Erin and I have decided to make our first foray into urban gardening.
With our shady Northside lot, a backyard garden is not really an option. However, one of the unique qualities of this neighborhood is that several of the people who live here maintain gardens in the 16 foot median we have in the middle of our street. Some people have nice ornamental displays; there is at least one with a small vegetable garden. I got it into my head that it would be fun to do the same thing, since I've been dying for my own garden since who knows when. And of course, growing your own vegetables is the next step up from buying at the farmer's market or joining a CSA.
I've been picking up seedlings from all over the place this past week, and I finally got official approval yesterday from the City of Richmond to dig a vegetable bed in the median directly across from the house. The median is city property so I made sure to ask before revving up the tiller. In this post I'd like to tell you about how I made this garden, in hopes that I'll inspire you to make your own urban plot. Please keep in mind that I am no expert -- this is my first vegetable garden, ever! I plan to blog all about this garden as the season progresses, hopefully with pictures of luscious vegetables and pesto creations as I harvest the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor.
I started out with a shovel, a tiller, a pile of pots full of nice, black compost, and a pair of gardening gloves. I marked off the area I wanted dug for my bed, allowing enough room for a ride-on lawn mower to pass on either side. My contact at the City asked that I leave at least 65 inches.
My dad was kind enough to lend me his tiller. This is a really nice model for small-scale use, easy to operate and pretty effective. I used it to break up the grass and loosen up the soil in the bed. I was happy to discover that the median was not full of clay -- I wonder if the city hauled soil in when the median was created, because I found it fairly easy to dig. After I was finished doing the initial till, I went back over the bed with a shovel and dug about a foot down, further turning the soil over. Then I added all the compost and mixed it in with the soil using the hoe. This process took most of my afternoon.
Then came the fun part -- planting. Tomatoes are clustered on one side (closest to the camera); the other side has a metal structure for three bush bean plants to climb on. I also have peppers, basil, lettuce, kabocha squash, eggplant, cucumbers, butternut squash, sunflowers and a giant pumpkin. I planted the lettuce and basil in a kind of 'border' on the right side of the bed (closest to the house) because they will be easy to access as I walk out to the bed. I am also anticipating removing the lettuce plants before the tomatoes become enormous. Most of the vine plants are in the middle of the bed, where I hope they will have room to grow. The sunflowers will provide a backdrop to the metal pillar, hopefully growing up above the giant pumpkin vine, which I have planted on the far side of the bed.
I am positive that there are too many plants in this bed. I don't care! I was really excited about all the seedlings I had accumulated, and since this is my first garden, I'm just going to let everything grow and see how it turns out. Not the most scientific attitude ever -- but I am doing a big experiment.
Here is everything all planted (except for that one pepper in the middle -- I put that one in after I took the picture)! I'm looking forward to working in this garden all season. I'll be watering it with a long hose from the side of the house, and I hope to mulch with compost sometime soon.
So why is urban gardening a great way to meet your neighbors? Because I met three new people this afternoon, all really nice individuals who were eager to chat with me about what I was doing, and their own plans for backyard horticultural improvements. Our next-door neighbor was kind enough to let us use his hose, since we don't have one long enough yet to stretch across the street. It was clear that everyone I talked to was eager to support my urban gardening effort. A neighbor across the street even invited us to a party. I think one of the most interesting and fun aspects of gardening is its reliance on communities of friendly, generous individuals. It is clear there is a huge opening in the public mindset for these kinds of endeavors.
As evening descended, Erin and I walked out to the garden barefoot for one last look before dark. The plants looked happy in the cool air, full of potential, green and alive. I can see the garden from my bedroom window, and when I'm not out pulling weeds and watering, I plan to watch as my tomatoes ripen and my beans wind their way up towards the sky. Gardening can be spiritual and full of joy -- I highly recommend it!