Previous Capers

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In the Beginning: The Site Analysis

In order to install a proper veg garden, it's important to analyze the site and that's what I did.

As I've mentioned, the single story house on the property is of a 1905 era Craftsman/Victorian shotgun style that was built on a post and pier fo
undation (basically, posts supported by large rocks). Therefore, the grounds around the house (and under the house) contain a disproportionate amount of sand mixed in with clay and cat poop.

The front concrete walk from the street to the front porch dissects the front yard. There are planting areas along the slope on either side of a set of concrete stairs down to the sidewalk, and grass on either side at the top walkway. The north sloped area is currently planted with strawberries and lavender (and cat poop). The south sloped area has several lavende
r and rosemary, but is invaded with grass and old perennials that is currently being cleared off (so the cats can poop in it). The planting strip along the street is also invaded with grass and old perennials as Roland has spread some soil and the wild flower seeds successively over the years for the cats to nest in (and poop in). The water meter is centrally located along the sidewalk side of the strip. Some flagstone was set in the middle of it as a walk to the cars from the sidewalk side and walkway. The front yard contains several types of overgrown botany on the corners of the front porch: 10’ tall x 6’ wide boxwood on the south side and a large camellia on the north side.

The back yard is unusable as it is basically a lumber yard and storage. It is also shaded from good sun exposure by the house to the east, the neighbor’s house to the south and the garage and carriage house to the west. Therefore, the front planting strip along the street and the southeast side of the front yard, along with the sloped areas are the best areas for a veg. and herb garden.
Roland has a preference for antique plumbing fixtures as planting boxes as there are two 5’ claw foot bathtubs doing the Cialis thing in the front yard and an old wall mount sink on a pedestal filled with flowers in front of the porch. The plan is to use one of the tubs and the sink in a bath remodel sometime in the distant future. Various extraneous amounts of junk are scattered around, such as stacks of firewood and lumber, nursery plants that haven’t been planted yet, potted fruit trees, and tools. Several dead vehicles reside in the front, including a Subaru along the south side of the greenhouse. The driveway has been a repository of 4 yards of recently delivered garden soil and plant refuse as well as stacked lumber, a dead van and garbage cans. Sun exposure is good, as the property faces East.

So, with that, it was time to come up with a plan to figure out where to place the beds. The objective is to grow enough food to keep us both in various veg's over the summer with some left for neighbors (so they won't be so inclined to get pissy when we eventually get goats and chickens), and of course, friends. I'm not really a canner as much as a freezer person, so most of our bounty will probably be eaten fresh. Now, how to utilize every square inch of available space. Roland went to work clearing away much of the junk in the areas needed for the raised beds.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dead Cars Make Great Chicken Coops

When I went to the Seattle Flower and Garden Show last February, I was blown away by all of the beautiful landscape displays. A lot of them were larger than some real yards, like mine. However, when I turned a corner and saw it, I thought, "Now that is absolutely the best use of a common object I've ever seen!"

I'm talking about a small pick-up truck that was converted to a vegetable garden and chicken coop by the edible garden company, Urban Farm! Yes, there were displays with gardening sheds, compost sock retaining walls, large boulders and gazebos, but none of them were as clever as this display. Corn was growing out of the back bed with a plum tree and other assorted vegetables and a cherry tree and other vegetables were growing out of the engine compartment. Fruiting vines covered the sides. The front cab was the coop with a re-purposed file cabinet on the passenger seat for the nesting boxes. A chicken run was next to the driver's side of the vehicle with entrance to the coop via the driver's side door. Ingenious!

That brings me to Mog Cottage. Since I've known Roland (almost 5 years) there's been 3 dead vehicles parked in his yard. One old
Subaru in the back (won't go there), a dead van full of scrap lumber in the driveway and another dead Subaru where the compost and cold frames are supposed to be. He's promised to get rid of the van and the Subaru for months now, and has managed to get the van started, and has moved the Subaru over onto the pavement. But, the Subaru remains an obstacle to good use of space. It's cramping my gardening style, taking up space that could where something like a greenhouse could go. So, since the back yard is impossibly full of stacks of lumber, and to date, he has yet to get a compost and cold frame area going, I'm threatening Roland with turning the Subaru into a chicken coop a la Urban Farm style. When you live with a pack rat, you have to be ingenious with how to cope with the clutter.

Since the back cargo area is a station wagon, that would make an excellent space for nesting boxes. They can line each side of the bed and can be accessed by opening the back hatch. The chickens can enter and leave the coop into an attached run along the side via the back driver's side door window. The
front of the cab can be where the chicken food is stored.
Since we have plenty of beds for veges, the engine compartment would make a great cold frame area. Simply install a skylight in the hood.
Roland can sell the engine and other mechanical parts in the way. We'd have to keep the interior lights hooked up for dark winter days since chickens require 14 hours of light in order to keep laying.

So, there you have it. A dead Subaru would a great chicken coop - it's roomy and coon proof. I can even name my own breed of chickens such as, Suba-Sussex.

So, if the van doesn't go soon, I'm getting goats.

Culinary, Cabbage, Cats & Coons: The Creation of Mog Cottage Urban Farm

I've always been a gardener at heart. Perhaps it goes with the feeling that I was born in the wrong era, as I have always had a connection with history, especially the 1900's Arts & Crafts movement. I admit I hold it rather sentimentally, even though I wasn't born anywhere close to that era. I'm also a compulsive fiber artist, embracing old technology such as, spinning and knitting. I love to cook, especially ethnic foods. I haven't figured out where all these interests came from though. They're just innate, like genetic or something.

Part of my personal journey
lately is to take my love for gardening a step further by getting formally educated and attend a community college that offers a degree in horticulture. I started last spring quarter. One of the classes I took was on vegetable gardening. The class was taught by two gals who took a ferry in from the Kitsap peninsula at the butt crack of dawn to teach the class every Friday morning.The idea of the class curriculum was to take weekly steps in constructing a real or imaginary garden (along with the one started on campus) and write a weekly report on the subject for the week. I thought, yee-hah because I work best with deadlines and have wanted to install a veg garden for a long time. The issue became where to do it.

For the past 4 plus years I h
ave been seeing a fella who lives 37 miles from my house in Seattle. I found him on Craig's List. One of the requirements in my singles ad was a love of the Arts & Crafts movement, antiques, architecture, gardening and cats. He turned out to appreciate the same things I do, is a craftsman and owns an old house infested with cats. He likes to collect (I'll get into that on a different posting) and grew up with a father who had an entire city lot devoted to a veg garden located on Queen Anne Hill. Now for the logistics.

This is my house:

It is located in Smokey Point on a former cow field. It's on a postage stamp sized lot and there's no room for much veg other than some container veg's on the back deck and a herb garden.

This is Roland's house:

It was built in 1905 on a double lot in the heart of the Norwegian Ghetto - Ballard. It need's paint. The lot is 50' by 125' and is currently filled with weeds, lumber, 9 cats, coons, and 3 dead cars. However, it has other endearing qualities; there's room for a veg garden. Time for adding cabbage and carrots to the mix.

As I'm living in a fantasy of having a pastoral urban estate some day, I've decided to name the place as folk did in England (part of that Arts & Crafts era sentimental thing).
Roland is not British, he's Swiss, but I have British pedigree so made the executive decision on the name. I picked Mog Cottage as 'mog' is a British slang term for pet cat of dubious pedigree. That's what our motley crew is mostly made of and they act like they own the place anyway, even demanding room service (in, out, in, out, in, out the front door despite the cat door in the back).

So, as the class progressed and I submitted my weekly reports, the garden took shape and now we have a good start. As urban farming is a huge trend, especially in Seattle, I feel that we are part of a movement towards better urban land use. Neither of us are herd animals that tend to got with trends, but this is a cause we can easily embrace.

I'm taking part II of the veg class this summer. After my final presentation, one of the teachers told me that she enjoyed reading about my culinary garden adventures and that I should start a blog. So here it is. Welcome to the adventures of Mog Cottage Urban Farm.