Dwell Expo 2010

The Outdoor Part of Dwell

I meant to get to this post yesterday, but hadn’t uploaded the pictures yet… and that’s what you guys really care about anyway, right?

dwell panel

So the panel I attended at the Dwell Expo on sustainable gardening for the schools and community was pretty great. Though I had read about quite a few of the local organizations that the speakers touched on, this half hour session made me realize that a lot of people don’t know about the local growing and harvesting resources that are available to them in their areas, especially in Los Angeles. From the Hillside Produce Cooperative in North East LA to Urban Harvest‘s page on Facebook, if you want information on growing produce in your area it’s probably somewhere online, and potentially right up the street in a local community garden plot. (The ACGA is also a great place to start if you’re looking for a local plot or want to start your own.)

Meeting Gardenerd.com

I also got a chance to meet Christy Wilhelmi, a local Angelino who specializes in small space heirloom organic vegetable gardening (and is also the founder of the extremely informative website, Gardenerd.com.) Hopefully once my garden is up and running I’ll get a chance to pop on over to hers and see what she’s growing too! (Don’t worry… I’ll report back.)

After the panel I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about the convention center floor. It was cool to see how many designers were incorporating sustainable and reclaimed materials into their furniture, and nice to have a personal photographer to document every moment so that I could just bounce around and play. (My friend Judd from over at Hustle Bear just picked up a new miniature SLR to play with and has not set it down in over a week- check out his blog if you get the chance! It is often very thought-provoking.)

And now… on with the (slide) show!


Planting Time

I read somewhere the other day that if you plant certain crops on the full moon (while doing a hand stand parallel to the equator with a quarter in your mouth) they will grow bigger and produce a better harvest. I have no idea whether or not this is actually true, but looking up at the sky Sunday night as a grasshopper sized mosquito descended on my arm, I turned to our orbital brother, thought of this particular nibble of knowledge, and decided it was close enough.

Over the last two afternoons I have transplanted just about every seedling I had in pots (save the cucumbers and green beans, as I have not figured out how I’d like to trellis them yet.) Since I was doing a modified take on square foot gardening, measuring and roping off 2-3 foot sections of the raised beds took more time than expected (as did stabbing tomato cages through mounds of tangled hay.)

Garden 7: Topsoil and a little more compost

The final layer that I put down in the two beds from the last few posts was an inch or two of a topsoil blend, made with peat, ash, and other organic compounds. It’s nice and light, and I’m hoping it will help neutralize the pH and acidity of the manure layer over time since it seemed a little, ahem, fresher than expected.

Planting Holes

I then hollowed out holes for each plant in their alloted areas (yes, even the marigolds had assigned seating- I’m OCD like that) and lined the holes with an extreme composted gardening mix that included kelp, worm castings, and bat guano among other very fertile and stinky ingredients.

Garden 8: Measured off and halfway planted

This was the last shot I took before the sun went down Monday afternoon. I didn’t get a chance to grab one tonight because it got too dark before I could get all of the squash plants in. (Tomorrow though? Oh- my camera is on like Donkey Kong…)

Round 2: Dirt (and Then Some)

The last two days have been a whirlwind of dirt hauling, layering and watering (interspersed with Saturday brunch and the Dwell convention today, both necessary midday breaks from the beating sun.) As the sun set this evening I managed to get all the components of this organic lasagna in the beds and watered down… with the exception of the final layer of compost and soil, as well as the plants that are ferociously outgrowing their pots by the hour. Looking back I can say it was a laborious process, but for whatever reason feels well worth it. Here’s what went into the weekend:

The first layer was composed of cardboard boxes I saved from my recent move. I overlapped the pieces as best I could, using a box cutter to slice off flaps for areas of the dirt that were still exposed. This was then watered down and sprinkled with blood meal and bone meal (to attract beneficial insects such as worms, as well as to promote decomposition organically. Plus, the plants also love it so it’s great all around!)

Garden 1: Cardboard base layer

The second layer was a mass of newspapers, first carefully laid out in 6-8 sheet pieces (unfolded) that covered almost halfway up the sides of the interior raised beds, then haphazardly placed in another 4 sheet layer across the center portions of the boxes as well. Even though I tried to wet the papers down as I worked, I still ended up chasing some papers across the yard.

Garden 2: Newspaper layer

The third layer was alfalfa hay. While Lucerne was suggested by several online resources, it seemed that there wasn’t a hard and fast rule here as long as it was a good quality feed hay that would compost nicely. (I’m hoping I made the right choice?) I watered this layer thoroughly as well since I want to get the plants in the ground sooner rather than later, and I don’t particularly want a flammable backyard.

Garden 3: Alfalfa layer

I then spread the fourth layer as quickly as possible, partially because the sun was beginning to go down, but mostly because it was composted steer manure that immediately made the backyard smell like a cow pasture. (And yeah, you can use less smelly products but there just aren’t a lot of fertilizers that will beat manure in both price and production.)

Garden 4: Composted manure layer

Finally, as the sun dropped below the fence line and over the roof of the house behind us, I flaked off two bales of straw (and piled it into the beds at a depth of approximately 8″.) This is what it looked like before I watered it down:

Garden 5: Straw layer

And this is what it looked like after:

Garden 6: Hay layer watered down

Tomorrow after work, I’m going to see if I can’t water down this top mulch layer a little more. I’d also like to get the topsoil on, as well as some plants in the ground, but we’ll see… better to do it right the first time!

Oh, and Dwell Expo coverage will be coming your way tomorrow as well… in the meantime, I’m once again (and unsurprisingly so!) exhausted.

Round 1: Hay

“You know V, normally when people ask if they can take off early, it’s to meet the cable guy or the plumber… not the delivery guy from the hay store. You always keep me on my toes…” -My Boss

Yesterday during my lunch break I stopped by the feed store to see what the likelihood was of ordering alfalfa and hay and having it delivered to my doorstep (or relatively close) so that I could get to work on my “no dig garden” this weekend. The woman at the counter said that each hay bale would be 60 lbs, and each alfalfa 110 lbs, bringing my grand total of ten mixed bales to a little over 1,000 lbs of dried grassy goodness. Little did I know that not only would these bales weigh in at at least what she said (if not more!) but they would also be an awkward rectangular shape and I would need hooks and gloves.

After the delivery man dropped these ten bales of hay in front of my garage and drove off this afternoon, I assessed the smaller of the two types and went for it from every angle to no avail. Seriously guys- these things were really heavy and completely ungrabbable. Luckily my neighbor across the street noticed this hard-headed damsel in distress trying to drag literal truckloads up the double flight of stairs and offered to help. He grabbed his nephew and the three of us quickly got all the hay up to the top of the hill; I hoisted and flipped each bale up the stairs to the landing, then the two of them grabbed and carried from there to the garden. In between loads I told my neighbor about the project, and asked him if he thought I was crazy, to which he replied, “No way! I think you’re creative.”

Once we were finished lugging and stacking, I offered the guys a beer and showed them what I am currently growing. My neighbor was shocked to learn that there is more than one type of tomato you can grow, and is definitely excited to see what I end up producing. I love the fact that I am going to be able to share organic gardening knowledge with a real neighborhood, and love even more that I have great neighbors and friends all around me who want to help me with my hair-brained schemes (like my friend Gary, who’s been collecting newspaper at work for over two weeks… my trunk is completely full!!!) But darlings?


Looks like it’s time for this little trooper to hit the er… hay, as well (and rest up for Round 2 tomorrow!)

Still In Awe…

I came home after work today and almost immediately put on shorts and rain boots and got to work weeding the two raised beds out back. I can’t say I’ve ever been excited about weeding, but nothing incentivizes you quite like tomatoes, peppers, and marigolds just begging to be planted! (along with the squash, cucumber, green bean, snap pea, and herb seedlings, as well as potato, strawberry, onion, and asparagus roots that are outgrowing their cardboard box. Eeeep.)

I basically pulled weeds until dark for about three hours; I wasn’t sure I would get both beds completed, but as dusk set in and I had maybe 15 square feet to go, I rallied and hustled my way through the ants and spiders, the whole time thinking, “holy carp I actually have a real garden!” Even though I’m doing no-dig gardening, the crab grass runners we have out back can be pretty nasty once they take hold, and I figured better safe than sorry right?

Will try to post pictures in the morning… it got too dark before I realized I should document it. (Hopefully it doesn’t grow back overnight!)

The Short List

Looking around as I was watering the seedlings yesterday afternoon, my mind started spinning with everything I wanted/needed to get done ASAP (well, relatively ASAP), so much so that I couldn’t sleep! Sometimes I find that it helps to make a list so I can clock some zzzs. So here is my short list:

1. There is this AMAZING wrought iron gate on one of the front terraces at my new place leaning against the wall where the grapevine grows. At first I thought about moving it… and that may still be an option… if I’m not crushed under its weight. (Yes. It’s huge. And when I DIY, I really DIY. Without help. Actually, might need to change that.) Well wherever it ends up, it’s definitely becoming a trellis for peas/green beans, and the front isn’t a bad idea since that area doesn’t get baked by the sun in the late afternoon.

2. There is a ton of random lumber scattered around various parts of the house. In fact, all of the planter boxes out back were built using only found lumber by my roommate that is leaving at the end of the month. I want to build more boxes along the back wall for berries or vines or something!!! But in the meantime, I have potatoes that are trying to escape their dry container I bought them in and need to get a potato box built very soon (before those wily spuds put down roots through the living room floor.)

3. In order to experiment with the no-dig method of gardening, I need to find and transport dirt, but more importantly, alfalfa and hay. I also do not own a truck and can only fit maybe one 50lb bale in my little car. (Looks like another UHaul rental may be in my future…)

Of course, there are plenty of other things on the longer list, like where I’m going to source organic vegetable plants from this late in the season that I don’t have time to grow from seed, or when I’m going to find time to finish my outdoor furniture, and of course there’s my ongoing quest for a slightly used and mostly less than half price Weber grill… all on an insanely tight budget. (It’s the little things, right?)


I’m super stoked to hit this up this weekend: http://www.dwellondesign.com/

I’ve never had a real reason to go to this expo until now, and can’t wait to check it out and see what’s new in design and sustainability and steal lots of fun gardening ideas! I mean…

(But don’t worry if you can’t make it- I’ll be reporting back on Sunday night!)

Okay… off to the day job now…

Putting Down Roots

In case you’re wondering if I’m going to be full of non-stop gardening puns for the rest of this blog, the answer is unequivocally… yes.

All puns aside, somewhere between wrist braces, bags and boxes I managed to take a moment several days ago to get a few seeds started… only to have them push the lid off the Jiffy starter while I was knee-deep in moving. Apparently squash and green beans are quick to deem that little plastic greenhouse unsuitable (and I know they’re “sow in ground” crops, but the ground isn’t ready and the season isn’t waiting!) So two days ago the first rotation of Jiffys got temporary homes in a few pots I had lying around.

Green Beans

Cucumbers and Squash

I also started some new herb and flower seedlings in Jiffys, cause I figured what the heck, might as well right?

Flower Seedlings

(Um yeah… and the herbs haven’t decided to come out of hibernation yet so I’m not posting a picture of the dirt. Womp.)

My goal this week is to get as much junk unpacked and in its place as possible, not so much for the zen (though there is that too!) as for the fact that I need the cardboard so I can start my garden. That’s right- it’s an experiment in no-dig gardening this season, cause in sunny SoCal water is at a premium and I want the most bang for my buck (as does my plant-eating partner in crime…)

Foxy Roxy


Things have been crazy the last few days… but at least I’m done moving! Sort of? Ugh. Hang tight my dears, an update is coming atcha soon enough!