February 13th, 2010

Worms & Sprouts

Spring seems to be arriving early in Portland, which means that we will be arriving to Harpoon House just in time to plant our vegetable garden. As the self-appointed lead gardener of the house, I have been spending the past several weeks engrossed in seed catalogs, drawing garden plans and reading my new copy of Steve Solomon’s Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. I have also dug up my notes from an excellent nine month series of classes I took last year from Donna and Robyn at Your Backyard Farmer. As an aside, I have to put in a quick plug for the class, which was part of the Urban Growth Bounty, a series of reasonably priced classes on everything from gardening to beekeeping to chickens offered by the Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. They have already posted a schedule for their 2010 classes and I am eagerly anticipating two cheesemaking classes with Claudio Lucero that I will taking later this spring.

In an ideal world, we would have begun to prepare our beds last fall, but since our vegetable garden is going to be situated on the front of our house, it would have been impossible to keep the crews and machines off of the future garden site. The week after next we will install gabions that will serve as a retaining wall for the garden, which will give us an area of about 220 square feet for the vegetable garden. We also have a lot of edibles in our landscaping plan – hazelnuts, raspberries, olive tree, tea plants, etc. – but all of our annual vegetable gardening will be in front.

If I was a more patient gardener, I would spend the year transforming the muddy mess that is our front yard into a volume of fluffy humus. But instead, I am settling for a home soil test and some quick work with lime and compost before planting my early peas in a few weeks. This region’s soils tend to be heavy and clay-filled, and I had fears that I would be starting with a pile of clay. I did a quick home soil test that Steve Solomon recommended and discovered that we have fine loam. So while the soil will need time and conditioning, it’s much better than starting with the clay pit I feared we might be dealing with!

Because I have many unopened seed packets from Seeds of Change, courtesy of my gardening class last year, I decided that with another supplementary order from Territorial Seeds and a seed starting set up, I could save some money, as well as give my plants a head start indoors before moving in. I have already planted Italian parsley, habaneros, thyme, peppers, tomatillos, and some edible flowers for the borders, Bergamont (bee balm) and echinacea. I will be starting several kinds of tomato seeds in the next couple of days. Because I know we’ll need to move it from our rental apartment to our new basement so soon, I decided to buy a kit from the Urban Farm Store. It fits two large trays with non-peat pellets, and comes with an adjustable frame that was easy to set up and will allow me to easily raise the lights as the seedlings grow taller. It has been a nice “sunny” addition to the living room in our current apartment and it’s such a nice feeling to come home to so much new life.

And speaking of new life in the house, I brought home a bucket of red wrigglers yesterday to begin our worm bin. We should have done this long ago! Matt and I have been talking about building our own worm bin for months, and last weekend when we were at the Urban Farm store picking up some supplies, we decided to take the plunge and just buy one. We opted for a compact plastic model with several removable trays which make it easy to clean and harvest the casings after the worms have done their work. I just put in my first batch of scraps from lunch this afternoon, and in a few months we should have our first tray of casings for our garden.


  1. Nice pictures and enjoyed reading your post – good luck with your new garden.

    Comment by Kevin Braun — February 16, 2010 @ 12:02
  2. It the garden soil deep enough to grow root vegetables? Potatoes, carrots, beets, onions etc.?

    Did you get a picture of your crazy neighbor with his neighbors chickens?

    I think your new home project looks like it’s going to be very sucessful.
    good luck.

    Comment by Jim — February 17, 2010 @ 19:41
  3. I did get a great neighbor + chickens picture.

    We’ll have a garden out front with soil thats plenty deep for root vegetables. On the roof we’ll be growing some strawberries, but probably not a whole lot of edible stuff.

    Comment by Matt — February 17, 2010 @ 20:03
  4. oooh, i’ve been meaning to start a worm compost for ages myself. i’ll have to check out yours!

    Comment by jill b. — February 28, 2010 @ 20:20

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