Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Patio Farmers, Black Out and Squaw Valley

Santa Monica has a growing number of community gardens spread throughout the city. The most famous is on Main Street, south of downtown, and has been there since the 1970's. I remember staring at them as a kid and wondering how people got so lucky to get a garden in a pack of gardens in the middle of town. It didn't occur to me to call the city about getting one of them myself until a couple months ago. I applied for a plot, told them I'd take any size at any of the three locations. I'm 250th or so on the waiting list – that’s what the lady told me! It will take years. I can wait.

Mina and I drove past the Park Drive Gardens, the closest community garden to our house, last weekend. We walked all around the locked lots and tried to identify all the food coming into harvest; tomatoes, strawberries, basil, corn! They were fantastic. Some of the lots were tiny, maybe a 100 sq. feet, and it occurred to me that my back patio is only a little smaller than the smallest of these lots. I said, "Mina, these gardens are tiny, right? Don't they look the same size as our patio?" Her eyes lit up. "Yes!" And in that moment we decided to become patio farmers.

For the record, I know not a thing about the soil. In technical terms, I know not what makes it tick or what would move it to miraculously produce something so perfect as zucchini, let's say. Or a watermelon. I mean, that's nuts, right? A watermelon grows from a seed, y'all! So the thought that I could somehow coax the earth to do the same for me is a bit mindblowing. It's logical to believe that anything living needs nurturing, nutrients, love. I know that much, I suppose.

When I was 13, Mama lived in a trailer in Westlake with a bit of a yard. One spring she planted strawberries seeds in high, holey terracotta pots. We sat on the back trailer steps and waited for things to grow. Quail families ran through the yard with small bobbing head feathers. When jagged green leaves crawled out of the holes of the pots, I was impressed. But when small red berries exploded in bloom between the leaves I thought Mama was in on something godly. Of course she was, but I was not moved to try such miracles myself. I didn't think it was possible for me, in an apartment. Growing food was for people with land and with a calling.

I've been called now, or I self appointed a calling to myself. It's yet to be seen if I can lure food from the ground. I did successfully keep some herbs alive from existing plants last summer. That alone was chest-puffing for me.

Mina and I started our patio farm with some plastic planters that had been in storage or discarded.We spruced them up with good dirt, and seeds and some seedlings though these bell peppers are a bit more than seedlings.Hey, 'member I got this Envirocycle rolling composter a year ago?Yo, talk about miracles! Did you know -- and I'm really just talking to my city folks right now -- that scraps of food, over time and mixed right and rolled around in the above contraption, really turns into a dirt-like substance? It's crazy! Here's a cupful. Check it:Don't ask me how the worms got in there; I'm just a bystander in the natural ecology of things. We added our homemade compost to our soil and apparently our lil' plants are gonna eat it up and dig us for it. You know who else is diggin' the project? Patio Farmer Mina. Here's what we have so far: Tomatoes in the corner, herbs from existing plants, seedling bell peppers and sugar snap peas, and from seeds (hopefully) will come carrots, zucchini, pole beans and I have some eggplant getting started indoors. (I read the packets very carefully.) I'll keep you posted because, lord have mercy, when I see the first hint of an edible substance coming from our p. farm, I'll be snapping pictures like it was my first born.
In other news . . .Husband has been staging a bit of a silent protest. He is the production manager for a clothing line and he works really hard, too hard really. He works 11-12 hours days, every day. He works Saturday mornings most weeks and since they've added a factory in Mexico, he's had to make trips there twice a month. He is a machine. But it's too much. You know when the hardest working person just ends up taking on most of the work? He's that guy. And I tell him that they'll work him as hard as he'll let them, and he says I know I know, but still he works until the brink anyway. About a month ago, he unceremoniously started wearing only black to work; black t-shirts, black jeans, black sneakers. Every single day without fail, all black. I don’t want to worry, but I don't see an end in sight, and coworkers are starting to make comments. It's as much of a protest against the work load as Husband can muster. It's like he's telling his work, "I'm saying fuck you in my mind right now." Kinda. Poor Husband! I love him so much.

And in other other news, I got accepted to the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Program this summer (!). I've attended this workshop before, a few years ago and many, many years before that. 'Member when I was Janet Finch's personal DJ last time? Oh man, she's great. Anyway, Squaw for me has been an amazing experience and the alumni and staff are intimidatingly impressive, but really the valley itself is magic for me. Squaw Valley in the summertime is the most beautiful place I've ever seen in person. I can't tell you what staring at the velvet valley does for me. For 7 days, I will get to geek out on writing with a good mix of budding brilliance, pretentious gas bags and straight lunatics. I love them all. I applied with my new story, which is the first I've written in a while and I'll get it workshopped during the program. In the past, I've held high expectations for myself when going to the workshop only to disappoint myself even more later. After the program, I have felt huge crashes; tumblings down after hoping to retain the hope and highs I felt at Squaw. Writing good fiction takes everything from me. It's the only thing that I do that takes complete silence and full concentration. That's a tall order in my house. Anyway, no expectations this year. I'm just gonna be myself and geek out and appreciate what I was able to churn out lately. I’ll ride my bike next to Lake Tahoe and of course stare at the valley. That's all I really want, is that valley to hold me still for a while.


Becky said...

You're going to Lake Tahoe and taking your bike? Awesome! I was just there a few weeks ago for America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride (it most certainly was!) and I can't wait to go back. There is a nice little bike path along the Truckee river that I really liked, but the stuff around Emerald Bay was amazing. It's a serious climb with some switchbacks, but the views and downhills made it worth the effort. Of course, you would unfortunately not have the luxury of having one lane closed to cars, so if you go please be careful! I can't wait to hear about your trip!

Michael B. said...

Here's another great idea on small scale gardening:

I haven't tried it yet, right now we're using wine barrels, but the self watering aspect looks interesting...
Lemme know if you might stop for coffee or a meal near SacTown on your way to Squaw and we'll ride up to meetcha! :)

Rozmin said...

My BF says that eggplants are "tricky", so we're not growing them. :-( If yours work out, I am SO planting them next year!

We have tons of herbs, a cucumber plant, peppers, tomatoes, peas, and lettuce. Not much, but it's something. :-)

What's Mina Wearing Today said...

Hi Becky, I'm not taking my road bike, just the commute bike to get around the workshop and market and the parties, of course. BUT I hear that Tahoe ride is amazing and I would love to do it sometime.

Whoa, Michael. I'm just now exploring the finer points of composting so building the self-watering thing is a little off my radar . . .for now. I did think about getting these though
Oh wait, they only got three stars. Maybe they don't work . . . And girl, hell yes I wanna have food or coffee with you on the way up! I'm driving up August 1st. We'll talk details later.

Hey Rozmin, uh oh on the eggplant. I'll probably get beginners luck, or that's what I'm banking on. I'll let you know how it goes. Your garden sounds perfect. Is it too late to plant lettuce?

Marigoldie said...

Hooray! Congratulations on Squaw and on that new-fangled chill attitude about it. That's the way to do it.

Amy said...

Hooray for patio farmers. I encourage whenever I can

We have great success with these this year...They're called Salad Tables. They've worked so well for us that we're adding three more next year. Ours are big..3'x8' but my parents made a smaller version. Kind of like square foot gardening on stilts.

nec said...

Good for you! I have patio gardens through Oct until about April or May - I find it too hot (I'm in Az) to grow anything during the summer months, though I do have friends that are successful. Good luck!

Congrats on getting accepted!

and good on Papi with his silent protest :o)

Melinda said...

I would love to read your story.

Madame One Tree said...

Mz Madness, I can feel your excitement literally jumping off the page! I am going to be following this. I have mandarin oranges and a meyer lemon tree in big containers on my patio, and they are the only things that I have been able to keep alive in containers. I have more success with the seed packet to ground operation. I wish I had a rolling composter... This pitch forking business can make a body rather weary. Mina looks like a plantin'
belle in her sunhat. Wonderful.

Those are some crazy looking worms in that compost, though.

Rozmin said...

The lettuce is sort of puzzling me. We have 2 pots of it, they are like 2' x .5'. One pot is doing really, really well. The other looks sort of good in the middle and is kind of dying on the edges. I think the less healthy one is getting too much sun maybe.

From what I understand (I'm a total novice), lettuce can be started in early spring, but I think it can be grown year round. It's a really fast plant too, my mom says "6 weeks from seed to harvest", and it was definitely the fastest thing in our garden.

I think you can grow it now, but it would probably like a cooler and sort of shady spot.

Anonymous said...

You give me faith in good people working hard to do good things. This is a real gift to me. I'm still saying my mantra,"I am nature." Thankyou

Rebel Girl said...

try arugula!


Jonathan K. Cohen said...

Hooray for Squaw!

It was a transformative experience in my life. I workshopped a story which I thought was my best but which was really terrible. It didn't matter -- just the valley and my peers and all the wisdom coming out of the teachers and writers.

You are going to have another wonderful time.

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