know more about how to use it if we’ve practiced in small ways. Please go to my website, www.localfoodalbuquerque.com, for more about urban gardening, and look at my blog entries on other pages for details about the many small pleasures that crop up along the way.

Most of my winter posts will be about canning, preserving, and using what was made during the summer. That’s also a way of remembering the abundant season and being grateful for what I received. So, here’s a fond look backward at

the colors of summer.   august-08-029