In celebration of Earth Day I’m going back to my survivalist roots (bringing the bad puns with me) and revealing to you my patio and backyard plan to install a “Victory Garden” so us Hendersons can attempt to grow and eat our own food (AND SO CAN YOU). It’s been in the works for a while, and today seemed appropriate to talk about it, and give homage to the one thing that connects us all (that’s you, mother earth). “Victory Gardens” were this genius idea the government had during WW1 and WW2 to encourage people to grow their own backyard and community gardens. And it worked. At one point it yielded almost 40% of America’s fruits and vegetables. It was a decades-long campaign because transporting fruits and veggies became difficult with fewer workers, rationing healthy food was important and they felt that it was good for morale – both within the community as something they did together, and just as a positive and productive thing to do physically to support yourself while your country was in crisis. Ring a bell?
What this video for a little sneak peek at our plan…
Well, I set out to do this before I realized there was a movement happening, this time for a different battle – climate change. Deeming the new name, Climate Victory Gardens, and I’m so glad I’m not alone. If you are like me, you are probably thinking you need a huge yard or like 4 raised beds to have a proper vegetable garden, but by the end of this post, you’ll realize that you can even do it on a tiny patio or balcony.
But why NOW? You see the big Q has stopped all the hustle, noise and busyness and it has become clear what is essential in every single way. We are forced to look at every purchase and decide if we want it bad enough to either risk doing it ourselves or pay to have someone else make that sacrifice. So think hard about it, guys.
We are lucky enough to be up in the mountains, and truly have little to complain about in the scheme of things. But getting good produce is hard up here and yet I’ve never wanted to be healthier or to cook more. (There are two grocery stores, but we avoid going and can order pantry supplies online so I realized that its just dairy, produce and meat that we need).
Organic and local produce isn’t just our hipster LA preference, it’s supporting the principals that go along with them and that is generally lacking up here. Buying produce grown and shipped from other continents, imported 35,000 miles away, food that we could literally grow in our own backyard seems like a fictional story and not one that I want to hear or tell. According to greenamerica.org our global food system contributes up to 29% of greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn’t have to be like this. So, Mother Earth, I’m listening harder to the message you’ve been trying to send, I have the time and due to our current world standstill, I finally have the real motivation (and I know I’m not alone) to reduce my impact by growing my own vegetable garden (amongst other things – lots of permanent positive changes are happening over here).
This isn’t my first attempt at being a “farmer”. I put in a raised bed in our LA backyard last year to make some soup veggies (shown above), but I planted what I wanted to eat not thinking about the season, sun, location, water, climate or what would thrive. It would be like Brian buying a professional-grade sewing machine, then being shocked when he sat down to make his own tuxedo, he failed. Ultimately I lacked the time to tend for it, the know-how, any experience, but mostly the real motivation. I could get delicious organic local veggies at the farmers market every Sunday so that convenience kept me from having the need.
Convenience is the killer of innovation, and it’s going to be different this time. Brian and I were both nervous that I was getting too ambitious, and was going to invest even more time and money to again pull up 4 small carrots after 6 weeks and feel dumb. No more waste. I will be this smarter. And by “be smarter” I mean that I reached out to two experts for help – a local company called Farmscape, and a great garden supply resource, Gardeners.com and with their help came up with a doable plan that might actually yield an edible harvest.
Sadly, that’s not mine, it’s a garden that Farmscape put in a residential backyard in LA. Their motto is, “Quit landscaping and Start Farmscaping”, and that’s exactly what they do. They turn your property into a source of food for you, in an attractive way. There are over 40 million acres of lawn in this country – why not use some of it to feed ourselves? But they know that it requires a lot of experience, know-how, labor, etc. so for LA and SF they will do it all for you. I think it’s a genius shift from landscape design – for those that don’t have the time, but have the resources and budget to hire this out – and yes, they even maintain it weekly. I think it’s INCREDIBLY smart to think about your backyard more in terms of producing edibles, rather than just landscaping aesthetically. FYI they do corporate spaces, restaurant farms, and rooftops too. This isn’t sponsored in any way, I just think it’s an inspiring way to think about your backyard, and love that they are providing that service.
They agreed to help consult over the phone (thank you!) for this post. I sent then our address and they helped me come up with the plan for my specific climate, sun/shade location and what I really want to grow (more on that later). While they normally build everything custom, they highly recommended Gardeners.com as a resource for products – I called Gardeners.com and they helped walk me through specific products (many listed below). So here is the rough plan (but I’d love to know your thoughts).
The backyard is wide and shallow and covered in bark, which we don’t love. We are still figuring out what we want to do, and figured we’d landscape this summer was which is why I called Farmscape in the first place – WHAT DO WE DO HERE – but ultimately they convinced me to hold off on setting up rows of raised planter boxes because I need to better track the sun/shade when the trees have leaves (they are still bare). Instead, they suggested starting where we do know we have sun – on the patio. What I love about this is the flexibility is that it feels really approachable, without a huge investment. So how do you have a patio garden???
RAILING OR BALCONY PLANTERS
I didn’t know that this was a thing. Sure I knew about window boxes, but I guess I just thought they were for flowers, not vegetables – besides these are different. As you can see right outside our backdoor (with the kitchen nearby) there is the deck railing that gets a decent amount of sun during the summer not to mention the deck above (but far away from the kitchen). Now the BBQ is not 100% set there as we do want to do some sort of built-in for it (she looks sad right now). But the plan is to put 2-3 railing boxes over there – they just sit right on top, no fancy install – near the bbq and have them be easy to access from the kitchen and move if we reconfigure. There are a lot of options out there, but for ours, I want them to be black (or could be eco-stained black) to disappear and blend in with the black railing.
Near the windows, we could put two carts with lettuce greens or herbs. They suggested keeping these near the kitchen for easy access. I love the wood cart because it can be moved if the sun is too extreme during certain parts of the summer, and the fact that it is waist-high makes it really easy to tend to (and some of these aren’t mobile, but I’m leaning towards either #1 in black or #5) :
I’m not sure why this didn’t occur to me before. POTS! Of course! Farmscape and Gardeners.com both just said to make them deep enough for plants and they need to have drainage (most pots do, obviously). The drawn pots above are too small (but I didn’t have the heart to ask Sara to redo the graphics) because they need to be big and deep to really yield and have it be worth it (or so Farmscape told me). I’m thinking a cluster or two around each of the posts, one tall (for tomatoes in a cage) and one lower and wider. I’m going to really try to keep myself to just a few large ones to keep it still modern and minimal up here.
After I spoke to Farmscape I realized that we do indeed have an unused area of the yard that does get 6 hours of full sun in the summer (or so I remember). So I still may go for a small bed, but we aren’t going to build it from scratch this time.
I love the look of all of these, but ultimately because of our extreme gopher issue, I’m going with the self-watering raised bed and it comes in gray (or I might stain black). Once filled with soil and plants it won’t exactly be movable, but I like the idea that if next year we do landscape (or Farmscape) we can empty to relocate it or add to it – maybe even add a greenhouse for my seedlings:) Plus it allows for some growth underneath, is super ergonomic, and it’s such a pretty look.
One of the things that came up on both interviews is that gardening is extremely nuanced and essentially without knowing exactly my climate, soil, native plants and pests it’s really hard to say “put wild strawberries on the third pot from the left next to Thai basil”. But they did give me a ton of good initial advice and resources for the next step – choosing the seeds, seedlings and figuring out what will thrive where. My neighbor who has a thriving garden agreed, that it’s really about experience and trying/failing, that one year you might get a huge yield of tomatoes and the next 4 you won’t (even if you do the exact same thing). So it sounds like it’s a lot of trial and error.
So a few questions for you:
1. Do you want me to continue the series on how this goes with what I’m specifically planting and where it’s going to go? I suppose I’ll know the answer by looking at the traffic of this post, but I know this is kinda out of our wheelhouse, which I think is exactly why it’s going to be fun to document and watch.
2. I started doing a ton of research (and interviewed both sources) for apartment gardens, hydroponic gardens, vertical gardens and gardens for small balconies. Let me know in the comments if this there is an appetite (HAHAHA) for this. I’m obviously SUPER into it, but want to make sure I’m not alone here 🙂
So all of you gardeners out there, I know you have advice and I’m looking for it. Some of the above products I’ve placed orders for, but others I haven’t so please dish.
A huge thanks to Deborah and Gardeners.com for answering my amateur questions and Dan and Catherine at Farmscape for not only answering my questions but even doing some preliminary front yard fruit tree drawings for me – coming soon…
Are you into this idea? I know it’s not just me because so many companies are out of seeds when they never usually sell out, but I’d love to hear if you guys are also feeling this movement to grow your own food (if you can) and rely a little more on yourself during this time and hopefully forever?
Happy Earth Day, Lady. Hopefully, this break from our busy day to day normalcy (for those of us privileged enough to stay at home) gives us all more time to reflect on our impact and gives you (Mother Earth) a break from our abuse. And just in case you thought I’d leave this post on such a dark note, we went ahead and gave you the gift of “Homestead Emily and Brian”, a photoshopped art piece that represents this new era in our lives.
P.S. Sara, you are fired for giving me so many wrinkles a la American Gothic while young handsome Brian has the most perfect farmer Smize I ever did see.
Opening Image Credit: Brain Henderson🙂