My Urban Farmer

Urban Garden

At the first signs of spring when the crocuses and daffodils poke their heads up, my husband gets excited about starting to plant his “farm” as we like to call it.  He scours seed catalogs reading all about the new varieties of heirlooms available.  We make the first of many quick trips to Livingscape Nursery, just north of NE Freemont on N Vancouver Ave.  They carry our favorite brand of seeds, Territorial Seed Company, lots of plants, flowers, fruit trees, and baby chickens which are always fun to see.

My husband goes through his inventory of old seed packets, plus seeds he’s collected from our previous year’s crop, and this year, some heirloom tomato seeds we gathered last summer from the King Farmers Market.  Since our goal is to grow all our vegetables directly from seed, we start many of them indoors.  Our south-facing spare bedroom turns into the “green house” and with the help of a germination station, my husband plants tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil, and a couple flowers – celosia, and marigolds.  He loves gardening and treats his new seedlings with great care, getting up early every morning to farm (ie: watering, rotating them in the window, transplanting to bigger pots as needed).  All that’s missing is the overalls.

By April, we’re planting lettuce, spinach, radishes, potatoes, and sweet peas outside directly into the raised garden beds we’ve built.  Every morning and evening we go out and check the progress always picking out a handful of slugs.  Our neighbor’s chickens often hop the fence to come enjoy our yard and hopefully to snack on some slugs as well.

By late May, we’re giving away some extra tomato plants to friends and neighbors since we always seem to grow a few more than we have room for.  We’re given eggs from our neighbor with chickens and we give him some extra starts.  It’s a nice trade and over the fence we swap gardening methods and techniques.  In June the melons and squash are planted, the rest of the indoor plants are transplanted, and salads are readily available for consumption.

It seems such a long time from the moment we sow the first seed until the first salad I’m able to make, but it’s well worth it to be able to enjoy salads throughout the late spring and summer, and make our own recipe of salsa which can’t be beat.  In mid-summer I’ll make pesto and spaghetti sauce that I’ll freeze to use throughout the winter.  I also recently discovered how to pickle mixed veggies which is a great way of using end-of-season vegetables.  Adding a few hot peppers in each jar to spice it up works great.  I’m not much of a cook and I’m certainly not a canner, but making freezable sauces and pickling is super easy and I’ve found some nice recipes online.

What I love about Portlanders is how we’ve embraced urban gardening and buying locally grown food.  So many of our neighbors have gardens and chickens, and one neighbor even kept bees to produce honey while they were busy pollinating our fruits and veggies.  I’ve noticed a trend of street and yard trees being planted that are fruit bearing trees.  We have two community gardens in Eliot – one on the corner of MLK Jr Blvd and NE Morris and one near NE Tillamook and N Williams Ave.   Portland has many farmers markets throughout the city and several of our restaurants buy local ingredients as well.    Not only do my husband and I thoroughly enjoy gardening, eating out at our local restaurants, and strolling through farmers markets on the weekends, the end result is our food tastes so much better, is healthier, and of course the environment benefits as well.

We are lucky to have a large enough lot with room for a garden and a variety of fruit trees and berry bushes, but even those with little or no yard are still finding space for at least a few plants.  Some simply have pots on the porch and others have made their parking strip a vegetable row.

If you’re interested in starting a garden or perhaps raising a few chickens for fresh eggs, visit The Livingscape Nursery, at 3926 N. Vancouver Ave .  They offer free workshops throughout the spring and summer, along with books on urban farming, and have a nice selection of plants and gardening tools to help you get started.  We’ve found their staff to be helpful and knowledgeable.  Happy gardening…and eating!