Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Spook-tacular Time to Garden

The leaves are starting to fall, there’s a chill in the air and pumpkins are showing up on doorsteps everywhere. That can mean only one thing: vampires! Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. What it actually means is it’s time for gardening!

I know what you’re thinking. Gardening in the fall? Isn’t it the wrong time of year for that? If we were starting tomatoes or peppers, that would be absolutely correct. But this is just the right time to start on one crop.

It’s garlic! Gosh, we love garlic. It goes into most any recipe you might be cooking, tastes great as garlic toast, and is believed to aid in digestion (and repel vampires). There’s almost nothing we make that isn’t made better by the flavorful kick of garlic. And if you grow your own, you can fine-tune that kick to just the way you like it.

You see, there are far more varieties of garlic than what you find at your local grocery store. We’ve been fortunate that Greg’s Dad has experimented with many different varieties of garlic (providing us with wonderful samples), so we’ve been able to home in on one that we really enjoy – Georgian Crystal. It’s got some fire to it but not too much, and it breaks into really good-sized cloves.

This is a hardneck variety, so named because of a long stalk which it sends out in the spring. The alternative is softneck, which you’ve probably seen in the grocery store. There are pros and cons to each type, which are detailed nicely on this cool publication from Iowa State University Extension. For us, we know a hardneck will do well in Iowa and we love the flavor of Georgian Crystal, so we’ll use that for our first go-round. We bought ours online from, a Wisconsin garlic farm.

Starting garlic is pretty easy, since most of the first part of its life is over the winter. After you break each bulb into cloves, plant the cloves pointed end up about an inch deep in loose, well-draining soil. Typical recommendations are to space them about 3 to 5 inches apart from one another. Then you cover the entire garlic bed with an insulating material, like straw or shredded leaves. Cover them with four to six loose inches, and then you can pretty much leave them alone until spring! Here’s what our garlic box looked like just after planting.

This is our first time planting garlic, so hopefully it all goes according to plan and by this time next year we’ll be enjoying homegrown garlic from our own backyard. And if we’re able to keep those pesky vampires away, well that’s just a bonus.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Before We Go Too Far...

One of the biggest challenges since moving to our new house (aside from finagling our massive couch down three flights of stairs) was to make a point to take a few pictures before we dove right in to making changes. That's not to say that we didn't start a garden project on our first day, but we at least made sure to document our "before" pictures along the way.

We chose our home in part because it has an immense lot for being within the Des Moines city limits, but it's kind of strangely proportioned. At a full 300 ft long by 60 ft wide, we have a pretty high aspect ratio. That works, because of where the different features sit. Close to the house are several great big shade trees that, aside from a possible future trim, will stay mostly the same. There's no way traditional garden crops would grow in this area, so we'll have to work in some non-garden plans for this part of the yard.

Beyond the older trees is where most of the action will happen, at the back of the yard. We've already mentioned the two fruit trees (we've since learned that one is an apple and the other a pear). These trees have not been well taken care of, and have some serious signs of distress. It seems they may not be salvageable, and our neighbors have noted that they've not borne fruit in nearly ten years. It seems these two will have to be removed, but we plan to replace them with other fruit-bearing trees.

The primary gardening space is currently being occupied by a ragtag wooden playset surrounded by a carpet of wood chips and weeds. I don't think either of us or our two cats plan to play on this, plus there's a city park literally a block away, so it looks as if the playset is also going to go away. The goal is to slowly but surely replace the entire area with raised gardening beds, filled with different varieties of vegetables and fruits. We've had some success with raised beds in our limited gardening experience so far, so it seems like a good idea to stick with it. With just a few exceptions, these boxes will all be the same size so we can actually rotate crops!

Obviously it will take some time and a lot of labor before the visions in our heads and the reality out our back window actually mesh up, but hopefully we'll be able to look back at these pictures one day and hardly recognize the place. I think we'll be amazed by how far we'll have come.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hello and Welcome!

Does the world really need another blog?  Maybe not, but here we are anyway!  We are Greg and Stacia, a couple of urban farmers setting out on a mission to produce much of our food right in our own backyard.  We've recently purchased a home in the beautiful Midwestern city of Des Moines, Iowa.  The large backyard is a big expanse of shade trees and grass.  The lot is a little less than half an acre, and right now it doesn't produce an ounce of food.  There are two apple trees in the yard, but they've been so neglected that they can't really do much for fruit production.

We are beginning this blog in an effort to document our adventures in urban farming.  We've done a little bit of gardening, but much of this endeavor is likely to be a combination of internet research and good old fashioned trial and error.  We hope you enjoy reading about our crazy projects, our successes, and (hopefully few) failures.  Who knows, you may even be inspired to produce some food of your own!