Photo by Marcel Ray

Bucket Brigade is a vegetable container gardening project that rescues unwanted buckets and turns them into mini vegetable gardens for people who want to grow some of their own food.

Volunteers at Bucket Brigades teach people how to plant and seed vegetable containers and give them gardening resources and information to make their garden a success!

Since 2008, more than 1,200 people have taken home a Bucket Brigade container garden and seeds to keep their garden growing.

Photos by Carlos Paradinha Photography

Help us kick off spring gardening with a tomato Bucket Brigade!

When: Saturday, May 14, 9 am - 12pm

Where: West Seattle driveway: 3726 SW Austin St. (between Webster and Ida)

Pick up a tomato bucket (rare and unusual varieties) and 3 mini-packs of seeds for $5. Throw in an Urban Land Army t-shirt for an even $12.

Bring your vegetable gardening questions, and if you have a bucket from a previous Bucket Brigade, bring it along and we’ll replant it.

Hope to see you there!

The Garden is a night of film, music, and conversation about urban agriculture, and we would love to see you there.

The evening begins with a screening of the documentary, “The Garden”, which tells the story of a group of scrappy community gardeners in LA battling against property developers (aka “The Man”).

Then, a panel of gardening types - including yours truly - will discuss our experiences and ideas for urban agriculture in Seattle (and beyond!).

And then the music starts….

Please come!

When: Saturday, October 9, 7-10 pm (doors open at 6:30)
Where: Pigott Auditorium, Seattle University

Check out more info about the event and get your tickets:  http://thegardenseattle.org.

Hurry! It’s just one week away.

You know PARK(ing) Day? It is an annual global event where city people transform metered parking spots into temporary parks. Man, we love this stuff.

PARK(ing) Day is tomorrow - Friday, September 17, and Urban Land Army will be parking itself next to Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) at 5th and Columbia downtown. Our park celebrates Seattle’s Year of Urban Agriculture and we’ll be sharing seeds, dispensing gardening advice (this is SDOT, so think parking strip gardening), and hanging out with chickens.

Stop by to see us 9:30-2:30 and check out the other parks-for-a-day!

Real life gardens are way more fun than interweb ones, so stop by and see us, eh?

Saturday, July 10, 11-4, is the 3rd annual West Seattle Edible Garden Tour sponsored by Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle, and Urban Land Army Headquarters is on the route.

Cookies…

a t-shirt draw…

a Bucket Brigade display…

… and a tour of the unseasonally short but mighty garden await.

Get your tickets and a map at St. James Community Garden: 9421 18th Ave SW, 98106 or through Brown Paper Tickets.

We’ll be waiting.

Rain. Chill. Drip. Blah. We know.

Don’t have the garden in yet? Freaking out a little?

If you’re a Seattleite, there will be three Bucket Brigades tomorrow to help you get growing!

Bucket Brigade is a little project of ours that turns unwanted buckets into vegetable container gardens. On Saturday, June 5, we will be planting up and handing out bucket gardens at not one, but three locations:

1. The Duwamish Community Environmental Health Fair at Concord Elementary School in South Park from 11-3.

2. Delridge Day/ReFRESH Southwest Festival from 1-5 pm at the Delridge Community Center and Playfield in West Seattle.

3. Beacon Hill Festival at the Jefferson Community Center, 11-4. Sustainable South Seattle is taking the lead on this one, so look for their booth.

Come chat with us about growing vegetables in containers and in other small city nooks and crannies, and take home a container garden!

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It is a warm and sunny weekend in Seattle - ideal for outdoor spring cleaning and pea planting - but alas, I am confined to the chesterfield with the flu.

It’s not all bad though - I’ve been able to prepare a long list of projects for Urban Land Army’s Head Scavenger, Baker, and Master Builder, and he’s already tackling the most pressing and exciting one: the cold frame.

A cold frame is essentially a mini-greenhouse - a box with a glass lid - where you can grow burly little seedlings like lettuce, spinach, beets, parsley, and other hardy greens. Starting them outside in a cold frame lets you get a jump on the season, and it frees up space indoors for growing the more sensitive, heat-loving crops, like tomatoes, peppers, and basil. You can also use the cold frame to “harden off” (toughen up, weather-proof) these plants when they move outdoors in late-spring.

In researching building plans for cold frames, I came across a detail-oriented Canadian who provides a materials list, photos, and step-by-step instructions for building this solid and most excellent cold frame.

Note that building this particular cold frame is not for the faint of heart - you will require a circular saw and at least a rudimentary understanding of beveling - but you can simplify the design and take what you need from it. The basic principles - taller at the back than at the front, a wooden box with a hinged glass lid, are all there.

Prefer old-fashioned bricks and mortar or no-nonsense concrete blocks? These would work as a base too: just stack them up and add a glass or plexiglass top that is secured, weighted down, and easily removable in some way, shape, or form.

As for us, Head Scavenger has accumulated a good deal of scrap wood and old windows, so a quick trip to the back of the garage and we were well on our way.

The mock-up:

I will report back next weekend when the cold frame will hopefully be primed and painted, and ready to house the first seedlings of spring!

It’s nice to share

This Saturday, February 20 from 1-4 pm at South Seattle Community College, there is a Seed Swap and Sale!

Hosted by the good folks of Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle (CHOSS), you can swap and buy a wide variety of vegetable seeds from local seed companies and your neighbors. View a seed list, get directions, and read more about the event.

Sharing seeds is really smart for city gardeners because we often don’t have enough space to plant all the seed that comes in a pack. Over time, seed starts to add up, expire, and mildly irk Mr. Urban Land Army when new, different, bigger, better seed comes waltzing through the door each year. Sharing seeds with fellow gardeners helps to smooth things out and it is much easier on the budget.

Plus, sharing is nice.

If you are on the lookout for a handy way to share, store, and keep track of your seeds, we produce and sell the very nifty City Seed Pack:

These are empty packs that include space to fill in all the information you need to grow a good plant: seed name and variety, days to sprout, days to maturity, seed spacing, and more. Simply copy the information from the pack you’re taking seed from and fill it up with a tidy amount of seeds. Just what you need!

The City Seed Pack is sold in stacks of 5 for just 1 American dollar. If you would like to place an order, drop a line to Headquarters. We’d love to send some your way.

In warmish climates like the Pacific Northwest, the days are starting to get longer and a bunch of us have seed starting on the brain. Now is the time to get some of those babies started, and we’ll be showing you how with photos and how-to instructions.

In the meantime, get yourself to the Seed Swap and start building your seed bank!

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It’s a new year, people.

And we’re busy planning it!

Bucket Brigade

We’ll help you throw your very own Bucket Brigade with a Bucket Brigade toolkit and workshop.

Grow It Yourself

Need help getting your vegetable garden in order? Want to learn how to start seeds indoors this winter? We offer one-on-one coaching and instruction, and will help you to build your gardening skills and eat well from your garden all season long.

Land Link

We’ll also be beefing up the Land Link program and rolling out some fun new projects like seed liberation and lawn and parking strip conversions.

The seed catalogues are starting to roll in and momentum is building, so stay tuned!

It’s 2010. Let’s garden better…faster…stronger!

Happy New Year.

Here’s the deal:

Seattle Tilth has been teaching people how to grow food in the city for over 30 years - way before most of us ragtag gardeners jumped on the bandwagon - and they’re holding their annual Harvest Fair this Saturday, September 12, 10-5.

Gardening workshops, urban livestock, a farmer’s market, music, and good times await you just behind the cheeriest address in Seattle:

Good Shepherd Center, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N. (in Wallingford)

And.

Every scrap of our gardening know-how has come straight from classes at Seattle Tilth, so we will be standing proud at the Fair with a booth in the Community Show and Tell area. Stop by! We’d love to meet you and hear how your garden made out this season and your plans for next year.

If you need a hand getting your garden in order, ask us about our brand new Grow It Yourself consulting biz. We can help you transform your yard, balcony, or parking strip into a vegetable garden that would make your grandma proud. I am scheduling appointments and work parties now to get you started on building soil this fall for spring planting.

Also ask us about our Bucket Brigade adventures this year (625 veggie containers handed out!) and how you can hold one of these events yourself.

We’ll be selling Urban Land Army t-shirts…


Harvest Fair pricing! $12 one day only.

And City Seed Packs for sharing seeds with that special someone.

Of course, we’ll have some cute little giveaways too.

Hope to see you there.

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Tomato season is in full swing.

So that means the prize winners are reaching their full glory…


The beer can: a Canadian unit of measurement

…and it is time for some tips.

Is this tomato ripe?

You can tell when a tomato is ripe and ready to pick by its colour and feel.

As your hard green tomatoes begin to ripen and change colour, they will pass through a few shades before they are ready to pick and eat. If you’re not sure what they’re supposed to look like when they’re ripe, look up your tomato variety online or in a seed catalogue.

But in real life, a good way to tell is by giving them a squeeze.

Take hold of the tomato and squeeze it gently. Ripe tomatoes should be firm but have some give to them, especially on the bottom and on the shoulders.

If you’re still not sure, the best way to tell is by picking it and eating it. The flavour and texture will let you know if it is ready. If you do end up picking a tomato too early, just leave it to ripen on the counter.

Now, we all know what a ripe red tomato looks like, but what if you are growing yellow, orange, green striped, or purple tomatoes? What if it is called Black Pineapple? Ivory Egg? Black Prince?

A few ripe tomatoes


Green-striped tomatoes like Green Zebra or Green Moldovan turn a lime-green or yellowish colour when they are ripe…


with a little red on the bottom.


Black Pineapple: the reddish one in the middle is ready to go.


Sungold - when it turns orange, let it get orange-er. The one on the right is ready.

Cracking

Ripening tomatoes can crack if they are exposed to wild fluctuations in moisture. Say it has been hot and dry and maybe you forgot to water for a few days and then there is a 2-day rain and KAPOW! The tomato cracks open.


Dang it.

If this happens, pick the tomato and eat it because it will not keep very long. Just cut off the cracked bit.

Shock horror!


A vegetable tragedy

This travesty is a disease known as blossom end rot.

Blossom end rot occurs when a lovely ripening tomato starts to develop a dark, watery spot on the bottom. The decay spreads quickly and eventually leaves the bottom of the tomato a sunken, scabbed over mess.

The sad truth is that once the bottom starts to turn dark, it cannot be stopped. This particular tomato is done for. Your only option is to pick it and toss it in the Yard Waste bin (maybe not a good idea to put it in your compost).

The problem usually starts with the first (lowest) set of tomatoes on the plant. Sometimes if you pick tomatoes that are showing signs of the disease, the rest of the plant will recover and the other tomatoes are not affected. Sometimes, though, the whole plant is doomed.

Why? WHY?!

Blossom end rot is a calcium deficiency in the plant that can be caused by:

  • Uneven watering. Maybe the plant wasn’t watered enough during a period of hot weather, or maybe it has been watered too much and has been sitting in cold, wet soil. Maybe there is a clog in your soaker hose next to this particular tomato. Planting a tomato too early in the chilly spring can also make it susceptible to blossom end rot. Make sure to water regularly, deeply, and uniformly.
  • Your soil may not have enough lime and therefore not enough calcium. The only way to know this is to get your soil tested (For instructions, see “Time to Bring in the Scientists”). An easy way to add calcium directly to the plant is to add a handful of bone meal to the planting hole when you plant the tomato.
  • Shallow root systems. In order for the tomato plant to take up the calcium and nutrients it needs through its roots, the plant needs to have its feet rooted in deep, well-drained soil. Planting other plants too close to the tomato can also interfere with the tomato’s root system.
  • Not enough phosphorus (P). Tomatoes need a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus - this is the middle number in that triplet you see on the fertilizer box. The middle number should be higher than the other numbers.

If you want to read more about this crappy disease and what you can do to prevent it, head over here.

An advanced move

Since we are almost in September and the long, warm days of summer are beginning to wane, you may want to take a good hard look at your tomatoes and decide whether or not these tomatoes are going to ripen on the vine before it freezes or at least turns cold.

To ripen your tomatoes faster, gradually stop watering. Depriving the plant of moisture stresses the plant and forces the tomatoes to ripen. Around here, we back off on watering in mid-August (to twice a week) and by the time we hit mid-September, we have stopped watering them completely.

Some handy tomato tools

Tomato preparation is made a lot easier with two handy tools:

A serrated knife. Your bread knife is the only knife worth using on a tomato. No squishing, spurting, or sawing.

The tomato shark. A melon baller with teeth. We don’t go for the one hit wonder kitchen utensils around here, but this serrated little number scoops out the stem (and seeds, if you don’t want those) very nicely.

And suddenly, every drop of water from the hose is worth it.

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“What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow.”

- A.A. Milne

Agreed.

But how does a fellow know when or how to dig them up?

If you live in a cooler climate and the potatoes will be the last crop your garden patch will see, you can let the plant hang out for a while. You want to dig them all up before it freezes, but in the meantime you can just rob individual potatoes as you need them. The rest of the potatoes will be happy enough down there.

Either way, you know your potatoes are ready to dig when the plant looks like crap.


An eyesore.

The tops of the plant will have turned brown and the stems will be all bendy and floppy. If it looks gross and half-dead, they are ready to go.

Dig

Put on your boots and go grab your garden fork or a shovel, and a pail.

Step on the fork, sticking it a foot deep or more into the ground and about 8 inches away from the base of the plant.

Loosen the soil around the entire plant - trying not to spear the potatoes lurking beneath…

…and then lift the plant out of the ground.

The potatoes will spring from the good earth loose or still clinging to the nodes of the plant.


So that’s how a potato grows.

You’ll be pulling up big ones and little ones. Eat up those little ones quick - potatoes taste best when they’re small and new.

The one that got away

You may have missed some, so roll up your sleeve, dig down into the dirt, and feel around for more.

If one does get away and you live in a warmish climate like us, they will sprout and pop up as a plant in the spring. Kind of nice.

Crop Yield: The Final Verdict

Not great.

Recall that I planted three kinds of potatoes: Red Pontiac, Yukon Gold, and Rose Finn Fingerling. We planted them in the Grow It Yourself garden and in another patch, too.

I must confess that the potato yields in the Grow It Yourself garden were quite sad indeed. The foliage on the plants was madness - the plants got to be 4 or 5 feet tall and I even had to stake them. There was likely an excess of nitrogen in the soil of this new garden bed, which was great for producing green, leafy foliage, but not great for potato formation.

Red-faced, I harvested only 5-10 potatoes from each of the plants.

In the other potato bed, however, Red Pontiac was the big winner with 20 potatoes per plant. Big, too. The others pulled their weight and we ended up with a good 50 lbs to put away for winter.

Storage

Potatoes live in the ground, which is cool and dark, and they like those same conditions above ground, too.

Keep them in a pail, box, or fancy potato bin in the coolest spot you have - the basement, the garage, or, if you’re really lucky, the root cellar.

Some kinds of potatoes keep better than others. We grew the Red Pontiacs specifically for winter storage, the Yukon Golds for summer eating and short-term storage, and the fingerlings for supper.

In general, hard-skinned red potatoes and russet potatoes are the best keepers, yellow ones like Yukon Gold are pretty good but not long-term, and fingerlings are best eaten just out of the ground.

Stay tuned for more harvesting news and the ins and outs of fall and winter crops.

We’ve got room!

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Ok, we were too busy talking to the 80 or 100 people (!) who came by to take pictures during the day, but this is how things looked before the gates opened.


Top 10 Best Plant Names.


Sorry, Saskatoon berry. I went on holiday, eh.


Wait, does that say “tarrafon”?


My lovely and charming assistant. (And proud member of Urban Land Army West Seattle!


People like cookies. Thanks, Little Rae’s Bakery.


Posters, information cards, and a draw for an Urban Land Army t-shirt and City Seed Packs. A lot went down.


Bakery equipment in a garden setting.


The Grow It Yourself garden gone wild.


Oops, forgot to weed that patch before people came over.


Or as they say in West Seattle, ‘Black Pineapple’.

We want to thank everyone who stopped by for a tour of the Urban Land Army grounds. It was loads of fun talking about gardening all day and meeting people from the neighbourhood.

The 2nd Annual West Seattle Edible Garden Tour was sponsored by Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle and the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. Good work, people.

We’ll be back soon because we have a lot to talk about, like how do you know when a tomato is ready to pick, or when to dig the potatoes, or seed another round of carrots, beets, and salad greens?

(Hint: NOW. But hang on, there’s a bit more to it…)

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We are back in the saddle after a 2-week Saskatchewan crop tour, where the mustard is flowering and the wheat is shaping up.


My dad in his mustard field: the real deal.

And now that we are back, it is time to announce a little crop tour of our own:

The West Seattle Edible Garden Tour is this Saturday, August 1, 10AM-4PM, and Urban Land Army Headquarters is on the route!

Stop by and see us and check out the Grow It Yourself garden, which is now a veritable jungle.

You can also check out a whole other garden that hasn’t been part of our picture show on the website.

It packs in 5 kinds of beans…

20 heirloom tomato plants…

an Egyptian walking onion patch…

an herb spiral (what the?)…

…and much more.

We’ll give you a tour of the grounds, answer your questions, and tell you how we built the garden using sheet mulching and permaculture techniques. We’ll lift the lids on the worm bins and show you how you can compost your food scraps at home, and maybe even get real down-home and do a little garlic braiding.

We’ll also point out what has worked, what has died a horrible death, and why.

For those interested in garden art and “hardscaping”, Urban Land Army’s Head Scavenger will be on hand to discuss the finer points of procuring rock and brick in the city, and the particular promise of used bakery equipment in a garden setting.

So stop by and see us, eh?

We’d love to meet you.

And be sure to check out the other lovely gardens on the tour - vegetables, bees, chickens, and even a hot tub garden await you! Download the tour map at www.ediblewestseattle.org.

The 2nd Annual West Seattle Edible Garden Tour is sponsored by Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle and the City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. Good work, people.

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Photo from the excellent englishrussia.com

Gardeners need a break too!

But we know it can be nerve-wracking leaving your garden behind - you’ve worked hard to grow your food and you don’t want to turn your back on it.

Here are a few tips to help you breathe easy while you’re away:

1. Find a waterer who is up for the job - a reliable and decent sort you know will show up and take care of things.

2. Make it easy on the waterer. Lump all your pots together in one spot. Minimize hose lugging by getting a splitter for your tap. This way you can attach more than one hose and all they have to do is turn it on. Think about how you can make watering as quick and efficient as possible - the last thing you want to do is irk the caretaker.

3. Give the waterer a tour and leave them with written instructions - it’s easy to forget the ins and outs of someone else’s place.

4. Give the garden a good drink before you leave so the plants are in good shape to begin with.

5. Mulch the garden with compost, grass clippings, or a mix of shredded leaves and grass. An inch or two added to the top of the soil helps to prevent evaporation, keep the soil cool, and hold moisture longer.

6. Tie up the tomatoes or leave string with the waterer - if you’re gone for a while, they might start to topple over.

7. Fertilize if you haven’t already - your tomatoes will need it if they’re flowering.

8. Pick anything that needs picking so it isn’t wasted. We’re bringing bags of lettuce with us and raided the basil to make pesto, which we then froze. And remember to tell the waterer to help themselves to the goods.

9. The garden isn’t going to be under your watchful eye and the waterer probably won’t be there every day so don’t get bent out of shape if a plant or two doesn’t make it. It’s the cost of going on vacation and just another good example of natural selection in the garden.

10. When you come back, treat them to something real nice or fork over a handful of cold hard cash. They’ve kept your food alive and that calls for a big thanks.

Now kick off your work boots and get out of here!

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