Category Archives: Urban Permaculture

How I lost the community garden lottery, but still got a garden…

Allotments in Chiswick
Creative Commons License photo credit: Ben30

A few weeks ago I lost the community garden lottery here in Eugene. The city was nice enough to send me a letter to let me know that I was number fifty seven on the waiting list. Apparently I’m not the only one with an urge to grow my own food. According to Oregon’s agricultural extension:

The number of names on a waiting list to rent plots in the Portland area’s 30 community gardens has grown to 1,000, according to Extension’s Clackamas County horticulturist Weston Miller, and landowners are offering to donate land for more community gardens.

I don’t know how long the list in Eugene is, but there are at least 57 people waiting. Further research would most likely reveal¬† long lists in other cities around the country. Faced with the depressing reality that I would have to make do with my little patio, I headed over to Down To Earth to buy a few containers. As I wandered from the nursery into the garden center, I noticed a bulletin board with various notices. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a post offering a backyard space for gardening. I called right away and now I have a lovely backyard space equal to a 600 sq ft community garden plot. It’s small, but as a grad student I have a limited amount of time for gardening.

Yardsharing is a new trend around the country, but the woman who is lending me her space has been doing it for years. The soil in my new garden is lovely, even if somewhat weedy.

Seeds are sprouting!


Creative Commons License photo credit: mahalie
Last Saturday I took a study break and headed down to the Eugene Propagation Faire at the local community college. The organizers had gathered an amazing array of fruit tree cuttings: apples, pears, apricots, almonds, plums, nectarines, etc. Gathered around long tables were people watching local experts raptly as they grafted the cuttings onto rootstock. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a place to plant fruit trees at the moment and while I could plant a dwarf tree or two on my patio garden, I decided to wait until I was better prepared with the perfect container and planting mix.

Instead, I took advantage of the seed swamp happening on the other side of the cafeteria and went home with a nice mix of herb, flower, and vegetable seeds. When I got home I sorted through my box of old seeds and made myself a promise to plant all those old seeds this year. I have quite a collection of seeds of various ages going back about ten years.

Take note gardeners! This is not good practice. Seeds that are a year or two old are generally still viable, but the older seeds get, the less likely they are to sprout. Some types of seeds, like corn, age quite rapidly. I tend to be tempted to buy more seeds than I have time or energy to plant. Also, seed packets generally hold many more seeds than a home gardener would need in one year.

Saturday evening I planted something like ten different types of old seeds, figuring I would just experient and see what sprouts. I set my little plastic pots on the windowsill of my office and next to the sliding glass door were they could get some sun. Most of what I planted will take 10-20 days to sprout, but I woke up to find my first seedlings this morning!

Some of the seeds in my collection are from packets, some are seeds I collected from my own garden, and some are seeds I collected in my wanderings. When I see a flower I like somewhere going to seed I stick a few seed pods in my pocket to take home. My seedlings came from a plastic bag marked “unknown flower.” Also not good gardening practice! I’m excited to see what they turn out to be. When they get some real leaves I will try posting a photo and we can play name that plant.

Garden Blog Update

It has been very quiet around GardenSong the last few months. Although I managed to get some pots and mix myself up some potting soil, my little patio garden didn’t get planted before winter set in here. I haven’t had time to write for the last few months because my husband, Ian, and I have been dealing with his newly diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis, which has left him somewhat disable and exhausted. It has been quite an adjustment for both of us. We are hopeful that his new medications will get him feeling a lot better in a few months, but in the meantime he can’t do much, which has left me super busy.

I’m waiting for March and warmer temperatures before planting my patio garden. When it’s warm enough I will begin planting culinary herbs, greens, and edible flowers. I’m also putting in an application for a community garden plot. The community garden plot will be where I grow the majority of our vegetable for the year. Here in Eugene, there is a lottery for community garden spaces, so wish me luck.

Grow Mushrooms at Home

Growing mushrooms
Creative Commons License photo credit: denn

Ever since my Permaculture training, I have been interested in growing mushrooms at home. Amy provides a nice set of pictures that show how to get started:Heavy Petal: Growing shiitake mushrooms if you want to grow mushrooms outside in your garden or yard. If you have the right kind of hardwood on your property all you need is a drill, some wax, and some mushroom plugs (wooden dowels with mushrooms spores growing in them.) It takes 6-12 months for the mushrooms to grow and spread throughout the entire log and during that time you need to make sure the logs stay damp, either through rainfall or regular watering. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can buy this shitake mushroom log. It comes all set up and “aged” so that you can grow your own fresh Shitake mushrooms in just a few weeks.

You can also grow mushrooms inside. The best techniques depend on your situation and the type of mushrooms you want to grow. Depending on the type mushrooms will grow in wood shavings, coffee grounds, and even damp strips of newspaper. Growing mushrooms at home isn’t difficult, but it requires some precision and some patience, like brewing. You need to make sure that the edible mushroom spores you buy are the only thing growing in your substrate, which means you need to make sure everything is sterile. You can buy the spores and setup the sterile grow bags yourself, or you can buy a premade mushroom growing kit.

The ultimate place to go for all things fungal is Fungi Perfecti, founded by Paul Stamets, mushroom growing guru. He literally wrote the book on mushroom growing.  If you are serious about growing mushrooms at home, you should buy his book, the book on growing mushrooms: Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms.