Sunday, February 22, 2009

playing in the dirt

I've been thinking about planting a container garden since last summer (when I originally had the idea, but thought it was too late in the year to start). I recently discovered Common Grounds, an organic nursery in Palo Alto. When JR's dad, Joe, was in town a couple of weeks ago, we made our first trip there to check it out. 

Joe has had a vegetable garden for many years in eastern Washington. He gets most passionate when talking about the various pepper varieties he grows, in particular, the hot ones. Joe makes salsas, pickled vegetables, oils, and spices from the peppers (Joe's Cosmic Chile Good Stuff spice has been featured in a number of my kitchen adventures). A favorite story of ours involving Joe's peppers was from the rehearsal dinner the night before JR and I were married - the snacks included chips and salsa, the latter made from Joe's peppers. At first taste, it was tangy and sweet. So you'd have another chip with some more salsa. And then maybe another. By about 30 seconds in, you'd be in search of the nearest drink because your mouth would be on fire. All evening long, Joe kept talking people into trying his special salsa! Our friends still talk about it today.

I figured it would be good to bring an expert along on my first trip to the nursery. My goal was to browse and get some idea of what I'd want to plant and when. I was happy to find that Common Grounds had the wine barrels I was envisioning. They also plenty of leafy lettuce starts that I was immediately drawn to. I decided my initial adventure container gardening would focus on leafy greens (possibly followed by some tomatoes once the weather warms up a bit).

The following week, I attended a lecture at Stanford with Stephanie, given by Joel Saladin of Polyface Farms. The talk was focused on the practices at Polyface farm and was both fantastic and inspiring. The farmers at Polyface choreograph a mimicry of nature, focusing on allowing animals to express themselves as they would in nature and on symbiotic relationships. The chickens express their "chickenness" when they follow behind the cows, picking the bugs from their droppings in a natural "pasture sanitation program." Moving cows daily to a new part of the pasture was modeled after bison in Batswana; this practice is both good for the cows and also makes the pasture of grassland look postcard beautiful.

Polyface builds relationships between humans and animals and between animals and the earth. One of Joel's basic philosophies is that you should be connected to what you eat. He sited studies that have shown that when you know the story of your food, you actually metabolize it better (I'm in the process of tracking these studies down and will post links here when I do). I love the weekly letter from farmer Thaddeus that comes with each of our FFTY deliveries. Perhaps I'm absorbing more nutrients from the meals made with this food since I know some back story. Joel Saladin's talk left me even more inspired to start making my own food stories through my impending container garden.

Fast forward to today. JR and I made another visit to Common Grounds yesterday and came away with a wine barrel, 4 bags of organic soil, and a tray of leafy green starts. Today I turned all of those ingredients into my first garden. Here's what I planted:

Bronze Arrowhead Lettuce: Bronze Medal Winner 1947. Easy and quick to grow. One of the most colorful & delicious leaf lettuce! Moist soil. Sun or part sun.

Rustic Italian Arugula: Finely cut tangy leaves and flowers. Holds much longer than French arugula. Moist soil is best. Plan in sun or partial sun. Water weekly during dry spells.

Walking Stick Kale: Edible, useful & unique! Grows to 7', producing cabbage-like leaves. After harvest dry for 1 year for a walking stick! Very easy to grow! (OK, so apparently I didn't read this one well enough - it's going to grow to 7 feet?)

Bloomsdale Spinach: American heirloom. Thick textured, sweet tasting, crinkled leaves. Heavy yields. Slow to bolt. Plant in full sun. Water weekly during dry spells.

Stay tuned for updates!