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Giveaway!! Win a Copy of Free Range Chicken Gardens!

THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED! THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO COMMENTED!

There are tons of chicken books out there. Books with portraits of rare and unusual chickens. Books about how to raise and care for chickens. Books about building coops. But all these books leave out a very key piece of information: how to integrate chickens into that nice garden you’ve been working to create. Turns out chickens like to eat lettuce, pea shoots, and kale, and that they love nothing better than to scratch up soil, preferably if you’ve just planted seeds there. They also poop. A lot. Usually in the middle of a pathway or on your deck chair. I’ve had chickens for four years and I wish that I could have had Jessi Bloom’s new book, Free Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard, in the beginning.

Everyone who has chickens or wants them needs this book on their shelf. Jessi is an extraordinarily talented garden designer, plant nut, and chicken keeper and her book details how to create gardens that coexist with chickens. Written in a cheerful, straightforward style, Jessi covers in detail the key aspects of raising chickens and creating a beautiful, functional outdoor space. Sprinkled throughout the book are real life examples of successful “chicken gardens”, which look gorgeous, while keeping the chickens safe and happy.

In my own garden I often focus on how to protect plants from my chickens when they free-range, a subject Jessi covers, but she goes into much more detail about designing gardens in a way to minimizes chicken damage. She covers coop placement, different free-ranging strategies, and lists plants that provide shelter and food and forage for chickens, as well as an extensive guide to chicken-resistant plants. The book also offers great advice on choosing breeds and training chickens, and features some fantastic coops and runs.

To celebrate Jessi’s remarkable book, I am participating in a virtual blog party! Myself and several other chicken-loving bloggers are giving away a copy of Jessi’s book, as well as the recently released cookbook The Fresh Egg Cookbook! To enter, please leave a comment on this post with your favorite way to cook eggs. The giveaway will run through Thursday, April 12th at which point I will choose a winner and Jessi’s publisher Timber Press, will send out copies of the books to the lucky commenter. You can join the blog party by checking out the posts by all the other partygoers. Just beware, you will surely find several new blogs you want to add to your blog roll! This is a list of super inspiring gardeners:

Jessi at http://gardenfowl.com/

Gen at http://www.northcoastgardening.com

Erica at http://www.nwedible.com/

Theresa at http://www.LivingHomegrown.com

Angela at http://myrubberboots.com/

Annette at http://www.sustainableeats.com/

Kylee at http://www.ourlittleacre.com

p.s. Angela and Theresa’s gardens are pictured in the book!

 (Images: 1. Timber Press 2. Kate Baldwin 3. Timber Press)

Sneak Peek: Sunset Magazine Demo Garden

Vertical Gardening at Sunset Magazine Demo Garden

Sunset magazine recently released the New Sunset Western Garden Guide. Western gardeners like to call it “the gardening bible”, and this 9th edition of the book is better than ever. The little line drawings of past editions have been replaced with thousands of color photos and, as always, the book is chock full of information on plants and how to grow them successfully in your zone. The Western Garden Guide is really a wonderful starting point to begin exploring all of the varied and interesting plants (especially ornamentals and natives) that grow in the West. I was especially pleased to see that they call out plants that are important for beneficials and pollinators with an icon. As part of the book’s launch, I was invited to Sunset’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California to tour the gardens with other garden bloggers and eat breakfast in the Sunset test kitchen. It was such a wonderful morning! The test kitchen looks out over an herb garden and outdoor kitchen and the vegetable test garden is like an amazing idea lab and dream backyard garden wrapped into one. I am happy to report that the garden is not too precious. It is clearly a real garden. They have a few weeds here and there and Johanna Silver, Sunset’s test garden coordinator, admitted they have problems with squirrels and birds eating seeds and seedlings—just like the rest of us!

 

Sunset Magazine Chicken Coop

The garden features an amazing coop tucked away into a back corner, and it is home to a few very happy and spoiled hens. The coop was made by a local California company, Wine Country Coops. The coop sits up off the ground and has a wire floor, which allows the chickens’ droppings to fall through onto a layer of bedding below. The coop is right by the compost pile, so I imagine it is pretty easy to keep things clean and tidy (something I cannot say about my own chicken’s lame coop). They also have a generous covered run.

Hens at Sunset Magazine Garden

Straw in Sunset Magazine Compost Pile

The test garden is about the size of a small city backyard, so there were quite a few containers scattered around and lots of trellises. My favorite was this bright orange, powder coated steel trellis. Johanna had just planted some peas at the base (and covered them up with a strip of row cover to protect them from critters).

Vertical Gardening at Sunset Magazine

Spring Vegetable Gardening at Sunset Magazine Demo Garden

The greenhouse is surrounded by garden beds, which helps integrate the structure into the rest of the space. During my visit the beds were filled with overwintered cool season crops.

Vegetable Garden at Sunset Magazine

Mature artichoke plants filled in the corners of the garden. Seeing them made me determined to grow artichokes in my own garden this summer! I love their silvery grey foliage and the architectural presence of the plants. The garden featured many other perennial edibles, including mounds of herbs and a potted lemon tree.

Perennial Vegetable at Sunset Magazine Demonstration Garden

Sunset also loves to grow kale. I spotted ‘Red Russian’ and a curly green variety as well. Even though it gets quite hot in Menlo Park in the summer, I’m told kale can grow year round there if it is given a bit of shade during the hottest part of the year.

Cool Season Vegetable Garden at Sunset Magazine

This pathway is composed of wooden odds and ends. I really love the pathway’s geometric design and that it made use of material that would normally be tossed aside. The Sunset garden is open to the public during their annual Celebration Weekend, which takes place this year on June 2nd and 3rd. I encourage you to go if you have the chance. You will surely walk away inspired! I know I did.

Pathway material

 

 

Spring Garden Clean Up

Black Australorp and Buff Orpington Chickens

Yesterday I finally had a chance to  get outside for some much needed garden time. My garden is a bit of a disaster at the moment, but luckily I had my four bird brained companions, Inky, Clyde, Bumble and Boo, to “help” me clean up. I started by harvesting the remains of our Swiss chard, arugula, broccoli rabe, purple sprouting broccoli and kale flower buds. I tossed the stalks and assorted leaves into the chicken run for them to snack on. I don’t have a wheelbarrow at the moment, so I emptied out the compost bin one tub trug at a time and spread the compost over three of my beds. It was really satisfying to see last year’s yard waste return to the garden. Then I gathered up weeds and spent vegetables, raked up the decomposing straw in the pathways, and tossed it all into the compost pile. I ended the day by planting a few lettuce seedlings and some radishes in my trough containers.

 

I’ve still got quite bit to do to get my garden in ship shape for spring, including:

* Move the portable chicken coop over the weedy area behind our garage (my plan is to let the girls do my weeding for me).

* Re-seed doggie-destroyed areas of the lawn

* Trim wisteria (which is threatening world domination) and flowering jasmine (which is eating the garage)

* Pre-sprout peas and plant them

* Direct sow carrots, radishes, spinach, mustard greens, arugula and turnips

* Plant kale seedlings

* Plant artichokes

* Buy and plant bare root strawberries

* Construct hoop houses over beds (to protect the crops from cabbage maggot fly—eww!–and carrot rust fly)

* Plant greens in my wooden crates

* Plan my new herbal tea garden (several kinds of mint, bee balm, and lemon verbena are on the list)

So what’s on your chore list right now? I’d love to hear!

Plant I Love: ‘Super Rapini’ Broccoli Rabe (Plus a Book Giveaway!)

We are still harvesting quite a few greens out of our garden, despite the slushy weather. We have kale, arugula, pea shoots, and mache, but I am most excited about the broccoli rabe. I sowed it in late August, set a hoop house over the bed and covered it with a lightweight row cover (primarily to keep our chickens from snacking on the greens, but also to protect them from cooler weather). Broccoli rabe is, big surprise, in the broccoli family (brassica), but  it is actually more closely related to turnips, which are called rapa in Italy. The leaves resemble turnip leaves and share their strong, slightly bitter flavor.

Broccoli rabe is a fabulous green for fall and winter gardening, because it is edible at every stage. I thinned out the plants when they were just a few inches tall and tossed them into salads. The leafy foliage has a pleasant mustard-y flavor that grows stronger as the plants age. And best of all, broccoli rabe develops small, delicious, broccoli-like heads. The heads are ready for harvest in just under a month in warmer weather, but in fall and winter they form more slowly.

When they first emerge, the heads are tightly packed and compact. With in a few days though, they begin to loosen up and lengthen, and eventually the buds open to reveal bright yellow blossoms. Ideally, you want to harvest when the heads are tightly packed. Just clip the plant off near the soil line, stem, leaves and all.

Broccoli rabe tastes slightly bitter raw. So I often blanch the greens in hot water first, pat them dry, and then saute them with olive oil and garlic. If you miss the ideal harvest window (which sometimes only lasts a couple of days, especially in warmer weather), no worries. The yellow blossoms are slightly sweet and slightly spicy and definitely delicious. Experiment with adding them into stir fries or eat them in salads.

I’m growing ‘Super Rapini’ from Renee’s Garden, but Seeds from Italy offers a great selection of Cima di Rapa (Italian for broccoli rabe). They currently stock 8 varieties, including ‘Sesantina’ which develops larger than average heads.

Also, I hope you will all hop over to Ashley English’s lovely blog, small measure. She kindly reviewed my book and is giving away a copy! All you have to do to enter is a leave a comment with your favorite thing to grow and something you’d like to try.

9 Fun Gifts for Gardeners

Succulent Ornament (Set of 3), $55 from Flora Grubb. Three small succulent cuttings come tucked in a box and ready to hang on the tree, or where you would like. The cuttings are live and the box includes instructions on how to plant up the succulents in a container after the holidays!

Gnome Cookie Jar, $52 from Seltzer Studios. I’m pretty sure everyone needs a gnome with a gilded hat. This little guy is made of white porcelain and a whole lot of cute.

Loll Swing, $143.65 from Loll Design. A swing is pretty much the definition of fun. This modern swing from Loll Design is just 100% recycled plastic and can be hung from a tree, porch or swing set.  Perfect for the kids big and small!

Fungus-Among-Us Tea Towel, $28 from makelike. For the forager in your life. This tea towel from the Portland-based design studio makelike is screen printed by hand onto a lovely European linen tea towel. It is really almost too pretty to sully in the kitchen. I think I might hang it up as art instead.

2012 Block Print Wall Calendar, $15 from Rigel Stuhmiller. The artist Rigel Stuhmiller creates beautiful hand carved linoleum block prints of vegetables, fruit and chickens. Her rustic prints are so beautiful and true and the 2012 calendar features 27 of them. At the end of the year you could extend the life of the calendar by framing your favorite prints.

Victory Garden Postcard, $1.75 from the Dead Feminists. This tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt, who planted a victory garden on the lawn of the White House, would make such a nice stocking stuffer. First printed in 2008, the card encouraged First Lady Michelle Obama to follow Mrs. Roosevelt’s lead. I love the graphics and the message.

 Poppy and Butterfly Cloche, $36 from Terrain. I have a small but growing collection of glass cloches that I use indoors as decoration and in the garden during spring as a season extension tool. They add just a touch of elegance to my otherwise very utilitarian vegetable garden. This particular cloche features a pretty painted illustration of flowers and butterflies.

Recycled Glass Bubble Wall Terrariums, $55 from Sprout Home. Terrariums make such a great gift because you can enjoy them long after the holidays are gone. This terrarium sits flush up against a wall and looks particularly cool when filled with moss and air plants.

Subscription to Wilder Quarterly, 59.99 from Wilder Quarterly. The tagline for this brand new quarterly magazine is “a publication for people enthralled with the natural world.” The pages are filled with gorgeous photography and articles that span from recipes to vegetable gardening to travel and design.  It is smart. It is beautiful. And it is definitely a read cover-to-cover-in-one-sitting kind of magazine.

 

 

 

10 Practical Gifts for Gardeners

In my wanderings through the internet I come across quite a few fun ideas for gardeners. So I have gathered all my favorite products together and divvied them up in to three holiday gift guides: practical gifts, fun gifts, and books. I thought I’d start off with the list of practical gifts because it is always fun to receive something that you can put to use in the garden!

1. Urbio Vertical Garden, $20 to $200 from Urbio. The designers of these awesome magnetic wall containers raised the seed money for their project on the crowd sourced funding site, Kickstarter. The hip white eco-plastic containers each contain a super-strong magnet that can be placed on any ferrous metallic surface or to special metal back plates that attach to a regular wall. These are so super cool! You can use them to plant succulents, herbs, individual lettuces and create your own custom living wall. Unfortunately they aren’t quite ready to ship for the holidays, but you can pre-order the Urbio planters and they will arrive in your mailbox in early 2012.

 

 

 

 

2. Moleskin Recipe Journal, $19.95 from Moleskin: I adore my recipe journal, because it gives me one place to record all the recipes that I make up on the fly. The journal has a thick black cover with a cute embossed design. Inside there are tabs for appetizers, first course, main dishes, side dishes and desserts. Each page has plenty of room to jot down ingredients, instructions, and notes for when you make the recipe again.

3. Kamik Jennifer Rainboots, $65 from Zappos: I’ve had a pair of Kamik wellies for several years and they are the best! So comfortable, easy to hose off and completely waterproof.  My pair lives by the back door and I wear them almost every single day to feed the chickens, walk the dog, and garden. I particularly love this new Hunter-like style. So cute!

4. 5” Stirrup Hoe with a Replaceable Blade, $47 from Johnny’s Select Seeds: If I could only have one tool, I would choose a stirrup hoe because it makes weeding so fast and easy. The oscillating, stirrup-shaped blade cuts right under the soil, slicing off the roots of weeds. This particular hoe is the best because it has a blade that you can replace when it gets dull.

 

 

5. Botanical Series Write and Erase Plant Tags, $17 from Sprout Home. Ever forget to label the plants in your garden and end up wondering what exactly you grew at the end of the season? Me too. Which is why I love these plant tags! They are super sturdy and you can rub the label off at the end of the season and use them again the following year.

 

6. JR, Richard, and Ralph Birdhouses, $195 from Modern Birdhouses. A birdhouse always makes a fine gift, especially in winter. These simple birdhouses are made of sustainably harvested teak and were designed to entice cavity-dwelling birds like chickadees, bluebirds, and wrens. They have a removable floor, which makes it easy to keep the houses clean.

7. Bamboo Gloves, $24 from Ethel gloves. I don’t really like to wear gloves when I’m gardening  unless I am hauling rocks or cutting brambles. But when I do need to wear gloves, I reach for my pair of Ethel gloves, because they protect my hands without getting in the way. These gloves are made from a bamboo material that is thin, but durable, has just the right amount of stretch and is anti-microbial. And the suede like material provides plenty of grip, but is completely vegan-friendly.

8. Colorful Tubtrug, $16.95 from Gardener’s Supply Company. Tubtrugs are so versatile! You can use them to haul soil, compost, and yard debris, and as a storage container. I have a bright yellow one and would be happy to have trug in every color!

 

 

9. Seeds from Wild Garden Seeds. Seeds make great stocking stuffers and buying from Wild Garden gives you the opportunity to help sustain the Morton family, who have undertaken the hard and important work of developing new, regionally adapted, open pollinated vegetable varieties for organic gardeners and farmers. Some of my favorite varieties, including ‘Solar Flashback’ calendula (pictured above), ‘Rainbow Lacinato’ kale and ‘Purple Peacock’ broccoli were bred by Wild Garden and all of the seed they sell is certified organic and grown at the Gathering Together Farm in Southern Oregon.

10. Smith & Hawken Potting Bench, $799 from Target. Okay, so this is clearly a splurge, but it really is a lovely yet practical potting bench! It is made of FSC-certified, naturally rot resistant eucalyptus wood and is full of clever design details, like a lift-off work surface that has soil storage bins underneath. The racks above give you plenty of space to organize pens, plant tags, and fertilizers, and there is lots of space to store pots. Plus, you could use it as a outdoor buffet/barbecue work station in summer after all your pots are filled.

 

Homegrown Thanksgiving

One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is to make at least one dish with homegrown food from our garden. Near the end of summer, I planted purple Brussels sprouts in the hopes that they would be ready for Thanksgiving, but I got the seedlings into the ground a bit late and the sprouts are still teensy tiny. Oh well! We luckily have lots of greens and herbs to harvest for the meal.

Very small brussels sprouts on the stalk

I planted in arugula in late August and it is now the perfect size for a fresh salad. The leaves are about the size of my palm, very tender and peppery without being overpowering.

Garden Arugula Leaves

I am thinking about using the arugula as a base for a salad that is studded with candied hazelnuts, blue cheese and chunks of heirloom apple. But my mom doesn’t love blue cheese, and since she and my dad are our guests this year, I am also considering making a super simple salad of just arugula, shaved parmesan, toasted walnuts and a lemon vinaigrette.

Purple and grey kale

Incredibly the ‘Rainbow Lacinato’ kale that I planted in March is still going strong eight months later. This is a seriously amazing variety. It just keeps growing and growing and growing! The tall stalks recently tipped over, but were nearly five feet tall before they fell. Jon is a vegetarian, so I always like to make a special main dish for him to enjoy along with all of the vegetable based side dishes. Rather than serve stir fried or braised kale, which we eat on a weekly basis, I am going to make a savory tart stuffed with with roasted vegetables, narrow ribbons of kale, and gruyere cheese.

Freshly harvested walla walla sweet onions

It may have been a bad year for tomatoes, but it was a great summer for onions. We harvested tons of ‘Walla Walla Sweey’ onions in late summer and I set aside the biggest ones to use for Thanksgiving. They will find their way into our cornbread dressing, the tart mentioned above, and I’m sure other dishes as well.

In my Seattle garden I had a huge ‘Berggarten’ sage plant. I was very sorry to leave it when we moved because it was so beautiful and produced an endless supply of leaves that are perfect for cooking with. I planted a new ‘Berggarten’ sage in my Portland garden, but it is seriously unhappy in the spot I chose. The chickens dug it up on more than one occasion this summer and the soil doesn’t drain well. Even though the plant is pouting, there are still enough leaves to make Mark Bittman’s prosciutto wrapped sweet potatoes!

I am so excited to cook for Thanksgiving and share the meal with my parents and our good friends. I’m putting the finishing touches on the menu this week and am curious what will be on your table next week that comes from your garden?

Late Season Basil Harvest

 

Have you ever noticed that late season basil just does not taste as good as basil harvested in mid-summer? I find that the leaves lose their tender texture and their flavor becomes harsher and develops a stronger anise undertone. When I was researching my book, I uncovered a few reasons behind these changes. It turns out that the aromatic oil content in basil leaves reduces as they age, which in turn dials down their flavor. The flavor profile of basil also changes when the plants flower. Basil is a tropical plant and is very sensitive to cooler temperatures. Frost out right kills the plants, but temperatures below 50 degrees damage them, turning the leaves brown or black and unappetizing.

Frequently harvesting the basil during the summer helps the plant continue to produce young, tasty leaves and it also prevents the plants from flowering. But at this time of year cool evening temperatures are unavoidable and the older the plants get, the faster they try and flower. This basil is still worth eating, I think, but I prefer to process the leaves rather than using them raw. Over the weekend I cut down all my basil and brought a huge armload indoors. As you can see in the photo above, several plants were flowering while others showed some chill damage. I separated out the most unappetizing looking stems and gave them to my chickens who gobbled them up. I then made a big batch of my grandmother’s pesto and froze it. Here are a few other ideas for using up late season basil:

* Make a loose puree of basil leaves and olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays. Drop a cube or two into soups, stews, and sauces over the winter to add flavor.

* Garnish drinks with the basil flowers.

* Tuck basil flower under the skin of a chicken before roasting it.

 

 

Plant I Love: Golden Ball Turnip

One of the best ways to make the most of a small garden space is to grow vegetables with multiple edible parts. This allows you to harvest the plant at different stages and enjoy roots, greens, flower buds, blossoms, and even seed pods, depending on the crop. One of my very favorite multi-use edibles is ‘Golden Ball’ turnip. I know that the words “favorite” and “turnip” are not typically used in conjunction, but hear me out. I think the reason why people don’t like turnips is because they are often harvested past their prime and then stored for weeks or longer. The roots retain their looks in storage, but they develop a much stronger flavor.

Small turnips, harvested at the size of a fat radish, are very sweet. You can seriously pull them out of the garden, rinse them off with the hose, and pop them right into your mouth. They are even better boiled and mashed with butter and caramelized onions. Even if you never warm up to the roots, the greens are phenomenal.

The greens have a very mild mustard flavor and a tender texture when harvested very small (just 2 to 3 inches long) and they can be added to salads at the stage. As the greens mature, they develop a stronger flavor and also a velcro-like texture (not unlike radish greens). At this point, the greens really aren’t very tasty raw, but they completely transform when cooked. The little prickles on the leaves disappear and heat tempers the mustard flavor. I like to stir-fry or braise the leaves with garlic and then stuff them into tacos or quesadillas. To harvest the greens, just cut off the outer layer of leaves as the plants grow (new leaves will emerge from the center). If you don’t want to harvest the roots, you can also grasp all the leaves from a single plant in one hand and cut them down two inches above the root for a cut-and-come again harvest.

‘Golden Ball’ has very pale yellow skin, exceptionally sweet roots, and productive tops. I planted mine in late spring and we are still harvesting the roots and greens. The plants are beginning to show signs of bolting, which is just fine with me. Turnips and broccoli rabe are very closely related botanically speaking, and turnip flower buds taste amazing in stir fry. Once I harvest the buds, I’ll pull up the remaining big roots and feed them to my chickens, who have never met a root vegetable they didn’t like.

June Desktop Calendar: Chickens!

Happy June! I am in love with this month’s chicken themed desktop calendar from Anne Bryant. Jon and I have kept chickens for four years and I am pleased to say that our girls recently made the move to Portland from Seattle. It was quite the journey. Placing them into individual cardboard boxes and loading them into the car turned out to be the easiest part, because about half way to Portland I got pulled over. It was 10:15 at night and when the officer leaned into the car to collect my license and registration the girls decided to make their presence known. “Bwak. Bwak,” they said quietly. The officer gave me a quizzical look and directed his flashlight to the back of the car. Four little boxes were neatly lined up, along with a bale of wood shavings, two galvanized cans of food, and other assorted chicken accoutrements. “Bwak. Bawk. Bwak.” I put on my best smile and said, “Um, yes, officer, I have my chickens in the back of the car. I’m moving them down to their new coop in Portland.” He gave me a look that said, “I see the weirdest stuff in this job” and headed to his patrol car. He came back, issued me a warning, and wished us good luck on our move. Phew! Apparently the girls are good for more than their eggs.

To put this month’s calendar on your computer’s desktop, all you need to do is click on this link—it will take you to a page where you choose can choose the file size that best fits your monitor. The calendar will then automatically download to your computer and you can set it up as your background image.

Also, for all my Seattle readers, please consider attending the NW Lawn & Garden Summit this Saturday from 9:00 to 2:30. People from the community are gathering to explore options for passing a ban on the usage of pesticides for cosmetic use—similar to the one already in place in Canada. Pesticides from home gardens cause significant pollution in the city’s streams and have a profound impact on the health of salmon and Puget Sound. Even if you cannot make it to the event, check out this great article on a study that shows the correlation between pesticide concentrations in local streams and sales of these products at local retail outlets. It really reminded me of the many reasons why I have always been an organic gardener.

2011 Kitchen Garden Series Class

This spring, from April through October, I will be teaching a combined gardening and cooking class with chef Matt Dillon at his restaurant The Corson Building in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. This is our second year offering the course and it is so much fun. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to teach people about growing food in such a beautiful setting and the chance to learn from Matt. The course limited to 20 students, and the spots are filling in fast. I’ve included the official description below with all the details, including registration information:

The Corson Building’s Kitchen Garden Series

Chef Matthew Dillon and Master Gardener, Willi Galloway, have joined forces and created a gardening and cooking series inspired by the writings of food lover and gardener, Angelo Pellegrini.

“Without a kitchen garden—that plot of land on which one grows herbs, vegetables, and some fruit—it is not possible to produce decent and savory food for the dinner table.” ~ Angelo Pellegrini, The Food-Lovers Garden

The Kitchen Garden Series is a seven-month long course designed to bring food full circle – from setting a seed into the soil to sitting down to a meal made with vegetables grown and harvested outside the kitchen door.

Each class will begin with wine and a lesson in the garden. Galloway will emphasize organic growing techniques and practical strategies for maximizing production in small, urban spaces. She will also explore the amazing diversity of foods that gardeners have access to (fennel pollen, pea tendrils, garlic scapes), how to harvest crops at different stages of growth, and ways to maximize the flavor and quality of homegrown vegetables. Salad and herb gardening, growing warm season vegetables, succession planting, soil care, and planning a winter garden will all be covered.

Following the gardening lesson, the class will move into the kitchen where a cooking class will be taught. Central to each cooking class will be the idea of thrift—using all the edible parts of a plant and preserving the harvest. In addition to teaching how to cook out of the garden, Dillon will concentrate on pantry and/or larder items (canning, drying, and preserving methods) as well as making products that can enhance seasonal eating. An example being dairy products (yogurt, clarified butter, crème fraîche), if students learn how to make yogurt in April, there will be an abundance of it around when strawberries are in season, thus providing an ideal complement for the berries. Each class will end with a light meal prepared by Matthew Dillon.

The Kitchen Garden Series begins Wednesday, April 26 and meets once a month on Tuesdays (May 24, June 21, July 26, August 23, and September 20, October TBD.) All classes take place at The Corson Building from 6pm to 9pm rain or shine. Class size is limited to 20 students, and attendees should be prepared to get dirty in the garden.

Cost of the series is $700 per person and includes free admission to The Corson Building’s annual Cider Press in October. A deposit of $200 is required to reserve a space with the balance of $500 due at the first class. To register, email info@thecorsonbuilding.com or call (206) 762- 3330.

Willi Galloway is a Portland-based Master Gardener and the creator of DigginFood.com—a website that serves up organic kitchen gardening advice three times each week. She is also the vegetable gardening expert on Greendays, a weekly gardening call-in show on Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW 94.9 FM, and writes The Gardener, a weekly gardening column on the Apartment Therapy blog Re-Nest. Galloway has grown food in backyards, in containers on balconies and rooftops, and in community gardens. Currently, she gardens and keeps chickens in her small Southeast Portland yard. Her first book, tentatively titled Grow. Cook. Eat: A Food-Lover’s Guide to Kitchen Gardening will be published in January 2012.

Matthew Dillon is the acclaimed chef/owner of Sitka & Spruce and The Corson Building in Seattle’s industrial Georgetown neighborhood. Dillon holds a Culinary Arts degree from Seattle Central Community College and credits his experience as sous chef at The Herbfarm in Woodinville, Washington under pioneering chef Jerry Traunfeld as life changing. Traunfeld introduced Dillon to the benefits of gardens, foragers, and local purveyors, thus solidifying his belief in the importance of fresh, simple food. Dillon’s vision was apparent at Sitka & Spruce, his tiny Mediterranean inspired restaurant that opened in 2006 and earned him a place among Food & Wine Magazines Best New Chefs of 2007. Dillon’s latest venture, The Corson Building, which opened in June of 2008, is part communal dining restaurant, part larder, part event space, part urban garden and farm – and all about a farm fresh, foraged, local, simple, delicious food experience. Matthew Dillon has been nominated for 2011 James Beard’s Best New Chef in the Pacific Northwest.

Reclaimed Wood Plant Supports

Organic gardening is usually narrowly defined as not using synthetic chemicals, but I think the definition should be expanded to include, among other ideas, resourcefulness. Making compost instead of stuffing leaves into bags and setting them out on the curb, using old concrete chunks as pavers, and constructing raised beds with reclaimed bricks all firmly fall into this category. The creative re-imagining of common materials helps reduce our contribution to the waste stream and makes our gardens more interesting. The versatile plant supports pictured in this post are the perfect example of resourcefulness. I spotted them in a lovely kitchen garden in Marin County and was impressed with how the gardener had turned ordinary yard waste and random bits of wood into plant supports that were beautiful and very functional.

The gardener created the teepee-like structures using tree trimmings and the pliable vines of pruned grapes. She wrapped chicken wire around the lower half to protect the small cucumber she had planted inside from her chickens, which range around in the garden as she works—though the wire could also certainly function as a climbing surface for cucumbers, small melons, peas, and beans. Even though I don’t have a crafty bone in my body, I’m planning on trying to recreate these trellises using trimming from the huge and unruly wisteria in our backyard and branches from a tree that needs trimming.

If your garage is anything like mine, it is full of spare bits of wood just waiting to be transformed into these simple structures, which were used to provide a scaffolding for beans and to enclose cherry tomatoes.

Four pieces of wood were simply driven into the ground. To form the cage, the gardener screwed in eyes, zig zagged wire through them, and wrapped chicken wire around the bottom of the frame. I really like this system because it is simple and also unobtrusive.

Formal Kitchen Garden

I am in the process of finishing my book, which means I spend pretty much all my time either thinking or writing about growing vegetables. Today my mind kept wandering back to a lovely formal kitchen garden in Marin County that I had the opportunity to tour when I spoke at a symposium sponsored by the Garden Conservancy last summer. Located at the back of a large, tree-lined lot, the fenced kitchen garden artfully combined formal kitchen garden design with whimsical plant supports and plantings.

Boxwood parterres and decomposed granite pathways divided the garden into quadrants, with narrower beds ringing the perimeter. To help keep the family’s chickens and ducks out of the beds, they installed unobtrusive chicken wire fences behind the parterres.

I loved all of the homemade trellises in this garden. The rustic tuteurs, which provided support for sweet peas and cucumbers, were constructed of grapevines scavenged from local vineyards. Weathered 1 x 1 posts looped with wire housed tomatoes and created a scaffold for beans. Roses and clematis twined through the split rail fence that enclosed the garden.

The garden featured tons of architectural plants, including tall stands of blooming fennel, spiky artichokes, Tuscan black kale, flowering onions, pruned boxwood and rosemary, and trellised vegetables.

My favorite detail was this cute little frog perched on a post!

Our new house doesn’t have nearly enough sun—or space—to create a kitchen garden like this. But a girl can dream, right?

A Gift for 2011

Can you believe 2010 is almost over? I swear one moment it was June and I was planting tomatoes in Seattle and the next thing I knew it was December and I was planning a new garden in Portland. To help each of you ring in the New Year in style, I am excited to offer a little gift from me to you: a desktop wallpaper with a calendar for each of the upcoming months.

I hatched this idea last summer and I asked the lovely and talented Anne of Anne Bryant Creative to illustrate the calendar.  Anne, who happens to be a gardener, graphic designer and lovely-things-maker, happily agreed. We settled upon the theme of modern homesteading and then she set to work creating 12 bright, cheerful, and entirely fun illustrations for the calendars. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how they turned out. As you can see, January features birds and you can expect to see bees, chickens, and gardens in the months ahead!

I’ve posted links to download the January calendar below and I will be putting up each subsequent calendar on the 25th of each month. Anne kindly created three different files sizes, so all you need to do is choose the size that best fits your monitor and then click on the link below—the file will automatically download to your computer and then you can set it up as your background image:

1024 x 768

1600 x 1200

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Anne also turned the images from the calendars into a set of 12 notecards with matching stickers. The cards are so cute and they come in an adorable drawstring cotton bag. You can find them at Anne’s Etsy shop.

I hope the calendars inspire each of you to create your own happy little homestead, whether it is in the city or the country. Best wishes for a merry New Year!

Modern Chicken Coop

(Via Dwell)

At our new house there is a small structure attached to the back of the garage that features slatted wood walls, a brick floor, and a corrugated plastic roof. I imagine it was used to store wheelbarrows in the past, but it also happens to be the perfect spot for chickens. Our plan is to transform the area into a large and comfy chicken run by stapling 1/4-inch hardware cloth along the inside of the walls and building a door.

We have not yet decided if we will place the coop inside the run or just outside, but I do know that this go round I want to take the time to build a coop that is easy on the eyes and easy to clean. Over the weekend I started pulling together a file of inspirational coops, and was surprised to find so many coops with a modern design, including the coop up top, which was designed and built by Portland-based architect Mitchell Snyder to house his three hens.

(Via Dwell)

I’m not sure how practical an egg-shaped coop is, but it looks cool! With both this coop and the popular Eglu, my concern is the run and coop are both quite small. In my experience, hens get along best and peck the least when they have at least a 10 square feet of space per bird.

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Time for a Change

I think if bindweed could grow in a gardening blog, this page would be choked with twining green stems. I’ve neglected writing for a few months now, but I have a very good reason:

I moved to Portland, Oregon.

Jon and I opened up Perch Furniture, a cute little shop right in the Pearl District. We are there, every day, making the dream of owning our own business happen. The process has been terrifying, and exciting, and fun and exhausting. It felt like a beginning, and an ending, and limbo all at the same time. Moving, opening the shop, writing my book, and leaving our garden and chickens all at once took almost all of my energy, physical and creative.

But now we have landed. We found a wonderful renter for our house in Seattle. She makes pie, loves to garden, and adopted our chickens. Our shop is open. My book is growing page by page every day. We rented a lovely little house, with just enough space for a vegetable garden and the perfect spot for chickens.

Just the other day I was out in our new yard, poking around, thinking about the space and what I want to grow where. I was reminded that one of the best things about gardening is that you know what will happen. And you don’t.

You know if you sow a bean seed it will crack open underground. A little root will emerge, and soon the emerging bean will nudge aside a lump of soil. The sides of the bean will open up like wings and a tiny plant will unfurl slowly like it just woke up from a very long nap.

But sometimes a bird gobbles up the seed. Or your dog digs up the bed. Or the seed just doesn’t germinate. It’s a mystery. This risk factor is what makes gardening and life so interesting. It is never the same. The expected and the unexpected happen. And that, of course, is the whole point.

Grow. Cook. Eat: June 4

I am out in my garden all the time. Sowing radish seeds between my peppers. Pulling up mustard greens for dinner. Hunting for slugs in my strawberries. Gardening is part of the natural rhythm of my day, and I’ve decided that I want to try and loosely keep track of what I’m doing out there. So, on Fridays I will be posting a little round-up of what I’ve planted, what I’ve harvested and cooked, and also a couple of ideas I’ve spotted from around the universe.

In the Garden

Even though it is still freezing here I decided to get some summer crops in the ground, including ‘Black Pearl’ soy beans, ‘Fernleaf’ dill, ‘Summer Beauty Mix’ and ‘Mammoth’ sunflowers, ‘California Giant’, ‘Aztec Sunset’ and ‘Zahara Starlight Rose’ zinnias, ‘Sensation Mix’ and ‘Little Ladybirds’ cosmos, ‘Italian Arugula’, and ‘Dwarf Jewel’ nasturtiums. I also planted ‘Ponderosa’ and ‘Principe Borghese’ tomatoes and tomatillos.

In the Kitchen

We are eating greens for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! I harvested ‘Australian Yellow Leaf lettuce’, ‘Sylvetta’ arugula, ‘Tyee’ spinach, cilantro, mustard greens, radish seedlings, strawberries, and bolted (but still tasty) bok choy. I made empanadas stuffed with greens and olives (loosely following a recipe from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone), spinach risotto, and greens on toast.

Good Reads and Finds

Andrea at Heavy Petal shared a superb guide to growing warm season crops. In the post, she also includes a handy list of vegetable crops and notes if they should be directly sown, transplanted, or both.

I’ve started listening to LeAnn Locher’s great podcast, Lelo Homemade. This week she and her guest Jacquelyn Martin talked about feeding yourself without going to the grocery store. Good stuff!

Our chickens are laying eggs like crazy, which makes we want to add this ridiculously cute wire egg cup from Terrain to my collection.

Happy Gardening!

Meet Me in Marin County

Marin

The Garden Conservancy has kindly invited me to be a part of a wonderful edible gardening event in Marin County on Friday, June 18. The event, Count Your Chickens—In Your Edible Garden, promises to be so much fun. The day begins with a series of short lectures, followed by a luncheon, a tour of two spectacular Marin County kitchen gardens, and a wine reception in the afternoon.

The lectures will include a talk by the celebrated landscape designer, Nancy Goslee Power, on the history of classical kitchen gardens and a panel discussion on backyard chickens, honeybees, and fruit trees with the wonderful garden designers Kate Frey and Mary Te Selle and espalier expert Sean McNeil. I will be speaking about how to grow gourmet quality vegetables in a home garden.

I am just thrilled to be included in such a wonderful event and I hope those of you in the Bay Area will consider joining me in what I’m sure will prove to be a very fun (and educational!) day.

Here are the details!

Count Your Chickens—In Your Edible Garden

When: Friday, June 18 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm

Where: Marin Art & Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Ross, California

Admission: Garden Conservancy and Marin Art & Garden Center members: $110; General Admission: $125. The admission fee covers the talks, lunch, garden visits (carpool), and wine reception. Visit the Garden Conservancy to register online.

Fava Greens on Toast

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One of the best reasons to grow vegetables is you get to eat food that almost no one else has access to. Arugula blossoms. Green coriander seed. Fennel pollen. Garlic scapes. Foods that are so special and delicate that they never find their way into a grocery store and only show up sometimes at the farmer’s market. I thought I had sampled almost all of these little gourmet extras, but it turns out I had a fabulous crop growing in my garden and I didn’t even realize it: fava greens. I always grow favas for their delicious beans, but a student in my Kitchen Garden Series class told me he makes pesto with his fava bean greens. I immediately went home and sampled a leaf.

Hello! The greens are fabulous. Big, succulent, and with a faint fava-y flavor.

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I couldn’t wait to try cooking with the greens. Since my favas haven’t flowered yet, I decided to be prudent and only snipped off one pair of leaves from each plant. This yielded one packed cup of greens. Not nearly enough for pesto, but plenty for an extra special lunch.

I hurried into the kitchen, tossed a couple of slices of olive bread under the broiler to toast and wilted the greens in just a bit of oil. Then I rubbed the toast with garlic, drizzled it with my favorite olive oil, and layered on a thick slice of ricotta salata cheese, the fava greens, and slices of warm boiled egg. I ate the toasts on my porch in the sun. It was perfect.

pefectlunch_2

Garlic Toasts with Wilted Fava Greens, Ricotta Salata, and Hard Boiled Egg

I used rosemary olive bread for the toasts and eggs from our chickens. Very fresh eggs are difficult to peel, so I always try to hard boil eggs that are at least a week old.

What you’ll need:

2 eggs

1 packed cup of fava greens

1 tsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 thick slices of good bread

1 clove garlic, peeled

Ricotta salata cheese

Directions

Place the eggs in a medium saucepan and fill it with cool water (the eggs should be covered by about an inch of water). Bring the water to boil over high heat. Begin watching the pan carefully when little bubbles begin rising up. As soon as the first big bubble breaks on the surface, set a timer for one minute. When the timer buzzes, remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs sit for exactly one more minute. Then drain off the hot water and run the eggs under cold water until they are cool enough to handle. Peel immediately. The eggs will have perfectly cooked whites and yolks that have just barely solidified at their core. (This timing was developed in my kitchen, which is at sea level. You may need to add more time if cooking at a higher elevation.)

Meanwhile, rinse the fava greens in cool water. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the wet fava greens into the pan and toss until they are just wilted (30 seconds or less).

Toast the bread lightly. Rub the garlic clove over the surface of the toasts and then drizzle with olive oil. Top each piece of toast with a thick slice of ricotta salata cheese, fava greens, and slices of hard boiled egg. Sprinkle kosher salt and freshly ground pepper over the eggs. Serve immediately.


Radishes Deserve Respect

radish_horziontal

A lot of people don’t like radishes, which is so sad. They are really one of the great under appreciated vegetables. I think they get a bad rap because the ones at the store are so often old, pithy, and spicy. Sometimes they even have a rubbery texture.

Homegrown radishes are an entirely different story. They are delightfully crunchy and have a mild flavor as long as you keep them consistently moist and pull them young—just after their shoulders pop up out of the soil. I love to harvest the roots, rinse them off, dip their tips in salt and pop them in my mouth. The French often serve thinly sliced radishes on a piece of buttered, crusty baguette. If you don’t like radishes, try them that way. You just might change your mind! Trust me on this.

radish_vertical

I always sow radish seed thickly because I love to thin out the spicy sprouts and add them to a cheese sandwich or salad. The seeds germinate in just a couple of days and the roots are ready in just over a month (or less when the soil is warm). The greens have a velcro-like texture when raw, but they are chock full of vitamins and delicious cooked. I twist off the tops and cook them just as I would arugula or spinach (they are especially good in eggs). Chickens also don’t mind a snack of radish tops.

I sow radishes every two or three weeks in bare spots around the garden. Radishes come in a huge range of colors including black, watermelon (white on the outside, red on the inside), pink, purple, white, and of course, red. I have some ‘French Breakfast’ radishes in the garden right now. Unlike most garden radishes, they have cylindrical red roots with white tips. Such a fun alternative to regular red! Radishes send up a seed stalk in warm weather. The short seed pods have a spicy flavor and taste wonderful stir-fried with chervil. In fall, if you allow a few radishes to go to seed, they will often self-sow and grow in spring!

Come See Me at the Flower and Garden Show

flowershow

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show is in Seattle and I’ll be there tomorrow through Sunday, so I hope you can stop by and say hi! The show is at the Washington State Convention Center on 7th and Pike in Downtown Seattle. Be sure to bring your pocketbook, because there is always a ton of great seed for sale, as well as bareroot berries and shrubs.

Here’s my schedule:

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Gardening for Food Security

garden_swisschard

On Sunday evening I was standing in the produce section of the supermarket staring at a bunch of organic Swiss chard. It cost $3.49 for six leaves. Really? You could plant a ten foot row of Swiss chard for less than that, I thought. So, I pushed my shopping cart over to the conventional side of the produce section. Regular Swiss chard also cost $3.49.

Normally buying a bunch of chard does not nudge my weekly grocery budget over the limit, but this isn’t a normal week. I am participating in the Hunger Action Challenge and spending nearly four dollars on six leaves of chard seemed extravagant when I only had 63.00 to spend for five days worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for Jon and I.

tomatocanning_jar

Food that we already have in our home is off limits for the challenge. This means we can’t touch the homegrown tomatoes and peppers in our freezer, the greens, herbs, and carrots in the garden, eggs from our chickens, and the homemade jam and chili sauce in the cupboard.

My new garden!

As people come together to think about hunger this week, we need to include access to garden space in the conversation. Vegetable gardening is so often seen as merely a hobby, but it is so much more than that. Vegetable gardening is a life skill—one that can provide an affordable source of ripe, fresh, seasonal, organic food for families of any income level.

victory garden poster

History shows that gardening can be an important and feasible part of a secure, healthy, and sustainable food supply. During WWII the United States government recognized that homegrown food was an important way to ensure an adequate food supply, so they encouraged the planting of victory gardens at the local, state, and federal level.

In 1943 an estimated 20 million victory gardens were planted, producing 8 million tons of food, and an estimated 40% of all the fresh vegetables in the United States. The reason regular citizens were able to make such a dramatic contribution to the food supply was because the government recognized that urban agriculture was an essential component of the food system. And, more importantly, the government then created policies that provided extensive gardening education, that encouraged people to turn underutilized yards into food production gardens, and turned public lands into gardens for people who could not grow their own food at home.

Parking Strip Community Garden

The victory garden movement demonstrated that investing in gardening education and access can and should play a significant and profound role in improving food security.

Of course, gardens will not solve the hunger problem alone. We need to ensure that there are grocery stores in every neighborhood and that bus routes connect people to those stores. We need to bring farmer’s markets into underserved communities. We need to teach people how to cook in school. But we also need to ensure that every citizen has the opportunity to learn how to grow their own food and a space to do it.

Love It: Chicken Block Prints

chicken_orange

I adore my four hens, Inky, Clyde, Bumble and Boo. I can’t help it, even though they occasionally rampage my garden, escape from the yard, and wake me up very, very early in the morning. They are just so cute and lovable. Especially Inky. She follows me around the yard and coos contentedly when I pet her.

So I was super excited when Bay Area-artist and gardener Rigel Stuhmiller emailed me to say she has a new line of rooster and hen prints in the works. She will be creating a hand-pulled, hand-carved chicken block print each week until she “runs out of chickens or out of steam”! She’s playing around with the texture and tone of the prints—so each one will be unique. Most amazing of all, she’s selling these prints for only forty-five dollars in her Etsy store, making them a special and affordable gift for all those chicken lovers out there.

chicken_black1

A Peek at My Garden

garden_cosmos My kitchen garden was a bit of a disaster this year. I haven’t weeded it since June. My honeybees swarmed. The chickens learned to fly over the fence and had a field day, digging up entire pepper plants, scratching out baby greens, and laying eggs under a gigantic bolted basil. And you know what? I’m okay with it. Life happens—sometimes travel opportunities arise, work gets busy, dear friends decide to get married, and the garden suddenly falls to the wayside.

garden_eggplant

As any passerby could surely tell you, my garden does not look worthy of a magazine spread right now (thankfully, Sunset called last year!). I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos of my beds, but I thought I’d share some shots of the good food that my garden produced without much help from me.

garden_shallots

Next year, I’m certain, it will be back to its lovely old self. We will build a taller fence to keep the chickens at bay and I will clip my own wings and stay home for the summer. But I won’t look back on this season as a loss. I still grew some of my own food, shared seeds with friends, learned to can, and invented new recipes. How could I possibly be disappointed with that?

Coriander Seed

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Popcorn!

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‘Fairy Tale’ Eggplant

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My Hens’ Secret Stash of Eggs

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A Pair of Ripening Peppers

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‘Trombetta’ Summer Squash and Blossoms

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Early Summer Garden

garden_sunflowersporch

My garden has suffered a few setbacks lately. Birds ate my beans. Three times. Raccoons stole into the garden during the night and gobbled up almost all of our snap peas, leaving the stripped pods dangling from the vines.

Two cucumbers inexplicably withered, a bunch of lettuce just bolted, and one of my chickens went on a mini rampage, scratching woodchips into the beds, uprooting a bunch of baby arugula, and generally making a mess.

Sigh.

Luckily, after allowing myself a brief period of despair, I looked around and found lots of things to smile about. Self-sown flowers are popping up everywhere, baby eggplants are emerging, our shelling peas are almost ready, the first zucchini will be ready this weekend, and my peppers, which I forgot to water on a hot day a few weeks back and almost killed, have made a surprising comeback. It turns out, life is good after all.

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Chicken Tractor Raised Bed Combo

chickentractor

I know I promised a pepper growing guide for you today, but it’s not quite done. So I thought I’d share a few snaps of the coolest chicken tractors I’ve seen. They belong to Cheri Van Hoover and her husband Rocky, who garden in a to-die-for spot near Port Townsend, Washington.

chickentractor_side

The couple’s lovely vegetable garden overlooks a wetland area and orchard and is framed in on all sides by an adorable white picket fence. Cheri’s daughter designed the chicken tractors to fit right over the garden’s raised beds, so the chickens can dig for insect larave, leave little deposits of nitrogen, and aerate the soil.  I took these photos when I stopped by their garden in January and was excited to see that Cheri and Rocky raise Buff Orpingtons, too! I’m hoping to get an invite to visit again this summer so I can share photos of the garden when it is full of vegetables.

chickentractor_closeup

Free Gardening Advice

Baby Radish

The West Seattle Edible Garden Fair is coming up this Saturday, May 23rd! I’ll be there talking about how to grow warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in a cooler climate and I’m also giving a presentation how to maximize the flavor of vegetables.

The fair is FREE! And the list of presentation topics is awesome! You can attend a workshop on permaculture basics, learn how to can, hear about raising bees, goats, and chickens in the city from a panel of experts, find out how to turn your garden into an edible landscape, and more! Plus, there will be door prizes, kids activities, and cooking demonstrations.

I hope to see you there if you live in the Seattle area! Here all the nitty gritty details:

What: West Seattle Edible Garden Fair (http://www.gleanit.org/Fair.html)

Where: South Seattle Community College, 6000 16th Avenue SW

When: Saturday, May 23 from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm

Wanna see me? This is what I’m talking about:

10: 00 AM–Some Like It Hot: How To Grow Warm Season Crops in the Cool Northwest

Seattle is a great climate for gardening, but growing crops like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants is a challenge! This workshop will demonstrate how to warm up your soil earlier in spring, show off essential season extension techniques, and give a step-by step plant for maximizing your harvest of warm season crops. Plus, get a list of tried-and-true tomato, pepper, and eggplant varieties!

12 Noon–Gourmet Vegetabless: Tips & Techniques for Growing Your Best Tasting Vegetables Ever

One of the best reasons to grow your own vegetables is they taste better! Learn how to maximize the flavor of your crops by choosing the tastiest varieties, preparing healthy soil, and giving your plants the best possible growing conditions. This workshop will feature specific growing plans for tomatoes, squash, beans, peas, and beets.

Slightly Obsessed Gardening

A Pile of Cucumbers

So last night, as the sun was setting and I was sorting through my mini mountain of seed packets, I had a revelation: I am a definitely obsessed with my vegetable garden. Here is the irrefutable evidence:

* I take pictures with my vegetables like they are a dear member of my family (see above).

* My bedroom window is lined with 7 gallon-sized tomatoes and 5 eggplants because it is too cold from them to go in the ground

* I live in Seattle. Our average nightly temperature in August is 55 degrees. I am trying to grow okra this year.

* We have a family dog. And pet chickens. And bees, too.

* I have so many vegetables, I had to dig out a  15 x 5 section of my front lawn to fit them all in.

* I sweet-talked my neighbor into letting me grow salad greens and cucumbers in containers on his driveway.

* My friend gave me 15 winter squash plants. And I have found a place for all of them.

Clearly, I have veggie mania. On the bright side, it should be a very tasty summer at our house!

Hot Off the Press

sunset_beans

So I’ve kept my lips sealed for a long time about something very exciting, but now I can tell you: Sunset magazine featured me and my vegetable garden in the April issue!!

sunset_article

They sent out the fabulous Jim Henkens to take photos of the garden way back in August of last year, and I’ve been waiting on pins and needles to see the results. The issue just hit newsstands and I am thrilled (thrilled!) with the article. It is really very fun to see me, Jon, the chickens, and our garden in the pages of one my very favorite magazines.  Jim’s photos are so gorgeous and I am extremely flattered by the very nice write up.

I’d like to thank Sunset for including me and my garden in their special gardening issue. The entire issue is just beautiful and full of tips that I want to use in my garden this summer (like hanging wire baskets full of strawberries from a fence). Thank you! Thank you!

sunset_me

Backyard Chickens 101: Chicken Resources

What are you lookin' at?

Putting together this week’s Backyard Chickens 101 posts has been a lot of fun! For the final installment, I’ve gathered together a list of my favorite city chicken resources.

Chicken Classes
Seattle Tilth offers lots of city chickens classes, including Starting with Baby Chicks, City Chickens 101, and a coop design class. I took City Chickens 101 before we got our birds and it was awesome. They also have a lot of great information on their website, including an archive of their chicken-centric newsletter Scoop from the Coop.

Lots of other organizations around the country offer beginning chicken classes including The Garden for the Environment, Common Ground Organics and Love Apple Farm in the San Francisco Bay Area, Codman Farm in Massachusetts, Angelic Organics near Chicago, Pistils Nursery in Portland, Oregon, and Just Food in New York City. If you know of other organizations that offer city chicken classes, let me know and I’ll add them to this list.

Books
Living with Chickens: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Flock. This guide covers all the basics you need to know and is pretty readable, too.

The Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens. Pages and pages of pretty chicken pictures. Plus, Ira Glass wrote it. Need I say more?

Websites
FeatherSite.com: This site is a great resource if you can get past the confusing, old-school web design. They have a great section that details pretty much every breed that you can think of.

Backyardchickens.com: Another fun web-based resource. They have a great message board where you can post chicken keeping questions and an awesome database of coop designs.

I’m in San Francisco this weekend and next week. I’m going to be speaking at the Garden Show and checking out local gardens and nurseries. Stay tuned next week for a full report, plus some cool DIY projects. Have a good weekend!

Backyard Chickens 101: Cool Chicken Coops

coop_greenroof

I’ve got some seriously cool chicken coops to show you today, courtesy of Seattle Tilth, which hosts an annual City Chickens Coop Tour every July. This self-guided tour takes you to different neighborhoods around Seattle, where you can check out a bunch of coops, meet the chickens that live in them, and talk to the chicken keepers. This year’s tour is on July 11, so mark your calendars!

Sadly, our coop is not worthy of being on the tour. We bought it at a local feed store and have been really disappointed with its quality and how difficult it is to access for cleaning. We are considering building a new coop for our girls this fall that has the following qualities:

* A bigger run. I want a covered run that has at least 8 to 10 square feet per bird

* Doors that are raised above the ground. This makes them easier to close because they don’t get clogged with bedding that the chickens kick around.

* Easy access for cleaning. Right now I have to lean into our coop, which makes it difficult to scoop out the bedding, and getting in that close of contact with the chicken poo is kind of gross.

* Built with recycled, durable materials. Most of my favorite coops incorporate recycled windows, doors, and wood. They end up having so much character, and are easier on the environment since they minimize the use of new materials. I like the look of corrugated metals roofs, but I also love, love the green roof on the coop pictured up top. It is the coolest!!

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This coop is positively palatial. I think my girls would run away from home if I showed them the photo. I like its clean, modern design and that it has both enclosed and unenclosed runs and is tall enough to stand up in.

coop_red

This portable coop makes great use of recycled materials and I love the classic barn red color and shape. I think that the entire front (where the doors are) hinges open, making the inside a snap to clean up.

coop_cedar

Our next coop will definitely feature a handy exterior nest box like this one. These nest boxes make it super easy to access the eggs, and the hens seem to prefer them, too.

If building a coop is not your forte, high quality, pre-built coops are available, but they are pricey. I am particularly fond of Wine Country Coops and Henspa. You could also hire someone to build the coop. In Seattle, Jennifer Carlson teaches a coop design class at Seattle Tilth and also offers private city chickens consultations, and Seattle Urban Farm Company also builds custom coops.

Backyard Chickens 101: A Few Considerations

chickens_fullclyde

We love having chickens, but I definitely recommend carefully considering all the benefits (free eggs! great fertilizer! cute chicken antics!) and the drawbacks (cleaning the coop, feeding and watering them in the pouring, freezing rain) before your get them. So for the second installment of Backyard Chickens 101, I’ve pulled together a few things for you to consider:

Know the rules. Before we got our girls I checked out the Seattle Municipal Code that covers keeping chickens. I learned that because our 6500 square foot lot was above average size, we could legally keep four chickens (lots 5000 feet and under can only have three) and that roosters aren’t illegal. We luckily don’t live in a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association, but if you do, check the bylaws before you buy birds.

Be sure you have enough time. All in all taking care of a small flock of chickens is not a ton of work. Jon and I agree that it falls somewhere in between keeping a goldfish and a cat. But consider this: chickens wake up at first light and need to be let out of their coop soon their after. You must also tuck them into bed at dusk to protect them from predators. They need fresh food and water every morning, and clean bedding about once a week, and a couple of times a year you need to clean out their whole coop and run and give everything a good scrub. Before you get your birds, I recommend talking with your family about how you will split up the chicken care so it doesn’t become an issue later.

Make nice with your neighbors, especially if you like to travel. Before we got the chickens, I let our immediate neighbors in on the plan. I told them we were placing their coop far from their bedroom windows and would be giving them lots of free eggs. This worked like a charm, and my neighbor Elaine even told me that she loves hearing my chickens in the morning (and I thought I was the only one!). Since chickens need to be taken care of twice a day, every day it makes planning to go away for the weekend slightly more complicated. We’ve dealt with this by teaching five families on our block how to watch the girls and paying them with fresh eggs.

And finally…I will tell you something that no one told me. Chickens poo a lot. Like twenty times a day. They tend to leave their slippery deposits in inconvenient places around our yard, including on the deck and the arm of our beloved sun chair. This, um, habit of theirs certainly shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but I wanted you all to know.

Tomorrow I have a list of my favorite chicken resources and I am putting up a coop guide on Friday.

Backyard Chickens 101: An Introduction

Hungry, Hungry Chickens

Two years ago Jon and I bought four cute little hens that we named Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde. The only problem?

Pinky and Blinky were roosters. And they made an awful lot of noise in the morning. So I called around and found a nice farmer who let us trade in the roosters for two real hens, who we called Bumble and Boo. Since springtime is just around the corner, and bunches of fluffy little chicks are showing up at feed stores and garden centers, I’ve decided to put together a series of posts called Backyard Chickens 101. I’m going to share some basic chicken advice, show off a few inspirational coops, name my favorite resources, and let you in on how we trained our 85-pound mutt to coexist peacefully with our hens.

First, let me introduce you to our girls:

chickens_clyde

Meet Clyde. She is a lovely Araucana who lays exceptionally large blue eggs. Don’t you just love her silly, feather-y sideburns? Clyde, like many Araucanas, is a little bit aloof. She looks a bit fierce in this photo, but in real life she actually has a funny, cooky personality and makes the cutest cooing noises when you pet her.

chickens_bumbleboo

Bumble and Boo are Buff Orpingtons. If they were human, they would definitely be the bad girls who like to sneak out of the house and drive around with older boys in fast cars. They stay up later than our other girls, sleep in longer, and always manage to find a way into the vegetable garden for some unauthorized snacking. Luckily, they have very cute, downy rear ends and lovable bird-brained personalities. They also lay lots of pale brown eggs.

chickens_inky

Inky is my favorite chicken. I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but I can’t help it. Inky is a Black Australorp and she is crazy curious. Last summer I left the backdoor open and a few minutes later I found Inky in our kitchen checking herself out in the door of the dishwasher. She also loves to follow our dog, Domino, around the backyard and she lays beautiful almond colored eggs.

Now that you’ve seen our chickens’ glamour shots, don’t you want a few of your own? Good! Here are a few more details about Inky, Clyde, Bumble and Boo Boo:

Chicks or Pullets: Chicks are newborn chickens and they require lots of warmth, attention, and room to grow. Since we have a very small house, we bought pullets, which are 12-week-old hens. The nice thing about pullets is they can go outside into the coop immediately (no need for a brooder light) and they start laying eggs in about 3 months (instead of 6 with chicks).

Where to find chickens: We found ads for pullets on Craig’s List and bought Inky and Clyde from Barnyard Gardens–a small nursery and farm on the Kitsap Peninusla that I highly recommend. We also found the boys—Pinky and Blinky—on Craig’s List. So it is not entirely reliable. If you can’t find pullets on Craig’s List, call your local 4-H, feed stores, or look on meetup.com or Yahoo! Groups to see if there is a chicken enthusiast group in your area (I belong to Seattle’s Chicken Lovers Group).

Breeds: One Araucana, two Buff Orpingtons, and one Black Australorp

Free range vs. Cooped Up: We let them range in our backyard when we are home, which is a slight risk because some predators, especially raccoons, do prowl around during the day. But our dog does a good job patrolling our yard, so we feel pretty comfortable letting the chickens roam free when we are within earshot. When we’re away from home, we lock them into their coop and attached, covered outdoor run.

Eggs: Approximately 3 each day from February through November, their laying tapers off during the darkest months. The eggs are gorgeous and we eat them all the time. FYI, you don’t need roosters to get eggs—you only need them if you want chicks.

Food: Organic layer mash (we get it at Hayes Feed & Country Store in Burien for about $28 a bag), cracked corn, grass, worms and insects, and table scraps. Our hens’ eggs have bright orange yolks because the green grass they nibble on everyday contains healthful carotenoid pigments that contribute to the color of the yolks.

Coop Bedding: Aspen shavings. We found that straw gets slimey and smelly. The aspen bedding and chicken manure composts quickly when mixed with grass clippings or green garden waste, making it easy for us to recycle all the bedding right in our own yard.

Will We Eat Them When They Get Old? Jon is a vegetarian. Enough said.

Tomorrow I’ll give you a few pointers on getting your first flock and some advice on coops and pictures of awesome coops from The Seattle Tilth City Chickens Coop Tour (coming up this year on July 11 ).

Arugula Pesto

Arugula Pesto

The best part about growing arugula is you really only have to trouble yourself with planting it once. After producing loads of leaves for a month or more, this spicy little green sends up a stalk of dainty, tasty flowers, followed by crisp, edible seedpods that, if left to their own devices, conveniently drop seeds around the garden.

Self-Sown Arugula Seedlings

Arugula Seedlings

Last fall I dug up a bunch of self-sown arugula plants. I threw most of them into the compost bin and transplanted the remainder into one of my big, square raised beds. I forgot to mulch them, but it didn’t matter. The sturdy plants were not phased by below freezing temperatures, snow, hard rain, and the occasional nibble from our naughty chickens.

An Arugula Seedling That Is All Grown Up

arugula

For the past couple months, I’ve been harvesting big bunches of arugula and eating them in salads or stuffing them into quesadillas at lunchtime. Then, last week, I came across a recipe for arugula pesto that Jennifer Stanton, our fabulous wedding photographer (who also happens to be a big time vegetable gardener) sent me.

Jennifer’s recipe is very simple—just arugula, olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. She starts by blanching a bunch of arugula briefly in boiling water, wringing it dry, and then blending it in a food processor with 1/3 cup olive oil until smooth. I followed her recipe exactly last spring and it was delicious.

This time I was feeling lazy and decided to skip the blanching step. I also felt like adding in nuts and Parmesan cheese. Many arugula pesto recipes call for either walnuts or pine nuts. I happened to be out of both, but I did have a bunch of sunflower seeds on hand. So I threw them into the mix. I used my grandmother’s basil pesto recipe as a starting point for the ingredients’ proportions, but ended up adding in more cheese to mellow out the arugula’s spicy flavor. The result? A delicious wintertime pesto that adds a really bright, green flavor to basic recipes. The recipe makes over a cup of pesto, so here are a few ideas for using it up:

Steamed potatoes. Jennifer suggests steaming new potatoes and then tossing them with the arugula pesto.

Grilled cheese. Spread a thin layer of the pesto on a slice of good bread, top with grated Gruyere and another slice of bread. Toast it in a skillet slicked with butter until the sandwich is golden brown on both sides and the cheese is melted and gooey. Serve with tomato soup or salad. I had this three times for lunch last week because it is so fast and easy to make.

Pasta. Add some reserved pasta water to 2 or 3 tablespoons of the pesto to thin it out a bit. Then toss it with a serving of hot pasta. Top with a pinch of red pepper flakes, salt, and a dusting or Parmesan cheese.

arugulapesto_closeup

Arugula Pesto
Leaves from younger plants work best in the pesto because arugula gets increasingly spicy, and develops a more pungent flavor, as it matures. If you only have older leaves on hand, not to worry. Just blanch them in hot water first to knock the spiciness down a level or two. To prevent the pesto from turning an unattractive greenish black color, load it into a glass or plastic container. Then, smoosh a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto and cover the container with a tight fitting lid. The pesto keeps in the fridge for a week or more. It also freezes well, for freezing instructions, check out my basil pesto recipe.

You’ll need:
4 cups of arugula leaves, roughly chopped (remove any tough stems)
2 cloves garlic
½ cup sunflower seed kernels
¾ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup olive oil
salt to taste

Instructions:
In a food processor, blend the arugula, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese into a smooth paste. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Then, with the blade running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Process until the olive oil is thoroughly incorporated and the pesto is smooth. Give the pesto a taste and add salt if necessary.

Chicken Art

greenchicken

I saw this chicken on Design*Sponge this morning and I think I need it. Why? I have no idea. But since I already have four real chickens, why not add a green, plastic rocking hen to the mix?

Speaking of chickens, I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately about raising chickens in the city. So I’m working on a series of posts for next week on the joys of having four living creatures that like to squawk, scratch and, um, make deposits all over your yard.

Stay tuned!

Artichoke Advice

artichoke

I am not in love with the makeshift wire fence that protects our vegetable garden from the marauding flock of chickens that we let loose into our backyard every morning. So, I’ve decided to disguise the fence by planting a row of artichokes all along the outside of it later this spring. My hope is that the big, silvery plants will cover up the fence by mid-summer and make for a dramatic—and delicious—entrance into the garden.

My only problem is I’m a little worried my vision won’t become a reality. I grew artichokes for the first time last year and they never really took off.  I only got three small artichokes and the little buggers flowered before I had a chance to harvest. I suspect that they didn’t love the rocky, dry soil I planted them in.

My plan this year is to really loosen up the soil in the new artichoke beds and dig in an inch or so of composted chicken bedding before I plant the seedlings. I’m also considering underplanting the artichokes with nasturtiums because they are so pretty and make a great living mulch.

Have any of you had success with artichokes in the past? Should I foliar feed with fish emulsion? When is the best time to harvest? If you’ve got advice, please share. I’m all ears!

Artichoke Beginning to Flower

artichoke_opening

Vegetable Gardening and Birds

Cardinal from Bird Cam

Don’t you just love this picture? It’s from Birds N’ Such–a delightful blog managed by Virginia-based gardener and bird watcher, Alan Pulley. Since my own garden has a pathetic amount of bird habitat, I often pop over to Birds N’Such for a little vicarious bird watching. Alan takes gorgeous bird photos and has recently been sharing images (including the one above) taken with his Wingscapes BirdCam–a motion activated digital camera designed to take photos of wild birds. How cool is that?

I asked Alan, who is also a vegetable gardener, if he would mind writing a guest post on how to attract birds to the garden and the advantages birds give to a vegetable gardener (since anyone who has ever had their pea seeds plucked from the soil understands the disadvantages). He most generously agreed and I am excited to share his advice with you. Enjoy!

Tips from Birds ‘N Such

I watched one day as a male northern cardinal hopped from one tomato cage to the other, each time peeking into the tomato plants as if he were looking for something. This continued for a few minutes until he finally came out from under one of the plants with his prize – a big, fat, juicy hornworm. Those familiar with growing tomatoes know the type of damage that these worms can cause if left to run free on your tomato plants. Once the cardinal knew where the food source was, he continued to return throughout the summer, keeping my tomato plants pest free.

Cardinal
Having birds in and around our gardens provides a great natural benefit. Birds are willing assistants that help maintain a natural balance between plants and pests. Fortunately, they go to work for us at just the right time. In order to feed their young the protein they need, birds that eat seeds and berries in the fall and winter switch to a more protein based diet consisting of insects and other bugs in the spring and summer.

Fledglings are insatiable and need food every few minutes. So when birds nest in your yard, they consume a lot of nearby insects. Species such as swallows and flycatchers snare flying insects while others like nuthatches and thrashers eat insects from trees and at ground level. If given the right environment, you can attract a wide variety of birds to your yard and benefit from having organic pest control within the garden.

Sparrow

If you want birds to make their homes in your yard, it is important to provide them with a desirable environment. Birds prefer a multi-layered canopy of plants, shrubs and trees of various sizes that offer food, shelter and a place for nesting. The more diversity you have, the better. If you’re not sure where to start, check with your local extension agency for the best suited trees and shrubs in your area. I’m sure they would be glad to provide recommendations or suggest a good book as a reference for your region.

Pay special attention to native plants and trees that already grow in your area. Native species are quicker to establish and are more recognizable to birds and other wildlife. For a quick start, consider adding a basic birdfeeder filled with black-oil sunflower seeds. A birdfeeder will attract a variety of birds to your backyard in no time.

In addition, a water source can bring in even more birds. Not only will this attract the birds already coming to your feeder, but it will also lure a variety of birds, like warblers, to your yard that don’t normally eat at bird feeders. The water source doesn’t have to be elaborate; an upside down garbage can lid placed on the ground or on a table top will do. Add a stone in the center of it for the smaller birds to perch on and keep the water clean and you will have an instant, portable birdbath.

Birds Bathing

To check out more of Alan’s bird photos, please visit his blog Birds N’ Such (I’m especially partial to the post BirdCam Adventures 3 because it has some great candid shots of chickens!!).

Creamy Scrambled Eggs with Parmesan and Thyme

eggs

My chickens give us the most gorgeous eggs. Clyde, our Araucana, lays large, pale blue eggs with thick shells. Inky, a Black Australorp with a goofy personality, reliably lays six, slightly elongated, mocha colored eggs each week. And our Buff Orpingtons, Bumble and Boo, announce the arrival of their light brown eggs with a chorus of loud bawk, bawks.

We feed our hens a mix of organic feed, cracked corn, and table scraps. Plus, when we’re at home, they free-range around the backyard snacking on grass, worms, slugs, and most recently, my emerging chive shoots.

This diverse diet results in eggs with deep orange yolks and clear, firm whites that hold together when cracked into a bowl. We get nearly two-dozen eggs a week, and this winter, I’ve taken to scambling them with a bit of crème fraiche, Parmesan cheese, and fresh thyme. The eggs are delicious—and make for a quick breakfast or lunch.

eggs_scrambled

Creamy Scrambled Eggs with Parmesan and Thyme
Serves 4

Butter, crème fraiche, and cheese make all eggs taste better, but for the best flavor and color, try to track down eggs from pasture-raised hens for this recipe. Prevent the eggs from sticking—and ensure a soft, creamy texture—by cooking them in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over low heat with plenty of butter. I like to serve the eggs on thick slices of toasted kalamata olive bread.

You’ll need:
2 tablespoons butter
8 large eggs
¼ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
6 3-inch long sprigs of thyme
salt
pepper

Instructions:
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk them until the yolks and whites are well combined. Strip the thyme leaves off their stems and add them to the eggs. Whisk in the crème fraiche and Parmesan. The crème fraiche will look a bit lumpy once it’s mixed with the eggs. Don’t worry—just make sure it is evenly distributed within the egg mixture.

Heat a 10- to 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium low heat.  Add the butter and swirl it around in the pan as it melts, coating the sides. When the butter begins to foam, pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Immediately begin stirring the eggs with a fork, scraping the edges of the pan as you go. Don’t be tempted to cook the eggs on medium or medium high heat–they will stick to the pan and develop a rubbery texture.

When the fork begins to leave a trail in the pan, set the pan onto a cool burner and continue stirring the eggs vigorously for about 30 seconds. This helps prevent the eggs for sticking and encourages the development of big curds. Place the pan back on the burner and continue stirring, lifting the eggs from the bottom and folding them over the top as they thicken. Continue cooking the eggs until they develop a soft, pillowy texture. Remove from the heat, and shower with thyme, flaked salt and pepper. Serve immediately with buttered toast.

eggs_closeup

2010…er I mean 2009 Gardening Resolutions

Why, hello there. Remember me? I’ve been taking a little break to visit with family and friends and dip my toes into the ocean. While I was lolling away on the beach I dreamed up lots of new recipes, a really good idea for the site, and of course, a few gardening resolutions.

Gardening is really well suited to resolutions because there is always bound to be big failures (ahem, remember when my chickens ate my entire fall garden) and big successes (like the Pepper Palace). So, drum roll please, this is what I hope to accomplish in the coming 358 days:

1. Learn to Can. I can’t tell you how much I want to can. I want to line my cupboards with dilly beans, and syrupy peaches, and cans of tomatoes. I want jars and jars of applesauce and chow chow. I want to bring my friends homemade jam. I want to be able to eat food I grew myself all winter. So I must learn to can. I must!

2. Grow Salad from March through November. I always plant lots of salad in spring. My fridge is stuffed with it in April. I send Jon off to work with bags of greens to give away. And then I get distracted. I forget to plant more baby greens. Or, I plant more baby greens and then forget to water them. And come August, when I finally have tomatoes and peppers to put in my salad, I have no greens. So, first I’m putting together a succession planting plan based on one I wrote for Organic Gardening last year. Then, I’m going to try to follow my own advice!

3. Start a Community Beehive. I want to taste honey that comes from bees that buzz about in my own yard. How cool would that be? I’d like to think that it will be dark, and rich, and flavorful. I also hope it is good enough to share, because I’m sure the bees won’t just stick around my 6400 square feet of property. They’ll probably stray over to the apple tree next door and across the street to the lavender. So I think it’s only fair to share with the neighbors. To start, I just got a book on natural beekeeping. And I’m planning on joining Puget Sound Beekeepers Association. Stay tuned.

4. Try 2 Brand New Vegetables I’ve Never Grown Before. Last summer I was visiting the Brentwood Community Garden in Portland and became completely smitten with a gorgeous stand of sunflowers. Only they weren’t sunflowers. They were Jerusalem Artichokes. I am so planting them this year because you get fantastic flowers and tasty tubers, too. I’m also weighing growing Belgian endive or maybe cardoon. Whatever my second choice is I want it to be challenging to grow and hard to find at the supermarket or just plain weird. Can you think of any other candidates??

I’m excited to hear about your plans and I send you my best wishes for a New Year with lots of sun, just enough rain, and plenty of surprises.

Photographic evidence of the moment that I (pictured on the far right) decided having a beehive at home would be totally cool. Thanks, Marguerite!

A Nice Surprise

I had grand plans for a winter vegetable garden. I dug a bit of compost into the soil and planted little seedlings of lettuce, arugula, chard, and radicchio. I sowed baby greens, radishes, and beets. I even tried my hand at growing fall peas.

Then my chickens ate everything.

The little stinkers snuck through our fence and gobbled up all the vegetables except for the raddicchio and arugula. Apparently they don’t have a taste for the more gourmet greens.

After the chickens pillaged the garden, I fortified the fence and planted a cover crop of crimson clover. I figured at least I could feed the soil if not myself. But my garden had other plans.

Yesterday afternoon I slipped outside during a break in the rain to check on the clover and came across something unexpected: a giant red mustard growing between some Johnny Jump Ups.

The mustard is not going to keep us from starving this winter, but it reminded me that just when you think all is lost, your garden can surprise you.

Gotta Have My Wellies

We are definitely having Wellie weather.

The wind whipped up last night and blew the leaves from the trees. Big raindrops are splattering against the windows. The path between the chicken coop and our house is a muddy mess.

Luckily I have my ridiculously bright galoshes.

Gardener’s Supply Company sent me this pair last year and they have taken up permanent residence by the door. I slip them on over my socks whenever I pop outside to clip some herbs or salad greens for dinner. In the morning I tuck my pajama bottoms into their tops before I pay a visit to the chickens.

With our long, wet winter coming up, I wouldn’t mind adding to my Wellie collection.

Perhaps a classic pair of red Hunter’s is in order?

Or maybe some argyle boots to go with my argyle socks?

Do you think these will scare the slugs away? If so, I’ll order them!

Zappos has a huge selection of Wellies, with most ranging between $35 on the low end and $100 on the high end. I like the red Hunter’s best (hint, hint Jon).

Come Party With Me

Drinking and gardening go well together, don’t you think? In the summer Jon and I like to pop open a few beers and drink them while we’re harvesting. And I often start my day by grabbing a mug of tea and wandering through my beds. So I was pretty excited when I found out that Seattle Tilth’s fall fundraiser Taste! Toast! Twirl! is a drink tasting extravaganza.

What is Seattle Tilth, you ask?

Seattle Tilth is pretty much the coolest organization ever. Tilth’s staff can teach you how to garden organically, grow your own food, raise chickens in the city, compost, start a worm farm, prune fruit trees, grow greens in containers, and press your own apple cider. They teach kids the concept of peace through gardening, plus all about bugs, soil, and good food. And they have the best Edible Plant Sale on the planet (really!).

Tilth Teaches Kids Peace Through Gardening

How can I support such an awesome non-profit?

You can donate online. Or, if you live in the Seattle-area you can join me at the fundraiser on November 12. It’s being held at Herban Feast SODO—an awesome event space with soaring ceilings, huge exposed beams, vintage lighting and hundreds of square feet of windows. There will be tons of local food to nibble on, tastings of local and organic beer, wine, cider, and soda, live music by The Tallboys and Trio A Propos, and lots of gardeners to mingle with.  What’s not to like?

Click here to buy tickets!

Beautiful Artichokes in the Tilth Demo Garden

Backyard Chicken Antics

Having four chickens live in your backyard is a little ridiculous. Case in point: right now three of our hens (Inky, Bumble, and Boo Boo) are molting, and it looks like a gigantic pillow fight took place in our yard. The feathers swirl around in the breeze and get stuck in the most unlikely of places, including my hair.

We allow the girls to wander the backyard, where they snack on grass, roost on our ladder, and do their best to destroy our vegetable garden. Right before my birthday party in July, we installed a wire metal fence to keep the chickens and our dog, Domino, out of the garden. The girls had been inviting themselves in to sample the lettuce, snack on bean shoots, and generally wreak havoc. And Domino decided that digging up the carrots would be fun. Twice. So up went the fence and I was happy for approximately six hours. Then my dad reported he had seen our Araucana hen, Clyde, squeeze her fat body through the four-inch holes in the fence and head straight for the vegetables. So much for our fortifications!

And last week, while I was harvesting some tomatoes, I glanced down and saw a pile of three eggs. Apparently the girls have decided that the plush confines of their coop aren’t good enough; they’d rather lay their eggs in a hollow between two kohlrabi.

Silly? Yes. But discovering the eggs made my day.

Gardening in Alaska!

Jon and I just got back from an awesome adventure in Alaska. Our trip included classic Alaskan experiences (floating on rivers, hiking up mountains), but we also managed to squeeze in a little garden time, including a tour of the agriculture exhibits at the Alaska State Fair and a visit to the incredible vegetable gardens at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Palmer, Alaska. Now that we’re home, I thought I’d give you a little tour of a big Alaskan garden.

NOLS students stay at the Palmer camp on their way to and from mountaineering, sea kayaking, and backpacking courses, and they are lucky enough to eat fresh, organic vegetables grown right on the premises. Food scraps from the kitchen are composted or fed to the camp’s resident pigs…and they even raise and slaughter their own broiler chickens!

The NOLS Alaska garden features a gorgeous backdrop of mountains and huge rows of salad greens, broccoli, cabbage, beets, carrots, and rhubarb.

Peas line the fence of the salad garden, which includes incredible lettuces, arugula, and chard.

A hoop house keeps tomatoes, basil, and other culinary herbs toasty warm during the short growing season. I was definitely jealous to discover that this garden in Alaska had ripe tomatoes before me!

Even though the Alaskan summer is short and cool it has long, long days (almost 24 hours of light in June and July), which means that it’s possible to grow really big cool season crops like beets, turnips, cauliflower, and cabbage. At the state fair they have a whole section in the Agriculture exhibits devoted to enormous vegetables. While I have to admit that our encounter with a grizzly bear while hiking was certainly the most memorable part of the trip…seeing a 20 pound rutabaga was a close second!


My Chickens are Famous!

Seattle Tilth is hosting a self-guided chicken coop tour this Saturday and as part of their marketing efforts they asked me and our hens, Inky, Clyde, Bumble, and Boo Boo to appear on a local TV segment. The camera crew and producer dropped by our backyard barnyard yesterday afternoon and filmed the girls running around doing their chicken thing and asked me a few questions.

The girls are total prima donnas and were very excited about their big TV debut, so I thought I would share the a link to the clip, plus some glamour shots of the girls. Enjoy!

Clyde is an Araucana and she lays blue eggs!

Inky is my favorite chicken!

Isn’t she cute?

Goodbye Grass, Hello Garden!

There is really nothing more romantic than watching your husband tear out huge chunks of lawn so you can build a garden. It’s better than long walks on the beach. And breakfast in bed. And staring at each other across a candlelit table. I can vouch, because for the past few weeks Jon has helped me build our incredible new kitchen garden, and the first step was getting rid of a 300 square foot hunk of grass.

On a rainy Saturday three weeks ago, we rented a sod cutter and our friend Roper came over with his awesome 2-wheel wheelbarrow. Jon cut the sod, I rolled it up, and Roper carted it off to the weedy no-man’s land between our fence and the alley.

Then we borrowed our neighbor’s super burly tiller to loosen up the compacted soil. The tiller turned up about 600 rocks, one early-1980s toy water gun, and a blue glass marble. After tilling, we let the chickens loose into the garden space. They were in hen heaven, scratching up the soil, clucking, eating grubs, and depositing little bits of nitrogen everywhere.

Hen Heaven

Taking out the sod was the fun part, because we spent the next few weeks lugging wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of compost into the backyard. Needless to say, I was ready to finally install the garden this past weekend.

Jon built 5 gorgeous raised beds (he used cedar boards recycled from a section of fence we removed last summer) and filled them with soil while I planted our new herb garden and barbecue area.

The East Side of the Garden

The West Side of the Garden

I’m going to install some trellises on the fence for pole beans and cucumbers, and Jon’s building a little fence to keep the chickens out, and we still have loads of veggies and raspberries to plant, and nasturtiums to seed along the pathways, and the soil needs tons of help…but for now I’m just so happy to have a garden approximately ten steps away from my back door.

Squash Seedlings Ready for Their New Home

Planting Our Favorite Lettuce

About


Willi Galloway

Willi Galloway is an award-winning radio commentator and writer. Willi began her career at Organic Gardening magazine, where she worked her way up from editorial intern to West Coast Editor. She moved to Seattle in 2003 and became an active participant in the urban agriculture movement, earning her Master Gardener certification in 2004 and serving for six years on the board of directors of Seattle Tilth—a nationally recognized nonprofit that teaches people to cultivate a healthy urban environment and community by growing organic food. This work introduced her to hundreds of other urban gardeners, and like many of them, she has grown food in untraditional places, including on the roof of an apartment building, at the Interbay P-Patch (an acclaimed community garden right in the middle of Seattle), and in the sunny front yard of her home.

Willi writes about kitchen gardening and seasonal cooking on her popular blog, DigginFood.com, and pens the weekly column “The Gardener” on Apartment Therapy’s Re-Nest blog. Each Tuesday morning, she offers vegetable gardening advice on Seattle’s popular NPR call-in show, Greendays. She also teaches a joint gardening and cooking class with James Beard Award–nominated chef Matthew Dillon at the Corson Building in Seattle, and hosts an online garden-to-table cooking show, Grow. Cook. Eat., with her husband, Jon. Their garden has been featured in Sunset magazine. Willi currently lives and gardens in Portland, Oregon, with her four chickens, Inky, Clyde, Bumble, and Boo Boo, and her lab, Domino.

If you have an idea that you think I should write about on DigginFood or just want to say hello, please drop me a line at info@digginfood.com.

 

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