Posts from the ‘urban farming’ category

My raised vegetable beds

Are you ready for it? Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to get your veggie garden growing! Whether you just have a few pots to get started with, or raised beds to fill, get your tomatoes in the ground now to enjoy the fruits of your labor sooner rather than later.

IMG_0122 IMG_0119IMG_0120

When searching for raised vegetable bed inspiration online a couple years ago we discovered a local company, Art of the Garden, trying to make it easier to install raised beds in your garden. Their product, the M-brace, is a set of four metal braces that hold your stacked redwood boards in place, up to 14” tall, and that’s it – no tools required! They have fun designs, or come in solid pieces and they are made locally from recycled metal. It’s an awesome concept and after installing them in many of our clients’ gardens I always knew I would be using them once I was ready to build my raised beds. Last year I planted some tomatoes and herbs in pots to test my success with vegetables. This year I have bigger goals, so I contacted Art of the Garden to get my project started.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear they are developing a new product line that allows you to build veggie beds up to 24” tall, the only difference being some tools required. I have always wanted to do two foot high raised beds because we have two small dogs that tend to get in whatever they can. This seemed like the perfect solution and I was so happy they would share the Garden HighRiser prototype with me. Very soon they will be launching the product line and I can say I highly recommend using them in your garden. We were able to construct our beds in one weekend, really one day with some extra help and I am so pleased with the results!

The extra help is always a bonus - it's great to have good friends, especially the ones who bring toys.

The extra help is always a bonus – it’s great to have good friends, especially the ones who bring toys.

The tools and supplies required to construct raised beds using the HighRiser is the HighRiser braces, 2” thick redwood boards (you can use different heights of boards, we went with stacked 2 x12s to get our 24” tall), #12 lumber screws, a drill, gopher wire and soil and plants to fill the beds once they are constructed. To make things easier we bought our redwood at Lowes where they will cut the wood for you. I decided I wanted to make two 4’ square veggie beds in my space as opposed to one long one. I just thought it would look cute and be easy to garden in.

In the beginning, setting the first bed up.

In the beginning, setting the first bed up.

The upper boards don't fit debacle photo.

The upper boards don’t fit debacle photo.

We had to start our project first by clearing away the rocks where our beds would go and measuring everything out. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be from the start. Working with the HighRisers was really easy. We were able to assemble the braces to the first round of 2x12s and still move the beds around into position. For extra stabilization we buried the frames a little and checked our levels before committing to their final location. We did run into a little trouble at first because we tightened the braces to the lower 2x12s all the way and we couldn’t fit the next boards on top. Finally, by my friends genius advice, we realized if we loosen the braces on the lower boards a little we could then fit the top boards on, level and secure it all together at once. Thanks Jess, we needed that. Needless to say the second veggie bed we constructed went a little quicker than the first one we built, but I think that is totally normal when doing projects for the first time (think about when you first put something together from Ikea haha). And just like that we had our Raised beds built.

The "hey we got this figured out!" photo

The “hey we got this figured out!” photo

Next we added gopher wire to the bottom of the beds before filling them with soil. Although, knock on wood we don’t seem to have a gopher problem, it would be a bummer to not have put it and then run into a big problem later. We decided to by bags of soil to empty into the beds as opposed to getting yards of soil delivered. We needed 64 cubic feet of soil total (4’ wide beds that are 2‘ tall), 32 cubic feet for each raised bed. Luckily Lowes was having a sale that weekend to kick off spring so it wasn’t as expensive as it could have been, because that is a lot of soil!

On soil patrol.

On soil patrol.

Mustang by the almost all planted veggie beds!

Mustang by the almost all planted veggie beds!

We are going to hand water our raised beds. I watered my tomatoes by hand last year and I feel comfortable I will be able to handle the watering schedule. I figure if you find something you love to do, why wouldn’t you want to do it every day. Plus I hear Zucchinis can happen out of nowhere so you should be diligent.

The final product!

The final product!

I said I had bigger goals this year with my vegetable gardening and I meant it! I’m hoping to share my trials and tribulations in veggie gardening with you all season. Since I had such success last year with growing tomatoes I’m doing more of those this year including – Roma, Grape, Celebrity and an Heirloom variety. I’ve also added Peppers to the mix – I hear they like the heat and it’s hot at my house so I’m attempting to grow Jalapeños, Banana and Red Peppers. I’ve also got a Zucchini plant and various herbs. It’s been about 2 weeks since we built and planted our raised beds and the recent rain has really helped my watering schedule and the plants seem to be happy and growing, so far so good. And I seriously could not be happier with my HighRiser Veggie beds they have completely transformed my yard!

Finally enjoying the sun after all the rain.  Can't you tell the veggies have already grown a lot!?

Finally enjoying the sun after all the rain. Can’t you tell the veggies have already grown a lot!?

Flowerland Nursery – This Land was Made for You and Me!

FLOWERLAND FLOWERLAND I don’t know what it is about places that end in “land,” but I love them. I’m talking about places that name a thing that I love and end it in land, which equals the land of the thing that I love. When I was a kid and just started driving, I spent $600 on a 1960 American Rambler. We called it the Pambler. It was a giant hunk of steel – all bench seating. I could fit nine of my friends and I pretty comfortably – and we rambled. A lot. We often rambled past a place called Donutland. You see – one of my favorite things turned into a land! I never got to go, but Playland by the beach in San Francisco, but I imagine it was everything I would want a land of play to be.  So imagine my delight when I walked into Flowerland Nursery last week. It’s a land of nursery enchantment!

nursery and store signFlowerland Nursery on Solano Avenue in Albany has been a nursery forever. The architecture suggests it opened in the 1950s or 60s. The original signage is such a treasure, you can’t wait to see what’s inside. And, wowie! what a fantastic experience once you go in. Before I talk about the wonders of this little east bay nursery, I have to say I tried going to Flowerland when I first started working in the east bay a million years ago, and it seemed like it was in decline – my coworker described it as random and rundown. I thought then that someone with a vision should take over and bring it back to its original glory. I never went back until now.

Lo and behold, new owners took over Flowerland nursery about four years ago – and I didn’t get the memo. I’m sorry I was late to the party, but I plan on going back to this east bay treasure regularly. It’s hard to say what I like most about Flowerland because I didn’t see anything I didn’t like, but I’ll give it a go.

tomatoes make good friendsFor starters, you’re walking around in a little piece of local history. It’s harder and harder to find original, neighborhood nurseries, especially any this awesome – and this one is right on Solano Avenue. I already mentioned the original signage. The folks at Flowerland have fine tuned the design of the nursery seamlessly around the awesome original details. The nursery and store are designed well and you just get the feeling that everything is where it should be. Café lights have been added to the original metal shade structures – it seems like they close at 5.30, so I’ll have to wait until winter to see them all lit up.

coffee trailer and chairsNeed a coffee or a snack? The Local 123 airstream has a permanent spot in the nursery and the airstream fits in flawlessly with the vibe of the nursery. Who doesn’t want to make their garden wish list while sipping a latte?

soil amendment signfruit trees 2vine signsucculents

 

 

 

 

 

I really love the organization of the space. It isn’t a huge nursery by any stretch of the imagination, but they cover all of the bases. There is a focus on food producers, from veggies, to herbs, to fruit trees. They have one of the best selections of heirloom tomatoes going. This is the year I decided to try growing tomatoes in San Francisco again. I planted the tried and true early girls, but I couldn’t resist heirloom tomatoes with names like ‘Bloody Butcher’  Lots of varieties that are particularly well-suited to the zone 17 east bay climate. The in-house signage is informative and vintage-inspired.

fuchsia procumbensThe plant material is great! They have an eye for interesting and unique They also have a large selection of 4” plant material – and all are reasonably priced. My favorite scores of the day were a 4” Fuchsia procumbens and a 4” Rhodochiton astrosanguieum, two plants I’ve been searching for FOREVER. Also, a big shout-out to Annie’s Annuals for growing funky plants!

fertilizer needstoolsshopindoor outdoor shop 2

 

The “store” portion of Flowerland nursery is darling, and hosts a bevy of begonias, bromeliads and other interesting houseplants. They have great gardening tools and organic fertilizers. And if you’re into terrariums, this is your place. They have lots of miniature plants – and miniatures to create your own scenes.  So much fun. They appear to have an olive oil program – bring your own bottle and they’ll fill it for you. I’m not sure of the origin of the olive oil – but how awesome is that? The shop is a perfect place to shop for the green thumbs in your life. I haven’t even mentioned the perfect, omnipresent nursery dog!this guy

If you find yourself in east bay and are in the mood for retail therapy of the flora variety – head on down to Flowerland Nursery on Solano Avenue in Albany. You won’t be disappointed!

Strawberries… A Dream or Reality?

IMG_2335

Last weekend our family took a trip to Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, CA where you can pick your own strawberries. I had always wanted to make it down there on our way to the Boardwalk, but we ended up staying far longer than expected at the berry farm.  Whenever I go to the farmers market, my favorite are the small, sweet strawberries that are tender and still have a thin green stem attached. I wanted to prove to my daughter that strawberries are sweet and delicious, not lime green seedy and sour, like she’s used to from the grocery store.  I had envisioned fields and fields of romantic rolling hills filled with deep, ruby red berries as my daughter frolicked around with her straw basket full to the brim.

When we arrived, there were two rectangles of berry patches separated by a dirt path, with elevated neat rows of strawberries growing on black plastic berms. They were located on a flat open patch, surrounded by dirt on all sides and exposed to the wind coming off the Pacific. It wasn’t exactly the wild and wandering experience I had imagined as I watched so many people packed into these two square plots. How could there be enough small sweet strawberries for everyone?

IMG_2301

As we braved the cold winds coming from the ocean, zipped up our jackets and got our pigtails in order, we started looking. Even though we chose rows that had other people ahead of us, there were still red little gems hiding in the leaves. Instead of a cursory look from above, we squatted down in front of a plant and spent time gently looking in between and below the green leaves. We couldn’t stop picking! There was one, and then another, and then we had to taste test of course! My daughter was so excited about her new discoveries at every turn that two hours passed quickly. We left with a cardboard flat of $20 in strawberries, enough to share with three families for a week. Our shoes were muddy, faces and hands stained red, and our bellies full. The idea of going on a ferris wheel made us queasy. We opted for the beach instead, where my daughter ate even more strawberries.

When we got back, I read more about the farming techniques Swanton uses and understood why it wasn’t the expansive wild experience I had imagined. Strawberries can be fussy. Especially organic farming methods, like those used at Swanton, where they have to battle snails, gophers, wild pigs, birds, and deer in humane and non-poisonous ways. Weeds are not treated with chemicals, but manually eradicated, several times before the strawberry plants are even in the ground. The soil for strawberries is prepared for two years before the plants go in, with several rounds of cover crops and compost tilled in. The strawberries are more susceptible to disease and rot if they are left to grow on the ground, so the elevated black plastic rows are vital for survival. Swanton aims for flavor over quantity so they are careful about the amount of water they give to the strawberries and the varieties they grow. The more water, the less flavor the berry will have. You can read more about the organic farming methods at Swanton here, http://www.swantonberryfarm.com/pages/farming_practices2.html

This trip has made me reflect more about my tendency to dream without follow through. I always had visions of making my entire garden dedicated to edibles. After being in my house for six years, I admit, my brother in law does most of the work with the edibles and I am grateful for the ornamental sages, bamboos, and daphnes that don’t require my constant attention. We planted a cell pack of strawberries three years ago in our raised veggie boxes, and I’m surprised they are still alive. We get a few berries, here and there, which are a good teaching tool for the kids, but they are nothing like the prolific berries at Swanton that are cared for endlessly and planted fresh each year. It has made me reflect on the sad state of our blueberry bushes that I failed to amend with peat moss this year, thus yielding very little berries and spindly, less than impressive growth. I appreciate all the work farmers do to create tasty, beautiful fruits and vegetables at the farmers market even more now. And I applaud my clients that have an interest in incorporating edibles in their gardens. If they are new to growing edibles, I might suggest they start with one veggie box and expand from there.

IMG_2295

Green Roof on a Chicken Coop Update

It has been about 6 months since I planted the green roof on our backyard chicken coop in San Francisco. The mixture of drought tolerant succulents and ornamental grasses went in at the end of September in the shallow 4″ depth of soil, where they have endured some very cold winter nights and little rain. Considering how neglectful I have been these past 6 months, I am happy with the results and look forward to seeing it grow in. After the first month I rarely tended to the roof, except to look at it from my home on the second story. I lost a few succulents to the cold, and the Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ has grown leggy from from the drought I’ve put it through, but I couldn’t be more amazed at the ability of these plants to survive.

The Americauna and Rock Island Red hens are in their teens and steadily producing two to four eggs everyday. These four girls produce tan and spotted eggs that are delicious with bright orange yolks. Since I’ve never had chickens before, it has taken some getting used to. First, they love to eat almost everything in the garden. When we let them out of the coop, they have ‘free range’ of the garden. They dig up planting beds to make room for dirt baths, devour the veggie beds, and sample and nibble every plant in the garden, including weeds and succulents. They have humongous poops that I know have amazing fertilizer capabilities for our garden, but the poops are gushy and attract hoards of flies! I can no longer go barefoot in the garden. Despite these drawbacks, they are gentle and friendly girls that provide really yummy eggs. The racoons can’t get to them because they are locked up at night in the fortress of a coop my brother-in-law built. Our first set of chicks got devoured by a raccoon early on because we accidentally left the door open. It was a horrendous sight the next morning which we will never forget and we diligently check to make sure the doors are locked at night.

Here are some pictures from 6 months ago and now. Enjoy!

Fieldtrip! CornerStone, Sonoma

Ready for the GardensOne of our New Year’s resolution as a design team here at Lazar Landscape is to take advantage of the many landscape related daytrip opportunities available to us in the San Francisco Bay area to spend time together as a team, to gain inspiration and insight for our designs, and mostly to have fun. Our first fieldtrip was to CornerStone in Sonoma, California. The weather gods were kind to us as we strolled through the gardens and surrounding shops.

Earth WalkIf you don’t know about CornerStone, it’s a large gallery of display gardens by local and world renowned landscape architects and designers. The landscape installations change often, so there’s always something new and interesting. If you’re a garden lover planning a trip to the Sonoma wine country, it’s worth stopping by. Admission to the gardens at CornerStone is free. On a beautiful day you can spend hours strolling through the widely varied landscape installations that range from high concept spaces like Pamela Burton’s installation ‘Earthwalk,’ to more natural installations by John Greelee and James Van Sweden, to very utilitarian installations like ‘Attention! Potager’ by Scott Daigre, and a children’s garden by MIG that was quite appealing.garden play

IMG_1219Group favorite installations were ‘Rise’ by Planet Horticulture who always delivers with their amazing plant combinations, and ‘In the Air’ by Conway Cheng Chang. When we think about gardens and landscapes enriching and nurturing our senses, we commonly think about what we see, smell and touch. With a simple construction of culms from Bambusa oldhamii (Giant Timber Bamboo) on a metal frame, Chang constructed an organic flute of sorts that uses the wind in the Sonoma Valley to create simple, beautiful organic sounds. It inspired me to find ways to bring sound into my design to complete the sensory stimulation.

Conway Cheng Chang

reflectingWhen you go, make time for the reflecting pond – a permanent element at CornerStone. It’s the point where the landscaped elements end and the rolling hills and agricultural surroundings begin. I love the meditative quality of a good reflecting pond, and I used those few moments to, well reflect, on how fortunate I am to do the work I do with the people I get to work with.

funky faux boistwo bull dozersThere are great shops surrounding the landscapes at CornerStone. I found an amazing faux bois (or funky concrete tree as I like to call it) at Artefact – and get lots of ideas and goodies from PotterGreen, and the sculptures at New Leaf Gallery pull you into the actual landscape installations at CornerStone. There are also Sonoma wineries represented, so you can kick of your wine tasing right at CornerStone.

whimsychildren's garden

Whether you spend an hour or four, CornerStone is a great stop on any trip to Sonoma wine country.

Illegal Vegetable Gardening?

We really do live in a topsy-turvy world. Check out this story about a Canadian couple who is going to be fined for – wait for it – vegetable gardening in their front yard! The law in their district mandates that they must have 30 percent of their space covered by lawn. It should be an inspiring story because the couple the city is after has lost a combined 100 pounds since starting their garden!
Read the story – sign the petition! Let us know if you find out if they had to tear up their veggies.