Friday, March 21, 2008

Growing Challenge: Establishing Street Cred

It is time and past time that I potted up my hundreds of tomato plants. Being trapped under twins, I called Heather for help. We've been slogging away at it for several days now, continually interrupted by the needs of small people - both mine and hers.A forest of tomatoes.

Ready for potting up.

One. One Persimmon tomato plant potted up. Several hundred to go.

All of the transplanting is taking place on my livingroom floor and it is slow going. Fortunately, Eric is very understanding of the huge messes I make related to plants and his only desire is that I clean it up when I'm done and that he gets a whole lot of tomatoes come harvesting time, in late summer. I can certainly promise him that! We will have more tomatoes than we'll know what to do with, this year, but I'm certain that between us and a good book on canning, we'll come up with something to do with all of the produce!

Rosemary popping up.

Did I also mention that I've started stevia, rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley (Italian Flat Leaf, of course), chives, garlic chives and chamomile?

I've never started rosemary or garlic chives from seed before and am enjoying the scent of rosemary, even in its tiny form shown above. I'm looking forward to having some plants of my own, even if they won't survive the winter here. I'm looking forward to trying to produce a bunch of food plants both for sale and for our own uses and tomatoes and herbs are usually a big hit at the market. The question only remains as to how much of a big hit. Do I have enough? Too many? Not nearly enough? We'll find out in a few short weeks.

In the meantime, let's take a short detour down memory lane and let me tell you how this farming thing began.

Back in 2002, we had a helluva drought in Colorado. Everyone was on water rations for their yards and the grass was getting brown and dying off. Since my front yard is on a ridiculous slope and I've always hated mowing the front lawn, I took the opportunity to kill off the grass and replant with something more reasonable, over time.

The first thing I did was lay down landscape fabric. A decision I'm actually regretting to this day. Were I to do it over again, I would instead just use lots and lots and lots of newspaper. Over that I dumped a truckload of wood chips that the tree guys were glad to give me for free, since I'd had a weedy tree cut out of the backyard. If you ever need lots of wood chips, you may want to contact a tree company and ask if they would be willing to deliver some to you for free that would be good for landscaping. My guys made sure they had a truckload of pines in the back for me before coming to my house to remove my tree and then they dumped the whole load out front for my use. A few days later, Eric and I had moved dozens of wheelbarrow loads of chips onto the 50' x 35' stretch of front lawn and the big change was under way.

Now, while I live in suburbia, we don't actually have a covenant that says I can't do whatever I'd like to my lawn. This is key to making sweeping changes like the ones I have made. I can't speak for my neighbors, but I always imagined they were wondering what the heck I was doing, especially since it took years for the changes to make sense. That first summer, with our decided lack of water, new planting wasn't possible, but setting the wheels in motion was.

The following year I bought a small handful of plants and stuck those in: a few zebra grasses and a few caryopteris and Russian sage that I'd gleaned from a friend's yard. Still just little tiny plants struggling to survive in that sea of wood chips.

Finally, in 2005 I started several hundred xeric plants from seed and installed them, myself, by hand in the front yard.

Since that still wasn't enough plants, I did it again in 2006. I grew several hundred more plants from seed and put them in the ground. Only this time, I was up against a deadline, since I was leaving town for a few days and only had a week to get 500 plants (or as many as I could) into the ground.

By this time, the neighbors were watching to see what I was doing and those that were out early enough would stop and talk to me. Some told me they'd been watching the changes I'd been making for years and were curious as to where I got the energy from and when would it be done? most gardeners know, the answer to that question is never, actually.

The best part was the fact that everyone that stopped to talk to me was excited and encouraging about the changes I was making. That bit of information made all the work worthwhile.

Nowadays, my garden really does stop traffic, or at least slow it down and I find that deeply satisfying.

Here are a couple of emails from 2006.

Originally emailed 5/18/06:
Love is...

Installing a new sprinkler head on your 10th anniversary and being totally cool about your wife planting 27 plants in one day. Then later slathering her burnt shoulders with aloe.

BTW, this is what 500 plants from seed looks like:

That's right. I started planting out today. I only did 21 out of this ~500. The extra 6 were plants that I (gasp!) bought at the store. I didn't have room to start seeds for tomatoes or zucchini, so that's what I bought. Actually spent money on plants this year when I was trying not to. Dang!

5/24/06: Crushing rocks with your hands...

Hurts, actually.

That's exactly what it feels like I'm doing every single day that I'm out there working in the yard. Every day the routine goes thusly:
  1. Wake up as early as possible.
  2. Assemble planting gear.
  3. Remove/toss bark chips to one side.
  4. Cut holes in landscape fabric.
  5. Dig out clumps of hard clay soil. Toss into bin.
  6. Squash hard clay soil until it is in little tiny clumps and mix with fresh compost (Mmm! Compost!).
  7. Put plant into hole, surround with soil/compost mix and firm in.
  8. Water with super secret root stimulator formula.
  9. Repeat 362 times.

Yes, my friends, crushing rock hard clay clumps into finer textured clay clumps is the bane of my existence. Imagine my thrill when I realized if I WATERED the spot where the clump needed to be dug up from my life would be easier! I blame my lack of clue to planting hypnosis and the fact that when I started the soil was softer and has been hardening daily due to lack of constant watering. My focus on getting the plants in the ground outweighed my higher thought functions. BTW, watering the sections I was about to dig was in addition to running the sprinklers for 10 minutes the night before. That ground is HARD!

Did I mention the ground is hard around here? Except for in several hundred small holes in my front yard, that is.

Now I am left with bunches of plants to put into the BACK yard. Tomorrow. About 138. My max so far has been 100 (that was yesterday, I ROCKED!).

Want some? I have 3 kinds of salvias (sages) which are kinda leggy, sedum, goldenrod and some tiny parsley. If you come get it, I'll give it to ya! I'm going to put as many as I can in the back yard tomorrow and then hope for a miracle or friends to come and rescue the remainder.


The Empress of Plants
(Hey, I can self title! Besides, how many people do YOU know that grow 500 plants from seed? Huh? Yeah, I thought so!)


It was after this email that Heather suggested I could sell my plants. To which I responded: No way! Who would want them? After a lot of disbelief (on my part) and discussion, we determined that working together we might just be able to make a go at being farmers...together.

We tried to get started last year, but the twin pregnancy put the kibosh on any activity more strenuous than sitting and drinking a lot of water. This year will be the big test.

Can we do it?

I sure hope so! I'm betting several hundred tomato plants on it. And several hundred more others.


Swistle said...

Ahhhhhh! Those photos! They look like SPRING!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Hey, it isspring, isn't it?

Unfortunately, I can't plant anything in the yard until mid-May. I can, however, grow piles of stuff indoors and then sell it in another month or so.

The dichotomy of growing plants for sale!

Catherine said...

Two things: 1) can you post pics of your xeric front yard? I too live in the Denver burbs and HATE watering my front yard. I just can't give up our valuable water for some grass that I don't care about. And 2) you can totally sell your plants on CL. I remember last year when I was looking for a swingset (never found one) there were lots of people selling their extra seedlings for far less than a nursery but more than what they had put into it. I would be more inclined to buy from an urban farmer, I would trust that you hadn't been fertilizing things that'll stunt my kids!

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Hi Catherine!

Sure, I'll put up front yard pictures. Right now, it's in its winter colors: drab and in need of spring clean up.

As for the plants, I'm growing them organically. Certified organic soil, fish emulsion plant food and most of the seeds are even certified organic. Then, a whole lot of love and tenderness. Good point about CL, though!

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