How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’m feeling super energized about fresh food right now.  I think (okay, I know) it has everything to do with the arrival of spring, colorful new foods finally hitting the farmers markets and grocery stores, and so much time spent outside in the sunshine.  I’m taking advantage of longer naps (!), extra hours on the weekends, and I’m feeling a bit more passionate about being in the kitchen. 

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For many months since Graham was born – and I know I felt this way after Cullen was born too – I have felt like a vegetarian who doesn’t really eat vegetables.  My diet has consisted of so much bread and brown food – bagels, sandwiches, oatmeal, pizza, pasta.  Things that are quick, and that can absolutely be a healthy part of one’s diet, but only when paired with other food that is fresh. 

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We usually have colorful, vegetable-filled dinners each night, but breakfast and lunch are often quick and not as healthy as they could and should be.  So that’s where I’m trying to be more mindful right now – especially on weekends when I have opportunities to make things like amazing Mediterranean omelets. 

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While it feels like an absolute lifetime ago, there was a time (not actually all that long ago) where I spent a year in culinary school, followed by a summer interning on an organic farm in North Carolina.  I spent those farm days exploring endless rows of veggies, tasting and preparing food that I yanked straight out of the ground, and flip-flopping around my summer kitchen with a messy apron and all the inspiration in the world. 

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That summer gave me a lot to think about, and left with me a lot to learn.  I became really energized by learning about how food grows.  But while I have an extensive culinary background and a passion (and talent?) for cooking food, a gardener I am not.  I am an eater, not a grower. 

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But I would love for that to change!  My mom is an avid gardener, and has been for as long as I can remember.  Every Saturday and Sunday of my childhood I can picture my mom out there with garden gloves – pruning, weeding, planting, and leaving little piles along the way that my sister and I were expected to pick up.  (Cullen, get your bucket ready!)

My older sister is a talented gardener too.  She works at a school that is based around an organic farm, and I feel like she knows everything about plants.  I am the black thumb of the family.  There is not a single house plant inside because I know that I will not water them.  Every year, it is a huge success if I can keep my one measly Trader Joe’s basil alive. 

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So far, so good!  So not to completely change gears, but I also really want a new hobby. I’m sure you can see where this is going.  In my parenting life, I am just that – a parent!  And so much of my identity is wrapped up in that.  The other things I enjoy in my free time – like hiking, running, etc. – are not really things that can be squeezed in during nap time.  And while I don’t feel like I have any sort of excess of free time (or really any any at all), that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make time for my own personal growth and fulfillment. 

Casey has really fallen in love with playing the guitar, and it’s something he enjoys for himself that he can do at home.  As I watch him strum and sing in the evenings while I mindlessly page through magazines, I find myself itching for my own creative outlet.  And after considering various crafting ideas, making reading lists, and ultimately not feeling inspired – I realized what I really wanted to do.  I’d love to learn how to garden!

And so, that is what I’m hoping to do over the next few months (and onward!).  And as much as I look forward to it being a personal growth and learning experience, I’ll admit it’s also something I look forward to sharing as a family.

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We went to Seattle Tilth’s Edible Plant Sale last weekend, and filled up two big boxes full of starter plants.  I am starting completely backward and all wrong, as I bought the plants before I learned anything, made a plan, or even built the veggie boxes.  Off to a good start, right?

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I also picked up this handy guide to planting in the northwest.  I do know a FEW things about growing vegetables, but all of what I learned was in Ohio and North Carolina.  I’m imagining that while some things are the same, just as many are probably different!  Excited to crack into this new evening reading material.

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Here is our bounty.  I decided to start with (what I assume to be) easier things this year.  That’s also why I went ahead and did starter plants.  Once I get more experience, we’ll try growing from seeds.  But I’m hoping to set myself up for a bit of success here, and I know seeds can be tricky.  We bought a variety of tomatoes, lots of different greens, some herbs, and a few types of strawberries.  Not really  sure what I was thinking on the berries – just got excited when I saw them.  We’ll see what happens! 

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I have no idea if this is too much or too little for the space we’ll be planting.  If it is too little, I have a B list of plants I’d like to pick up and try – cucumbers, summer squash, eggplant.  I also need to wait and see if the dogs wolf down everything that grows…

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So where are we planting this wonderful edible garden?  Good question!  This is a picture of our backyard right before we moved in, almost exactly one year ago (!).  We spent all of last year settling in, unpacking, and learning about our new space – which didn’t leave much time for big home improvement projects.  That big ugly dirt strip along the left side was one of the few things we were able to tackle when I was about seven months pregnant!

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Here is an overhead view of the yard where you can get a good sense of the space.  The jungle in the back and along the side by the garage is a big L-shaped retaining wall.  I have hated it since day one.  The wall along the backside didn’t really seem to serve much purpose, as the land sloped backward toward the fence (so not really retaining anything!).  And no matter how much we trimmed and cut back, the groundcover was a mess of vines that always looked completely overgrown. 

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It’s hard to tell in pictures, but when you actually went and stood up in the walled area, you realized how big it was!  This large section of our yard wasn’t being used, and in Seattle outdoor space comes at a premium (if you have it at all). 

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I told Casey that the one big area I wanted to focus on for our house this year was the backyard.  We spend so much time out there in the summer, and I think this summer in particular we’ll be at home much more often, as we have to young kids who both need daily naps (often at different times!).  We set a budget and listed out a few goals.  We were realistic about what we could do, and also picked a few things we were willing to outsource. 

Casey (who was a landscaper in high school) firmly stated, “I am not ripping out that retaining wall.”  So I found an awesome landscaper (who had been doing work at my neighbor’s house!) who was very reasonably priced, and who was happy to move a mountain of rocks and dirt to make my vision come to life.  So as of last Friday, my yard looked like this…

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Groundcover gone, the back wall nearly leveled, and a huge pit of dirt across my lawn.  Oh goodness.  I started to second-guess myself a bit…

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But now that the job is nearly complete, I am so excited with how it looks, and it is exciting to see something I’ve been talking about for many months finally come to life. 

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You can see in these pictures where that small pile of rocks (which will be moved) juts out from the remaining retaining wall.  That is where the old back wall used to curve out along the backside of the yard.  Look how much yard we have gained – it must be fifteen to twenty feet.  Amazing!

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The dirt ended up being spread over a portion of the grass where the yard had a big dip in it (to help level it out), and new sod is going down over top that will eventually match and blend.  I cant wait to see it when it is all finished. 

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New cedar veggie boxes are built along the back of the yard, in a sunny spot that is hopefully perfect for growing! 

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And I have an avid little gardener who is itching to get his hands dirty.  Well, not actually get his hands dirty…

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There is still quite a bit more to do – plan and plant the top retaining wall, add more mulch chips, put in new paver stones, plant the garden, etc.  And beyond this point we’ll be finishing the work ourselves!  I’ll definitely write a follow-up post once our yard is finished and the boxes are planted.

Looking forward to a summer of gardening, and hopefully – growing!