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Sneak Peek: Roberta’s Urban Restaurant Garden

The Heritage Radio Network (HRN) broadcasts live from a shipping container that is set in the midst of a thriving urban garden that grows behind Roberta’s–a pizzeria in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In June, I was lucky enough to visit the radio station, teach a class about herbs in the garden, eat a delicious pizza on the patio and down a cold beer. Yesterday HRN invited me to be a guest on The Farm Report, one of the station’s many food-related radio programs, to discuss harvesting (you can stream the show here or download the podcast on iTunes). As I sat at my kitchen table in Portland during the interview, it was fun to think about Erin Fairbanks, The Farm Report’s host, and Melissa Metrick, Roberta’s gardener, sitting in the shipping container with a rooftop garden full of tomatoes above their heads.

Hemmed in on all sides by streets and buildings, Roberta’s decidedly urban garden is located on a large cement slab and on the roof of the shipping containers that house the HRN office and studio. If you exit the radio station and turn right, a narrow wooden staircase leads you up to the top of the shipping container and into a garden that packs a ton of produce into precious little space. Melissa utilizes every trick in the book to get the most out of  the garden. Tomatoes twine up trellises, baby greens are planted in narrow rows amongst the tomatoes, and quick, successive crops go in and out of the garden all season.

The two roof top garden areas have hoop house frames over the garden beds. When I was visiting in June, one of the hoop houses was covered in plastic and tomatoes, basil and other warm season crops were growing happily in the nearly tropical conditions inside.

Melissa and her team of urban gardening interns grow food for the restaurant and bar, and I spotted lots of baby greens, herbs, and edible flowers tucked in amongst the vegetables.

The Roberta’s orchard is planted in huge plastic containers reclaimed from a brewery. The planters are mobile and the staff often moves them around when the restaurant hosts events. To fully utilize the growing area under the trees, Melissa plants camomile and annuals flowers for the restaurant’s pastry chef to use and to lure in beneficial insects. Raspberries also grow happily in the big containers.

Honeybees from nearby hives visit brassica flowers that were left to bloom for their pollen and nectar. In one of the big beds I saw carrots and leeks interplanted together, and I spotted tons of both purple and green basil growing in spots all over the garden.

There is definitely a waste not, want not ethic on display in the garden. Everything from restaurant-size tomato cans holding plants to the intensive interplanting on display in the beds. The garden really shows that if you want to grow food, you can do so anywhere as long as you have a little bit of pluck and imagination. If you find yourself in New York, go visit Roberta’s. The garden (and the restaurant!) are worth the trek to Bushwick. And even if you don’t have Big Apple plans in your near future, you can tune in to the HRN podcasts to hear about what is going on in the farms and kitchens of people who love local food.

Book and Garden Tour! Portland, Brooklyn, New Jersey, Chicago and Seattle!

Happy official summer everyone! Starting tomorrow, I’m off on a little book tour and my friend Robin is opening her completely amazing garden to the public. I’ve sprinkled photos of her garden through out this post and all the details of the tour and her garden are listed at the bottom. If you’re in Seattle, this is a garden not to be missed (and word on the street is the sun will shine in Seattle tomorrow!).

As for the book tour, my first stop is at the Garden Corner Nursery in Tualatin, Oregon, which is just south of Portland and home to the World’s Largest Hanging Basket (seriously, it is 16 feet high and 10 feet wide)! Then, I fly off to the East Coast and Midwest. On Tuesday I am super excited to have an opportunity to teach at Roberta’s in Brooklyn. This little pizzeria has received national acclaim for its food, but most exciting for me is the vegetable garden out back, where I will be teaching my class! Williams-Sonoma is also hosting lucky me at their stores in Short Hills, New Jersey and Chicago, Illinois (North Michigan Avenue location). Both of these stores carry Williams-Sonoma’s new Agrarian line, which features a very well curated collection of garden tools, seeds, plants, food preservation supplies, and a very cute chicken coop!

If you happen to be in Portland, Brooklyn, New Jersey or Chicago (or if you have friends and family who are), please do stop by.  I’d love to meet you!

Saturday, June 23rd: Container Vegetable Gardening

The Garden Corner Nursery in Tualatin, Oregon at 11:00 am. Free class!

You can grow almost anything edible in containers, from apple trees to carrots. You just need to have the right type of container and choose the best variety. In this workshop I’m going to cover all the container gardening basics, offer some design tips for putting together beautiful edible containers, and show off some of my favorite edible plants for container gardening. Book signing to follow!

Tuesday, June 26th: Urban Herb Gardening

Roberta’s in Brooklyn, NY at 5:00 pm. Free class!

Learn how to grow herbs and simple ways to infuse their flavor into your everyday recipes! In this class I will cover how to grow herbs successfully in both containers and the garden. Plus, the best techniques for drying and freezing herbs, how to make fresh and dry herbal tea, and how to preserve the flavor of herbs in infused salts, sugars, and vinegars. Book signing to follow!

Wednesday, June 27th: Growing and Cooking with Herbs

Williams-Sonoma at the Mall at Short Hills, NJ at 5:00PM. Free class!

Anyone can grow herbs (even if you think you have a brown thumb)! They thrive in containers, have almost no pest or disease problems, and do not need to be babied! In this hands-on workshop, I’m going to discuss herb growing basics and then we will delve in to using herbs in the kitchen every day. We’ll make fresh herbal tea, a delicious rosemary lemon herb salt, and a versatile compound butter than can be used to flavor everything from grilled fish to boiled new potatoes. There will be lots of treats to sample and a book signing to follow!

Saturday, June 30th: Growing and Cooking with Herbs

Williams-Sonoma on North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois at 1:00 pm. Free class!

Anyone can grow herbs (even if you think you have a brown thumb)! They thrive in containers, have almost no pest or disease problems, and do not need to be babied! In this hands-on workshop, I’m going to discuss herb growing basics and then we will delve in to using herbs in the kitchen every day. We’ll make fresh herbal tea, a delicious rosemary lemon herb salt, and a versatile compound butter than can be used to flavor everything from grilled fish to boiled new potatoes. There will be lots of treats to sample and a book signing to follow!

Sunday July 1st: Herbs 101

Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago

Learn how to grow herbs and simple ways to infuse their flavor into your everyday recipes! In this class I will cover how to grow herbs successfully in both containers and the garden. Plus, the best techniques for drying and freezing herbs! Book signing to follow.

Sustainable Ballard’s 4th Annual Edible Garden Tour on June 23rd!

10:00 am to 3:00 pm. $10 maps are available at Whittier Elementary on the day of the tour.

Last but certainly not least, I want to tell you about my friend Robin’s garden, which is being featured on the Sustainable Ballard Edible Garden tour this Saturday, June 23rd in Seattle. Robin owns Garden Mentors and her job is to help guide people towards creating a garden that fits their space and lifestyle. Robin has helped me in my own garden and her personal garden is truly one of my very favorite spots. With the help of her husband, Bob, they have transformed the yard around their Ballard Bungalow into an edible wonderland. Vegetables, herbs, and fruit are intermixed among northwest Native plants and ornamentals.

The garden features a cozy fire pit surrounded by stone benches, meandering pathways, a honey bee hive tended by Ballard Bee Company, a gorgeous cedar greenhouse, and numerous hoop houses and cold frames.

If you want ideas for squeezing tons of food into a small urban space in the most beautiful possible way, then you must attend this tour and visit Robin’s garden, which is rarely open to the public! I would totally be there with bells on if I wasn’t on book tour!  Maps are $10 and available the day of the tour from Sustainable Ballard.

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



Grow. Cook. Eat. Video: Salad with Goat Cheese Toasts

In this episode of Grow. Cook. Eat., Jon and I make a fresh garden salad with our favorite salad add-on: baked chevre toasts. I also demonstrate my method for sowing tiny salad green seeds and how to harvest lettuce. We filmed this episode in early summer, but there is still time to get some lettuce seed and lettuce starts into the garden, especially if you give the greens a little extra love and construct a hoop house over them.

Grow. Cook. Eat. June 11

I love Seattle, but the weather here has gotten me down lately. I haven’t even planted my tomatoes or basil since nighttime temperatures continue to dip down into the 40s. This weekend, by all accounts, is supposed to be nice. I’ve got my fingers crossed. Either way, rain or shine I will be out in my garden on Sunday planting all the crops that need to get in the ground!

In the Garden

I didn’t sow or plant anything this week. I did set up a hoop house around my squash and they literally grew overnight. My goal this weekend is to put hoop houses around my corn and peppers, too. I will also be planting 7 types of tomatoes, 2 varieties of eggplant, 4 kinds of basil, and a multitude of annual flowers.

In the Kitchen

My Berggarten sage is growing like gangbusters. I harvest handfuls at a time and it doesn’t even make a dent in the plant. I mixed sage in with a pasta dish with parsley, garlic, and chickpeas, ate tons of basic wilted greens, and used gigantic ‘Australian Yellow Leaf’ lettuce leaves as spring roll wrappers. They were delicious!

Good Reads and Finds

Frustrated with flimsy tomato cages? Tom from Tall Clover Farm has great directions and an illustration for building a simple tomato trellis. I’m going to try this technique in my front yard tomato patch!

Do you know about Straight From the Farm? It is one of my very favorite blogs. The site features a treasure trove of seasonal recipes (rhubarb lemon sponge pie, anyone?) and gorgeous photos. It is an absolute treat!

Black Sheep Heap now offers their Beet the System design on organic onesies. So cute! If you have a gardener-to-be in your life, I think they need one of these.

And the lucky winner is…


Before I announce last week’s contest winner, I want to send out a huge thank you, a big round of applause, and a hug to everyone who generously offered up their gardening advice. Seriously, I am super excited to get outside and start gardening after reading all of your tips for forcing rhubarb, preventing slug damage, building the soil, and just appreciating the process of gardening, including all the stumbles that inevitably happen along the way.

I had a really hard time choosing just one winner, but I ended up selecting Mal’s advice (comment #17):

Share plants! You’ll keep your own garden from getting overstuffed to where you don’t even want to go out and work in it. You’ll learn how to take care of the plants from the people who have grown them successfully. You’ll grow plants you thought you wouldn’t like, you didn’t think would look good or were too expensive to try, just because someone gave them to you and you thought, “why not?” You’ll make friends, you’ll build relationships, you’ll network. Best of all, you will build a garden full of memories, your aunt’s hostas, your neighbor’s daylilies, your grandmother’s roses, your sister’s favorite tomatoes and it goes on and on.

I think that the best way to become a better gardener is to share your experience with others and learn from them, and Mal’s advice really summed this up. Hopefully she will have fun choosing five packets of seed from The Cook’s Garden and starting them indoors with her new Eco-Friendly Seed-Starting Kit from Burpee, who kindly provided this great prize. I’m just a little jealous that I don’t know Mal in person, because she will surely share some of the seedlings she starts!

Contest! Win Seeds and a Seed-Starting Kit!


The contest is now closed. Thanks everyone for entering! Check back on Thursday, February 25th to find out the winner.

The best gardening advice I ever received was this: Don’t worry so much, there is always next year. These words were uttered by Joyce, the chain-smoking, plant-loving manager of the nursery I worked at in high school. Joyce taught me how to propagate plants by seed and transplant seedlings. During my years at the nursery I started and cared for whole greenhouses of tomatoes and annual flowers with her guidance. Now, whenever something fails in my garden, I think about Joyce and her roll-with-the-blows philosophy of gardening.

I know that there is tons of gardening wisdom out there, and I think it would be fun to collect it all in one place. So, I’m holding a contest! To enter, all you need to do is post your best gardening advice in the comments selection below. The contest will close next Tuesday, February 23rd at midnight Pacific Standard Time. I’ll choose my favorite piece of advice and announce it—and the winner—on February 25th.

Burpee is kindly offering up a great prize package, including their eco-friendly seed-starting kit and five packets of seed of the winner’s choice from The Cook’s Garden seed company. The seed-starting kit is really cool, it has compostable fiber containers, a compostable water catchment tray that is made of bamboo, wooden plant markers, and organic fertilizer (you can check it out right here). The winner will surely have a hard time choosing their seeds, because The Cook’s Garden has an awesome selection of vegetable varieties, including some of my favorites like ‘Romanesco’ broccoli, ‘Parmex’ carrot, and ‘Chioggia’ beets.

Okay, start commenting! I can’t wait to see the advice come rolling in.

Heirloom Vegetables for the Pacific Northwest


Seed ordering season has arrived. Hooray! To celebrate I’m going to be talking all about seeds for the rest of this week. To start things off I have a great guest post from my friend Bill Thorness. Bill has been growing organic vegetables in Seattle for decades and recently released a gem of a book, Edible Heirlooms: Heritage Vegetables for Maritime Gardens. This little book is really a treasure for gardeners in the Pacific Northwest because it lays out which heirloom varieties perform best in our climate. It’s packed with historical tidbits and illustrated with lovely drawings by Bill’s wife, Susie. Even if you don’t live in our corner of the earth, Bill’s book will introduce you to a long list of heirloom vegetables that are worth trying! ~ Willi

Edible Heirlooms


‘Lacinato’ (aka Dinosaur) kale

There are many wonderful members of the Brassica genus that have thrived in our gardens over the years, but this one is a true star. Perhaps I like it best because it stands like a little palm tree throughout the winter when the rest of the garden is resting under a thick blanket of mulch. Start seeds in mid-summer for an overwintered crop that will feed you regularly from December through May. Harvest by breaking off the blue-grey leaves closest to the ground, which enhances the palm tree effect. I love it best stir-fried with garlic and olive oil, but ‘Lacinato’ is also good chopped into a white bean stew or a squash soup. For an appetizer treat, chop it, toss with oil and spices, spread it on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees F, stirring frequently until crispy.

‘Black Coco’ bean

Dinner would be much poorer without beans. They provide a meaty vegetarian staple throughout the year, from fresh steamed green bean pods in summer to long-simmered plump bean seeds sustaining us in winter. A French heirloom, this medium-sized bush bean produces scads of pods that are great fresh, lightly steamed as snap beans, with a broad, round, pale green pod containing a half dozen large, swelling seeds. But if you take a summer vacation and come back to overgrown plants, you can just let them mature and dry them, and the result is a delectable black bean for Mexican refritos.


‘Spanish Roja’ garlic

Also known as ‘Greek’ or ‘Greek Blue’, this garlic was brought by immigrants to the Portland, Oregon area in the late 1800s and has long been a Northwest favorite. To me, it’s the perfect garlic. First, it is beautiful—the papery cover of its cloves are tinged with dark pink. Second, it is versatile. I use it in stir-fry dishes when I want to lightly cook my fresh garden produce. I learned something about its use last fall: I called in to The Splendid Table radio program and asked the wonderful host Lynne Rossetto Kasper how to trial different garlics, then used her advice to test five varieties. To my surprise, Spanish Roja did not come out well in the raw taste-test, so I stopped using it in salad dressings. However, it performed admirably in sautés, roasted in foil, and slipped under the skin of a roasting chicken. Here’s my report on the test. Garlic is normally planted in late fall and harvested in mid-summer, but can be planted in spring for a September harvest.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Backyard Greenhouse


My friend Robin got a greenhouse this year and I’ve been beside myself with jealousy ever since. It’s really a gorgeous little space and I want one. Badly. So I asked Robin if she would mind writing up a little guest post about her greenhouse and some tips for those of us who are considering investing in one. ~ Willi


For years my husband and I have dreamed of adding a greenhouse to our mid-sized residential garden in Seattle. In 2008, we invested a meager $100 on a cheapie hollow aluminum frame greenhouse that was held together with plastic clips and covered with plastic sheeting. During the spring and summer, we enjoyed this foray into greenhouse gardening, but fall rains rapidly rusted out the cheap frame. Then, in our record snowfall, the whole thing came tumbling down. I was able to recycle some of the aluminum tubing as training stakes, but the rest was a big pile of trash. Learning from our not-too-costly mistake, we resolved to add a more permanent, sturdy structure to the garden. Our challenge became finding an affordable greenhouse that fit our garden aesthetic.

Initially, my handy husband Bob ordered greenhouse construction plans from The New Yankee Workshop. But, before he got started building, we went to the 2009 Northwest Flower & Garden Show where several greenhouse vendors were displaying their floor models. So, we did some comparative shopping.

First, we looked very briefly at some of the fiberglass greenhouses. Honestly, they pretty much gave me the creeps. They were dark, with short ceilings, and to my eye, they were ugly. Then, we dreamily window-shopped the booths filled with ornate glass greenhouses framed in powder-coated steel with fancy filigree, but they were beyond our budget. Finally, I found myself talking with a couple of vendors offering reasonably priced greenhouses similar to the style Bob planned to build from scratch. They offered twin polycarbonate walls, cedar or redwood frames, a few footprint sizes, and simple pre-fab construction that looked doable to me.


After comparing prices, time requirements and construction materials and formats, Bob agreed that these kits were a good option for us and much less expensive than building the greenhouse from scratch with the plans. So, we ordered the Mt. Hood Sunshine greenhouse kit. And about three weeks later it arrived. Within just a few hours on St. Patrick’s Day, Bob had put it up on our back patio—with just a little help from me.


I should note that we negotiated a few custom modifications to the standard kit (without being charged for the difference). First, we ordered two Dutch doors rather than the standard one door with an opposite self-opening floor vent. This adjustment allows us to enter from the patio and exit on the opposite side into a renovated garden bed. This simple change helped us better integrate the beds surrounding the greenhouse into our overall garden plan (see above).


Having worked in large greenhouses, I wanted multiple shelves made from expanded metal instead of the redwood slat shelf that came standard with the kit (see above). Metal is easy to clean and doesn’t harbor insect and disease. Along with making these modified shelves, Bob changed the door hardware to improve the locking system and allow us to anchor the top of each open Dutch door to nearby fence posts. And, he added ground-bolts (available from Sunshine Greenhouses) to keep the structure in place should it get excessively windy.

Backyard Greenhouse

Our greenhouse is a beautiful and well-used addition to our garden (see below). It has served us well for propagating edibles from seed, growing tropical lilikoi, and ripening tomatoes well into fall. It serves as a backup location for leafy greens and other hardy cool season crops just in case the ones I have under hoop houses don’t quite stand up to winter. We haven’t added lights or heat to the greenhouse, but even on cool fall evenings, it manages to trap enough heat to remain warm overnight. We’ll see if additional sealing is required in winter.


The small, semi-permanent structure is just right for our residential garden. Sure, I could fill an enormous greenhouse given the chance. But, by carefully planning my planting rotations, monitoring my crops regularly for pests and disease, and spacing my plants carefully, I’m content with the amount of greenhouse space I have. At least once daily regardless of weather, I duck inside where I harvest fresh, homegrown, organic produce; inspect plants for pests and disease; water; or just simply soak up the warm, moist, herbaceous atmosphere always waiting inside my little horticultural dream house.


Here are a few tips if you’re considering a greenhouse of your own:

Kit, DIY Plans, or Installed? A kit worked for us, but we did make several modifications that required additional investment and Bob’s handyman skills.

Consider Space. Think about how you plan to use the greenhouse and how much footprint you have for it. You’ll need a solid, level spot on which to build your new structure where it will get enough – but not too much – light and warmth from the sun.

Make sure you have water nearby. In the heat of summer, I often had to water in the greenhouse a couple times a day.

Controlling heat. Our greenhouse came with a roof vent that requires no electricity yet opens automatically as heat builds too high. On extra warm days, we have the option to open both Dutch doors open to create a great pest and disease-deterring cool breeze.

To read more about Robin’s greenhouse and her really amazing edible landscape, check out her blog Garden Help.

Bastille Restaurant’s Rooftop Garden


{via Bastille’s website}

A couple of weeks ago I found myself standing on the roof of Bastille—an exquisite new restaurant in Seattle’s historic Ballard neighborhood. A blue sky was overhead, a sea of salad greens were at my feet, and the smell of freshly fried frites was in the air.


Colin McCrate, who owns Seattle Urban Farm Company, invited me up to check out the 4500 square foot kitchen garden that Bastille’s owners, Deming Maclise and James Weimann, hired him to install and maintain.


Colin custom-built a series of wooden raised beds fitted with pitched panels covered in shade cloth. To make harvesting easy, the panels hinge open. They are also interchangeable, so when the weather cools this fall, Colin plans on switching the shade cloth panels out with ones covered in plastic, effectively turning the beds into mini-greenhouses.



Each bed also has it’s own drip irrigation system and heating cables to keep the soil warm and productive during the winter!


The garden also features several kiddie pools repurposed into round raised beds—an idea McCrate borrowed from Rocket, a restaurant in Portland that installed a rooftop kitchen garden in 2007. Currently both the wooden beds and the pools are filled with salad greens and herbs, which the chefs harvest for the Salade du Toit, a green salad tossed with a hazelnut vinaigrette, a beet and arugula salad, and the herb incrusted salmon.


The roof—which was retrofitted during the building’s remodel to withstand the weight of the garden—still has plenty of spare real estate and Colin mentioned the possibility of expanding the garden next year to include space for tomatoes and other crops.



{via Bastille’s website}

Downstairs, the restaurant is full of lovely details—a huge zinc bar, vintage light fixtures, and custom tables. Shannon Galusha, who started his career off with a 3 year residency at French Laundry, is heading up the kitchen. With so much inspiration growing right above his head, I can’t wait to try what he dreams up!

Bastille is located at 5307 Ballard Ave NW in Seattle. It is open for dinner Sunday-Thursday from 5:30 to 10:00 pm and on Friday & Saturday until 11:00 pm. Brunch is served from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm on Sundays. Reservations can be made online or by calling 206.453.5014.

Cute Idea: Recycled Crate Planter Boxes


I’m a total sucker for old wooden crates. So I was thrilled when I recently spotted not one but two (!) wooden crates that had been repurposed into planter boxes.

The first sighting was a wine crate filled with zinnias on the patio at my friend Robin’s house. Isn’t it fun?


Then when I was over at Lorene’s making pickles I popped out into her garden and spotted this little box filled with pea greens. Lorene had a bunch of extra pea seed, so she just filled up the crate with potting mix, sowed the pea seed heavily, and has been snipping off the tops and adding them to salads all summer. Such a good idea!

Lorene and Robin are both bloggers and you can check out their gardens at Planted at Home and Garden Help.

Meet My Garden, Terrain

Last May, I got really lucky. Right before college graduation, I was offered “my first real job” with the creative garden team at Terrain in Philadelphia. Since then, I’ve spent my post grad year opening our flagship home and garden shop, immersing myself in the organic beauty business, and planting roots in the city of brotherly love. Terrain isn’t my grandfather’s Chestnut Acre garden center that I grew up with – it’s so much more than that. (See for yourself below!)

Terrain Garden
Blooming across five acres, at Terrain you’ll discover inspiring plants, a home store filled with artifacts from around the globe, a locavore greenhouse café, a weekly farmer’s market, and a natural wellness space. The next time you’re in Philly – or on the east coast for that matter – I insist you spend an afternoon in our garden or at one of our weekend events.  You’ll surely be inspired to plant a piece of Terrain at your own home!

Terrain Scenic

Instead of a recipe, I’ll leave you a beauty remedy:
One of my favorite perks about my job for Terrain’s wellness space is researching organic beauty trends, talking to eco-savvy entrepreneurs, and testing out their all-natural products.  In the past year, so many green beauty products have made appearances in my bath cabinets, soap dishes, and vanity drawers.  Below see three of my favorite choices for green garden skincare that will keep your tired-from-harvesting-season fingers, nail beds, palms, and face as fresh as they were at start of planting season.

Before you head out to weed, prune, and pick:
Beekman 1802 Bug Repellant Bars
Beekman 1802
Do a quick rinse with Beekman 1802’s Bug Repellant Bars. Made with pure goat’s milk from the Beekman farm, and naturally scented with citronella, eucalyptus, and other essential oils, this chemical-free soap can be used on your entire body.  Sensitive to the smell of citronella? Instead take one of the small soap squares and press it to just your pulse points to keep bugs at bay all day in the garden!

After a long day of potting and planting:

Saipua Gardener’s Soap
Saipua Gardener's Soap
This Saipua bar was made for a true Gardener.  The cornmeal in this handcrafted soap is an effective exfoliate that will scrub away all evidence of a days-hard-work off your hands.  Unlike other soaps, this rosemary-mint scented bar won’t dry out your over-worked hands – the Shea butter replenishes moisture, while the food-grade vegetable oils protect and prepare your hands for another day in the garden.

Year-round care in the garden
Farmaesthetics Gardener To Go Box Set
Farmaesthetics Gardener

Farmaesthetics was developed by the daughter of a 7th generation farming family – all of Farmaesthetics products are 100% natural and are blended with certified organic herbs, flowers, and grains from family farms throughout America.  Inside this starter gardener kit of sustainable beauty you’ll find a Hand To Heal Salve (Made from calendula and beeswax to protect, soften, and restore your hands, elbows, cuticles, and knees), a mint fresh Lip Softener (also made with calendula and vitamin C to treat exposure to dry heat, sun, and chlorine), and lastly a Cool Aloe Mist (The aloe-based treatment will quickly relieve inflamed tissue from sun damage. Stick your bottle in the fridge for an extra burst of refreshment!)


Terrain at Styer’s: 914 Baltimore Pike, Glen Mills, PA 1934

Serious Greenhouse Envy

Backyard Greenhouse

I don’t like to think of myself as a jealous person, but more than my thumb turned green when I first saw my friend Robin’s new greenhouse. I wanted to shout, “Hello, Beautiful!” when I stepped inside. She’s got watermelons, passionfruit and ripe tomatoes growing within the confines of its lovely translucent walls. And she’s started trays of kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seedlings for fall.

My birthday is coming up next Tuesday. I don’t think I’m going to find one of these puppies in my backyard. But, hey, a girl can always dream, right?


To read more about Robin’s greenhouse and her other gardening escapades, you should definitely check out her blog GardenHelp.

Slow Gardening


A few weeks ago the New York Times did a story on Felder Rushing, a Mississippi-based gardener and writer. Rushing kind of reminds me of The Dude from the Big Lebowski and not just because he frequently gardens in his bathrobe. He operates under a Dude-like philosophy he calls slow gardening. The basic tenets? Chill out. Don’t try to do everything at once. Have fun.

My favorite part of the article mentioned that Rushing grows basil in the bed of his pickup truck. It’s his “container garden on wheels”. I happen to have a huge soft spot in my heart for cars and trucks with gardens in them. We once had an Organic Gardening reader who wrote in that she starts her tomatoes in the back of her Gremlin–the big glass window made the perfect greenhouse. While I don’t have my own garden on wheels, I thought I’d share photos of a couple that I saw on my trip to the Bay Area in March. These babies don’t roll any more, but they sure are cool!


This truck was parked on a sandy road about a block from the beach in Bolinas. I almost walked right on by until I glanced in the back. A garden of weeds and wildflowers had sprouted up in the decomposing leaves that filled the bed of the truck. It was just begging for someone to throw in a few basil seeds.


A few days after I spotted the garden truck in Bolinas, I met Kelly from Make, Grow, Gather at Flora Grubb–a fantasy land of a nursery that specializes in succulents and palms, but also has a small, but fascinating, collection of edibles. Other than the salsify that Kelly picked up, my favorite part of Flora Grubb is an old car that Flora (who owns the nursery) turned into pretty much the coolest planter ever. I think it proves that one person’s junk is another’s treasure.



Happy Birthday DigginFood!

Parsley Seed

On this very day last year, I woke up in the morning, sat down at my computer, and launched DigginFood. I barely even knew what a blog was, let alone how to start one, but I had a lot of ideas and wanted to share them. I settled on the name DigginFood, because I dig eating food and because I also happen to dig in my vegetable garden all the time. On that first day I wrote:

My hope is that DigginFood persuades people who love to cook and eat good food to try out growing some of their own—and that it provides lots of inspiration for people who already have a kitchen garden.

At the time, I didn’t have even the slightest inkling that DigginFood would introduce me to such an amazing, talented, generous community of people who would inspire me every day and persuade me to grow more of my own food.

So I just want to say thank you. Thank your for your ideas, your encouragement, and your good advice. Since I can’t share a piece of cake with all of you, I thought I’d give you a peek at some of my favorite moments from the past year. Thanks for reading and Happy Earth Day!

Our Garden is Born!

Good Bye Grass!

Adorable Arugula Seedlings

Arugula Seedlings

A Lovely Radish Bouquet

Radish Bouquet

The Pepper Palace and Its Results

DIY Mini Greenhouse


Making Applesauce with the Neighbors

Homegrown Apples


Homegrown Pesto

Dish of Pesto

‘Satuski Madori’: The Best Cucumber Ever!

A Pile of Cucumbers

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!

Welcome Heavy Petal Readers

Andrea over at Heavy Petal in Vancouver, BC runs a weekly photo tour of gardens and this week she featured our garden. Yay! Jon and I were totally thrilled that she thinks our garden is “truly fresh food porn.” That is the best compliment ever.

If you’re new to DigginFood, let me say a big hello. I’ve been writing here since April about growing, cooking, and eating fresh food. I do my best to post a mix of recipes and gardening advice here three times a week.

If you want to explore what happened in my garden this year, click here. You’ll find step-by-step directions for building a mini greenhouse, advice for dealing with leaf miners organically, and tomato growing tips.

And if you’re more interested in eating, you’ll find my Italian grandmother’s heirloom pesto recipe, a damn good bacon sandwich, and pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting in my recipe section.

Over the winter I’m planning on beefing up my Gardening Guides (beets is the first entry) and sharing what’s happening in my garden and kitchen.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll check in again soon.

p.s. You should also definitely check out Andrea’s back patio makeover. I would kill to have her design savvy (love that horizontal fence!).

I’m Proud of My Peppers!

Ever wondered how many peppers it takes to make a peck of peppers? I have. And after harvesting loads of peppers on Sunday, I decided to find out exactly what a peck is. Turns out it is a unit of dry volume equal to 8 quarts.

I haven’t picked a peck of peppers yet, but I’m halfway there! I’ve got four quarts of roasted peppers in the freezer and am waiting to harvest my Hungarian Carrot Chiles and more ‘Jimmy Nardello’ sweet peppers.

Roasted peppers add big flavor to some of my favorite winter comfort foods—stacked enchiladas, tortilla soup, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato tacos. You can roast peppers under a broiler until their skins blister and char, but I prefer to grill them over a charcoal fire, because they take on a nice smoky flavor. I freeze most of my peppers, and I’ve found that they tend to not stick together if I freeze them individually first, and then pack them into bags. To do this, I first arrange them in a single layer on a pizza tray and stick it in the freezer. Once the peppers are solid, I quickly load them into 2-cup or 1-quart plastic freezer bags and immediately put the bags into the freezer.

When I’m ready to use the peppers in a recipe, I pull what I need out of the freezer, let them thaw for a few minutes, and then run them under warm water. The charred skins slip right off and the pepper are ready to chop and use.

This was by far my best pepper year ever and I give all the credit to the fabulous mini greenhouse (pictured above at the beginning of the season) that Jon and I built. The Pepper Palace, as I called it, kept the plants warm and growing during our cold June and protected them from the chilly evening temperatures we had all summer. I’m going to expand the greenhouse next year so there is enough room to grow eggplants and okra underneath its cozy warm embrace.

Seeding Change at the White House

This morning the gardening blogosphere is buzzing about Kitchen Gardener International’s latest Eat the View video. Eat the View is a grassroots campaign to convince the next president (whomever he may be) to plant a kitchen garden on the White House lawn.

The latest, and thoroughly charming installment, is a cartoon history of kitchen gardening at the White House. Quick fact I learned: the White House once had a greenhouse, but it was torn down to make way for the West Wing. Who knew?

Thanks to Elizabeth over at Garden Rant and Robin at Garden Help for spreading the word about the new video campaign. Definitely take the time (3 minutes and 20 seconds) to watch it! Afterwards you can wow your friends and family with presidential planting facts. And do your part to encourage the White House to go green by signing the Eat the View petition. I signed it earlier this summer!

DIY Mini Greenhouse

I decided to give our pepper plants a little TLC by building them a miniature hoop house right over their raised bed. I’ve nicknamed the structure The Pepper Palace, but Jon thinks it looks more like a Conestoga wagon. Either way, it’s keeping our plants toasty warm! 

We constructed our little greenhouse with rebar, copper tubing, and plastic sheeting. As the summer warms, I’ll probably take off the plastic and replace it with TufBel—an extremely durable row cover developed in Japan. Tufbel lets in tons of light and it will keep the peppers warm without baking them (peppers tend to drop their blossoms if temps rise over 80 degrees F or drop below 60 degrees F at night). I’m also planning on leaving the hoop house up over the winter and growing spinach, cold hardy lettuces, kale, and chard inside.

Here’s a little photo essay that details the construction of our peppers’ new digs. The whole process took less than a half and hour!

Use sturdy stakes

To help ensure the hoop house stays upright during windstorms, we used 3/8-inch rebar stakes to support the hoops. We purchased the rebar in 2-foot lengths and used a heavy hammer to pound the stakes about 20 inches into the ground. Our raised bed is about 6 feet long and we put a stake in each corner of the bed and one on either side of the middle. 

Avoid PVC

Most people build mini hoop houses with flexible PVC tubing, but we happened to have a roll of copper tubing hanging around in the garage. Not only is the copper easy to cut with a hack saw, it looks pretty, and doesn’t contain phthalates or other toxic chemicals. I can’t wait to see how the copper weathers over the winter. To create the hoops, just slide one end of the tubing over a stake, arch the tubing across the bed, and slip the other end of the tubing over the other stake. 

Make a sturdy frame

Peppers typically top out at about 24 inches, so we made our hoops about 36 inches tall. Make sure that the tubing you use is slightly larger in diameter than the rebar stakes. This way you can easily slide it over the rebar.

Enclose with plastic

Drape plastic sheeting (or a row cover) over the frame, making sure to leave extra plastic so you can easily weigh it down. Right now the plastic is secured with rocks, but I plan on stapling 1 x 1 pieces of board to the edges. I think this will make the plastic easier to roll up when I need to water and it will look neater.

Our peppers’ new home!


Here’s a peek inside the hoop house. Today after work I’m going to plant some basil seedlings down the middle of the bed and mulch with composted chicken bedding around the peppers.


Tomato Growing Tips

I paid a visit to the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City in April and vendors were selling huge, garden-ready tomatoes, big pepper plants, and tons of basil. The entire scene gave me an intense case of envy, because the we have to wait until late May to plant tomatoes in Seattle and it’s best not to even think about basil until mid-June.

In the Maritime Pacific Northwest (and in places that have short summer seasons or cool nights), growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and melons is a huge challenge. Tomatoes grow best when temperatures stay above 60 degrees F and below about 85 degrees F. But in Seattle, our average nighttime temperatures never get above 57 degrees and our average daytime highs, even in the height of summer, barely nudge past 75.

Over the last few years I’ve discovered a few strategies to help out my tomatoes, and I thought I’d share them with you. Even if you’re lucky and live in the Midwest or Mid-Atlantic states (aka Tomato Heaven), these tips can help you get started earlier and grow bigger, better, healthier plants:

1. Choose the right variety. I avoid varieties that take longer than 85 days to mature and mainly grow ones that were bred to thrive in cooler climates or shorter seasons. I like ‘Oregon Spring’ and ‘Legend’, which were both bred at Oregon State University to set fruit at cool temperatures. I also like a few heirlooms that were bred in Siberia (I figure if they grow in Siberia, they’ll grow in my garden!), including ‘Odessa’ and ‘Moskovitch’. I also always plant ‘Green Zebra’ and  several cherry tomatoes, especially ‘Black Cherry’, ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’, and ‘Yellow Pear’. If you like big, beefsteak tomatoes try ‘Chianti Rose’, I’ve had great luck with it! 

2. Heat up the soil. Tomatoes and other warm season crops like to sink their roots into soil that is at least 60 degrees F (but 65 or 70 is even better). Rather than wait for my soil to heat up, I use plastic to help things along. Start by weeding your bed and raking it smooth. Then water it until the soil is soaked down to at least 8 inches. Stretch clear plastic across the soil as tightly as you can and weigh down the edges with soil or rocks. The plastic acts like a greenhouse and heats up the soil. I usually leave it on for two or three weeks before planting.

Trench Tomato Planting Technique

2. Plant in a trench. It pays to bury as much of a tomato stem as possible because the little hairs on the stem develop into roots when they come into contact with soil. When I’m ready to plant my tomatoes, I pull the plastic  off the soil (you can leave it on all summer, but I don’t like the way it looks). I then plant my tomatoes in a shallow trench that is about four inches deep and as long as my tomato plant is tall. Before planting, pinch off any flowers and the bottom leaves on your tomato plant. Then, lay it sideways in the trench and bury the root ball and bottom portion of the stem in soil. Gently bend the top of the tomato up so the leaves are above the soil line. Don’t worry, the plant looks crooked at first, but it straightens up as it grows. I space my plants about 3 feet apart to ensure plenty of air circulation.

3. Mulch. A lot. After planting, I water the plant in really well and then pour 1 cup each of diluted fish emulsion fertilizer and liquid seaweed onto the root zone. Then I apply about ½ inch of compost around the base of the plants and a 3 inch deep layer of grass clippings or straw on top of that. The compost slowly releases nutrients every time you water and the mulch insulates the soil, which helps it stay warm. This mulch system also prevents moisture from evaporating out of the soil quickly and keeps down weeds, which means I have to spend less time watering and weeding. After mulching I install super sturdy tomato cages made from wire mesh around each plant. 

Cozy, Warm Tomatoes

4. Keep the plants warm. This year I’ve placed Wall-O-Waters around each of my tomatoes. The Wall-O-Waters look like water filled teepees and they act like mini solar greenhouses. The water absorbs energy from the sun during the day and then releases heat at night, which helps keep the tomatoes warm and growing fast. 

5. Water at the base. The best way to prevent fungal diseases like late and early blight is to keep your tomato foliage dry. I do this by watering my plants at their base. This year I’m investing in soaker hoses, but in the past I’ve always hand watered. The trick to hand watering is to get a water wand with a long neck and a toggle that turns off the stream of water at the handle. That way you can bring the hose over to the garden and nestle the wand in at the base of the plant. Then, simply turn the water on to a slow stream and water the plant deeply. Before moving on to the next plant, turn off the stream of water. This saves water and prevents you from unnecessarily spraying your tomatoes and other plants with water. I try to soak the soil about 6 to 8 inches deep every time I water, and I wait until the soil dries down to my second knuckle before I water again.

My Favorite Organic Fertilizers

6. Fertilize, but not too much. I’m still working on building really healthy soil in my P-Patch and the new soil in our raised beds needs more organic matter. This means I have to fertilize a bit during the growing season. Typically, I spray my plants once a month with a half and half mixture of diluted liquid fish emulsion and liquid seaweed. I spray the entire plant, including the undersides of the leaves, until it is dripping. 

This system has helped me grow great tomatoes, but I’m super curious to find out what tricks you guys use on your tomatoes.


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