Prepping the In-Ground Garden

Even though I’ve only just started a few seeds, before you know it, it will be time to get the plants in the ground (fingers crossed they grow big enough to transplant!). I’m deciding how I want to organize the in-ground garden this year. Here is what the space looks like right now:

I decided to first lay down the compost that I picked up from the nearby free compost pile. I expanded the garden plot just a smidge with the new compost.

I also found some free tomato cages that someone was throwing out on the curb several weeks back. I think they’ll come in handy in the garden. The cages a stackable, so I put two of together and am thinking of using them in the center of the gardening space as a trellis for beans and peas. I will grow squash and cucumbers on the ground around the trellis.

The kale and mustard greens will stay where they are obviously, and I’ll plant carrots, beets, and onions at the periphery on the other side of the stepping stones.

I think that pretty much accounts for all the space in that area, and we’re running out of sunny spots in the yard, so for tomatoes, we’ve decided to commandeer some of the lawn. These three cages below represent roughly where I’m going to try to plant tomatoes.

I need to spend some time loosening the soil a bit, and I’ll lay compost on top. I’m tempted to try Charles Dowding’s purely no-dig method, but the ground is really compacted. Even the grass can hardly grow. I’ll be sure to be extra generous with the compost in this area.

I think that about accounts for everything except for the flowers and herbs. I’m going to keep the herbs in pots and the two raised garden boxes. The flowers can be tucked in around the yard wherever there’s a free space.

There are several more trips to get compost in my future, but its coming together… now if only my seeds would hurry up and grow…

Free Compost?!

Last weekend, I was walking home from the grocery store, and I decided to take an alternate route. This was a very fortuitous decision, because I happened upon a public garden that I had never seen before.

And what’s more, I saw this sign:

Free compost? Huh?

There was a pretty large pile of compost and a woman was there shoveling compost into bags and putting them in the trunk of her car. Remember how the city of Palo Alto collects our green waste and turns it into electricity? I had assumed the “leftover” compost generated from the process was given to farmers, but the woman shoveling compost told me that that leftover compost actually ends up here, and yes, any Palo Alto resident is free to use it. The city restocks the pile regularly.

Well, gee. I’ve been bummed about the hard dry soil in the back of our house, so as soon as I got home, I found a bucket (an old garbage bin) and a shovel, and drove back over to the compost pile.

I filled the garbage bucket about 1/3 of the way full (that was all I could lift into my car).

Once I figure out the garden layout for next year, I’ll start spreading the compost so it has time to settle into the ground before planting begins. Hooray! I can’t wait to plant in better soil this year!

How To Turn Compost Into Electricity or Farmers Market Vouchers (+ the #SeedMoneyChallenge!)

I am playing around with the site design so you’ll notice some changes over the coming weeks. Feedback and suggestions are most welcome!

Yesterday I volunteered at a community garden in East Palo Alto called Collective Roots. I spent an hour and a half there, and my task was sifting compost.

This garden actually has a program where people can trade kitchen scraps, which the garden group turns into compost, for vouchers to the farmers market. Participants have to take a short training course (to learn what food waste can go in the compost bin and what food waste should not). The garden then provides them with compost buckets which they fill for food waste and return to the garden. I’m intrigued, and I’ll have to look into it further to see if I’d be eligible to participate. It might only be open to East Palo Alto residents.

In the house where I’m living, the kitchen waste is picked up by the city every Monday. My landlord used to have a compost pile behind the garage, but abandoned it when the city began its compost collection service. The city turns the compost into electricity.

A company called GreenWaste collects and processes compost from Palo Alto residents. Sherry Listgarten, who writes blog posts for A New Shade of Green, part of the online Palo Alto newspaper, wrote a very informative post on how our compost is handled back in 2019. I recommend you read her original post, but here’s my tl;dr version: The compost is put into large ventillated chambers and allowed to partially break down, at which point microbes are added that digest the compost and produce methane. The methane is collected and burned to form energy. The digested compost is then able to be used for agriculture or other landscape needs.

How much electricity does this process generate? According Listgarten’s article, “The plant generates 1.6 megawatts of electricity, as well as heat for the percolate [the fluid that contains the added microbes]. The digesting facility uses only 330 kilowatts, so 1.3 megawatts is sold back to the grid through a contract with PG&E. That is enough to power over 1600 California homes.” This sounds great, but I don’t think she specifies in the article how much compost input was needed to generate this much electricity, so I can’t translate our 96-gallon yard waste bin into kilowatts. Also, there are 26,000 “households” in Palo Alto alone (according to the US Census data), so “1,600 California homes” only amounts 6% of Palo Alto. I don’t mean for that to sound discouraging. Composting is great for our soil! And powering 6% of Palo Alto homes with clean energy from food waste is better than powering that same number of homes with coal or oil. I’m simply putting it all in perspective.

Another point I found interesting from her article was this graph showing the breakdown of waste in each of our curbside waste bins (one for trash, one for recyclables, and one for compost).
Image source: Sherry Listgarten

People are actually doing a pretty good job of sorting their compost and recyclables! It’s also encouraging to see that “problem materials” (i.e. garbage?) only account for a small fraction of overall waste.

The soil here is quite hard and dry, and I wish we were making compost, but I think my landlord is perfectly happy giving his compost to the city, and doesn’t want to deal with the extra work of maintaining a compost bin. C’est la vie.

On a completely different note:

My former community garden group in Seattle is participating in the #SeedMoneyChallenge, which is a 30-day fundraising challenge for community gardens. The community gardens raise money from individual donors and compete for a chance to win additional grant money (up to $600) from SeedMoney.

There are 470 community gardens doing the #SeedMoneyChallenge. Our garden is the Meadowbrook Community Garden and Orchard (MCGO). They’ve already surpassed their initial fundraising goal of $800, and are thrilled with that! They’ve created a new stretch goal of $1500. With the money, they’re hoping to build a garden shed and install irrigation to both the fig orchard and the apple and pear plantings. The 200 gardens that raise the most funds will get an additional $100-$600. The competition is running from Nov 15 – Dec 15. IF you are so inclined to donate, the link to donate can be found here or by clicking on the image above.

The 100th post!

I blinked and now, I’m writing my 100th post for this blog.

I don’t have many readers. Most of you are friends and family. I was expecting that, of course. Since I’m such a novice gardener, and since I don’t even really have a proper space or equipment for gardening (as a temporary nomad due to residency/fellowship training), it is hard to imagine that anyone would find what I post to be particularly interesting, but maybe some people out there can relate to my situation or can learn something along with me. Rather than waiting until I have a “real” garden to start documenting it, I’ve chosen to start documenting now.

In the past (almost) 6 months, since my first post on March 17th, my life has changed quite a bit. I went from containers in an apartment and a Community Garden and Orchard in Seattle’s Zone 8b to a room in a house with a small backyard and a small space for an in-ground garden in Palo Alto’s Zone 9b. The world shut down (COVID), I finished residency, moved to a new state, and started a fellowship. In the midst of all of that, I’ve managed to document a few small projects, including….

composting on an apartment balcony with Nate, …

… growing Meyer lemon and avocado plants from seed, ….

… redesigning a raspberry bed

… planting hazelnut trees, ….

…. planting a small fall garden, with mixed success, …

… propagating succulents

….and learning more about the plants I see around me.

I’m surprised that I have been able to stick to a regular posting schedule with work being so busy, but what I’m most surprised by is how much I’ve enjoyed creating this blog. I’m currently studying for pathology boards, which I will take in early/mid November. After that is over (fingers crossed I pass), I’ll have a bit more free time, and I’m planning to spend that time on this site. Many more posts are to come!