Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
This week's harvest: Baby salad mix, Red Russian Kale, Flying Saucer baby squash, Calendula.
So I turned around and they grew. I mean literally. I came into the tomato garden one night to check on things and then again the next morning I went into the garden and they had grown. It felt like I turned my back for one split second and they grew an inch. In my head, hazy childhood memories of "A Little Shop of Horrors" were starting to get clearer. I started to hear "FEEEEEEEEED MEEEEEEEE Seymour!!! Good thing my name isn't Seymour. I just kept on weeding and ignoring the cry.
But seriously, I am thrilled amazed amused and enchanted by the growth of our amazing tomatoes. My grandfather would be proud. And if there is a realm where the wise spirits dwell and look down upon us mortals, I am sure that he's sporting an ear to ear grin. In my family my late grandfather was the tomato guru. He (an urban farmer himself in Pittsburgh, PA) was probably the most notable figure in my developing interest in food and gardening. His tomatoes were some of the best I have ever had. Now our Amyitis beauties are some of the best I have ever grown. It seems like maybe he is sending me good graces from the ether.
But beyond my grandfather's Midas touch for nightshades, I guess we do have to take some credit for their success too. Temperature and food make all of the difference with plants like tomatoes and squash. It should go without saying that a plants will perform best in with optimal support. Success in our case is being created by numerous insurances of those supports. The first step to success was in transplanting. These tomatoes were transplanted into raised beds filled with pure compost. Compost is like a a plant super food. For those unfamiliar with the hubbub around compost, compost is literally decomposing organic matter. Plants, food scraps, yard waste can be (when treated properly) turned into nutrient rich soil through a number of methods. While not everything can handle the nutrient blast of being planted in pure compost, tomatoes seem to love it. Decomposing material also produces heat. And because compost is still on its way to becoming soil it is producing a large amount of heat. In combination with a sheltered and sunny Mission District back yard and nutrient rich warm soil, we've repaired and added to an old irrigation system to insure that these plants are getting the perfect amount of water. All of these factors seem to be helping. Just look at the pictures below. Notice how the tomatoes in black pots are almost twice the size. The black plastic retains the suns heat better than the boxes. These plants were all planted in the same soil on the same day.
Eat your Kale
About a week ago I stumbled into The Corner to hold a meeting with Chef and Kitchen Manager Devon Newby. As we chatted about greens and food she had to take a call and went outside. My eyes scanned the restaurant and came to a table of patrons gleefully enjoying and Amyitis Salad. My eyes widened like Gollum around the ring. "THIS is why I do this!" I thought. Feeding people is the fuel in my tank. Even their toddler child was munching away on baby chard and arugula. I almost shed a tear. They were graceful enough after learning that we had grown their salad to let me take their photo.
Link of the week...... err Month.
When I moved to SF in 2006 I was hunting for people doing interesting gardening projects that I could get involved with. A friend of mine led me to the doorstep of a woman named Novella Carpenter in 2007. Novella was in the process of writing a book about her urban garden. However, "Urban garden" is an understatement. Novella is an urban homesteader. She had livestock, fruit trees and veggies all grown in an abandoned plot of land in West Oakland. For about a month and a half I visited her once a week to tinker in the garden and shoot the breeze. Now her book has hit the shelves and I am urging everyone to read it. Simply from the title "Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer" I know I am going to love it. Because urban farming really is about education. There are few if any road maps to how it should all work and I learn something new every time do anything. All of us urban farmers are drawing the maps as we go. With Novella's book hopefully she'll inspire some more map makers. It is at the top of my reading pile. I hope it makes it to the top of yours soon.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Has it really been a month since the last entry? My deepest apologies to our loyal readers and fans for the delay. Evidently, the pressing needs and demands of a growing garden trump the documentation of it. As the sun shines longer and hotter, the "to do" list grows along with the veggies and weeds. With so many developments and so much growth, I find myself now confounded with how to explain it all. Nevertheless I will do my best to recap the developments at Amyitis that continue to make this such a great and interesting season.
I am excited to announce the addition of a new member to the Amyitis team. Eben Bell, a permaculture landscape artist, has joined up with us to help see Amyitis along its path. Until now Amyitis has been taking baby steps to success. Creating a restaurant CSA while holding down another job has thus far dictated the pace of our expansion. Now with the addition of Eben we hope that Amyitis will enter toddler hood and begin running and jumping its way into new spaces. We are happy to have Eben. His background and help will undoubtedly give solid momentum to our growing project.
It goes without saying that San Francisco has interesting weather. But for the sake of this blog and its widespread readership (ha!) I will explain it anyway. While my friends back east are enjoying the heat of May, San Francisco is like a petulant child in the throes of indecision. She's hot one day and cold the next. She's 90 degrees in the sun and 65 in the shade on any given day. Above all, she goes to bed early pulling the icy sheets of fog over her everyday at 5pm. Each backyard garden too has its own wild ways. Two of our gardens lie on opposite sides of the same street no more than 100 yds. apart. On the same day I have experienced up to a 15 degree temperature difference between them. In some ways this is ideal. We've found that the warmer garden is well suited for tomatoes while the other is best for greens. I suspect that after this season we will be able to make expert choices as to crop and variety locations. Having a variety of spaces and micro-climates has allowed us to think about product diversity in a new way. Due to Eben's influence, I've begun letting certain prolific plants go to seed in hopes that we can save them. The idea being that, plants who've done well in a certain climate and location will produce seeds that will produce the same results in the next generation. Since this is all really one big experiment anyway, it doesn't hurt to try to produce "indigenous" seeds to help us out. Eben's ideas also make me excited for the rainy season here in the city. As it turns out, his interests in mushroom cultivation have carried him a bit further than myself. With his ideas and planning, Amyitis might become the gourmet fungi producer I'd once hoped.
In the restaurant.
As we continue to grow food, the Corner and Weird Fish continue to find ways to serve it up. We are grateful to the innovative staff there that are helping us streamline the way we serve them. While we eventually aim to serve a wide variety of restaurants in the city with our produce, we have had the great pleasure of having a direct relationship with the kitchens there who keep us informed about our product and how they can use it. It is clear that we will need many more spaces here in the city before we can serve anyone else. It has been a great education and a fortunate union to pair our fledgling project with a burgeoning restaurant. Go down to the Corner and Weird Fish and give them (and us) your feedback.
Its a girl?
We've got our first tomato! One hot day this past week Eben and I and a couple of hardworking volunteers got the tomatoes into the planter boxes we'd built for them so long ago. They are happy as.... well... tomatoes. When you've nurtured such a fickle plant from seed in an even more fickle environment, sign of the first fruit is worthy cause for a celebration. We hope this means that they are happy. And now our mouths and stomachs look eagerly to the future when the first taste of a Green Zebra tomato passes our lips.
For other San Francisco gardeners (or just gardeners in general) SF Grow is a great organization providing tons of resources to people like us and you. From compost giveaways to free weekly tips, they are a vital source of info on all things garden related. Be sure to give 'em a click. www.sfgro.org
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
As the season kicks in to high gear here at Amyitis there seems to be less to say and more to do. Well that is not totally true. In fact, I have so much to say I don't know where to begin. Do I begin with the huge debt of gratitude I owe to all of my volunteers and clients? Do I begin with the extreme quality of the baby greens we've been harvesting from the gardens? Or, do I begin by talking about the challenges of growing for a new restaurant? While all of the above are topics worthy of further missives, I will stifle my will to blather on and simply say that Amyitis is moving rapidly forward. And, if the results we've seen so far are any indication of what is to come, we are in for an exciting summer full of challenges and triumphs.
The recent SF heat wave has shot things into full summer at the gardens. The heat is such a stark contrast to the cold snap that came just before it, I often wonder how plants manage to hold on. Well, I guess that some do and some don't. The cold nights we recently had paired with the wind in the evenings has wreaked havoc on our squash and basil. Most all of the squash and basil transplants either stunted or died. Hopefully, after some more in-depth investigation we can actually grow a decent squash plant this summer. They've always grown like weeds before. I am unsure of what we are doing wrong there.
In other news, the tomatoes we started in the basement are outside hardening off... and just in time for the heat wave. That was lucky timing. They are a bit leggy but I think that they will adjust to full sun quite well. We've transplanted them into 4" pots to give them a bigger root ball and a thicker stem before we let them go off on their own.
We couldn't be happier about the quality of the arugula, mizuna and lettuce that are coming out of the gardens now. I can shamelessly say that they are without a doubt some of the best greens I have had the pleasure of eating. It is these times here at the gardens that I would like to take a moment to enjoy. There is no prouder moment than harvesting something delicious that you've nurtured and cared for. In the contrast of a relatively harsh urban environment, to eat such a fine salad is almost enough to make the tears flow. Well, at least salavatory tears.
Lastly, while harvesting the lovely greens I speak of last week for a delivery to Weird Fish and the Corner, I stumbled upon a large and lovely toad enjoying the refuge of a canopy of mizuna. I nearly stepped on him as I made my way through the rows. And while fully aware of my towering presence next to his, he sat seemingly indifferent eating flies. I have no idea how he got there. In fact I am not sure I care. It's undoubtedly a good omen.
Lovely D'avignon Radishes
A Friday Harvest
Fat Omen Toad
Friday, April 10, 2009
Link of the week
I just wanted to post the interview I recently had with Adam at SF menu pages. I am grateful for the press. Certainly, spreading the word about what we do is the hardest part. A little help never hurts. Thanks Adam.
Be sure to come down to The Corner this weekend for some fresh mission-grown green garlic, salad mix and Russian Kale!!
Click this link to read the interveiw.
Monday, April 6, 2009
There really is no stopping a moving train. At this point we've gained enough critical momentum that there is no stopping or turning back. Not that we'd ever had plans to stop. Simply put; the reality of the encroaching growing season and, its unique backyard slant for us, is setting in quickly and deeply. We predicted we'd be busy, but as we've learned recently with our economy, predictions are one thing, reality is another.
"a little help"
"Green garlic for The Corner"
During the past two weeks, both Jessie and myself have moved homes and started building a new garden space in the Mission. We've developed strategic tag-team watering plans for all of the spaces (plants don't give us a day off!!) And we've begun to take the first of our weekly shipments to The Corner (18th and Mission www.thecornersf.com). We are jumping with glee each time that we do. Moments like that are when what we do most feels like a selfish act rather than an environmental or communal one. Mainly because it is. When what you happen to enjoy is also something that is good for communities and the environment, there is no reason not to be as selfish as possible. The pure satisfaction I get from bringing our own city-grown organic produce to a restaurant 4 blocks away is narcotic. All idealism aside, I like this.... a lot.
Of course I knew that I liked it when I was farming in VT, but this is something different. I am continually awestruck by how little I know each time I learn something new. Each piece of food we pull from a backyard feels like a triumph, a victory. It feels like we are regaining control of our spaces and inspiring others to do the same. And not simply because it is trendy or altruistic, but because it feels good. It feels right.
Here are some pictures of what we've been up to:
"talkin' it over"
"a little help"
"Green garlic for The Corner"
Saturday, March 14, 2009
We're gaining more sunlight everyday and with each new sunny moment we're seeing great changes in our backyard farms. These changes mean more work to make sure we can pull off great harvests for The Corner and Weird Fish, the restaurants we grow for. More work means that we are in ever greater need for more hands. Our volunteers have responded to those needs in numbers.
This week Joel, Sierra, Tina, and Adrienne showed their lust for learning about food by getting dirty. They donated a Friday to getting some plants and seeds in the ground at both of our current garden locations. Blessed by a warm sunny day in the Mission we were able to get some of our seedlings in the ground. Throughout the day we planted head lettuce and scallions that we'd started from seed on our grow table. After that
we got crazy with some direct seeding of arugula, tat-soi, kale, and mizuna. While seeding doesn't take all that long in a small backyard garden I had a great time showing people the ropes. Beyond that, I was really grateful for all the help and good company. Before long I reckon we'll have some real black belt volunteers. Thanks guys.
Can we get a light?
While the sun sticks around a little longer now, we've been having some light issues on our light table in our grow room. Our squash starts just have not seemed happy. When a plant thinks winter is coming (i.e. when light decreases) it reacts by producing as much offspring (veggies in this case) as it can before the light is no longer enough to sustain the plant. In controlled environments, one strictly controls the amount of light a plant receives in order to give the plant time to mature before it decides to produce fruit and ultimately die. By systematically reducing the daily light cycle, we encourage the plant to "flower" and then "fruit".
In our case, our squash was flowering prematurely. Which meant it thought death was immanent. We had set our lights on a 12 hour time cycle to ensure that the plants had ample light to photosynthesize and grow large before we planted them outside. But for some reason it wasn't working. Scratching our heads, we just couldn't make sense of why our squash thought the end was nigh. That is... until now.
I donned a dunce cap the moment I realized, while laying in bed at 3am, that the master switch to the power was being turned off every night at 8:30 by our cleaning service at the restaurant. This master switch includes our timer. So regardless of what our timer decided to do, it was lights out every night at 8:30... no questions. Some days our squash was getting a full day of "sun" and others it was getting maybe only 3-5 hours. Now, with problem solved, we need to seed a new bunch of squash. And now the death-row squash will be granted a pardon and set outside to start hardening off. With any luck they'll brought back to health.
I believe that Homer Simpson said it best when he said "Dooooough"!! He knows as well as I do, its hard to sleep with a dunce cap on.
Link of the week
This week I've decided to try something a bit out of the ordinary for us and suggest a link that is off the beaten path. "Fringe" Author Daniel Pinchbeck (2012: the return of Quetzalcoatl) writes mainly about altered consciousness and the point break of our political, social and environmental culture-wave but has also been known to wax poetic when it comes to sustainability. While I will leave the research on his credentials up to the masses, I will advocate his very interesting blog www.realitysandwich.com. In addition to his provoking ravings and rants about consciousness expansion, he has interesting views about the state of the environment and what we can do about it. While he's no Michael Pollan, his views about personal responsibility and urban farming are worth more than a mention. Explore his blog and decide for yourself.