Friday, August 29, 2008

Things are really looking up here at Amyitis. We've been having a hot spell in the city and the plants are cruising right along. I'm looking forward to the first harvest in the coming week or so and hoping that I can pull enough from this little patch to be able to bring a substantial amount to the restaurant next week. I'm wondering if I should have just planted the whole space at once- I'll just have to wait and see as this experiment goes on.
I've been juggling jobs and whatnot as Dave is now navigating the islands of B.C. on his bicycle- with grasses and weeds starting to sprout in this reconditioned soil (they weren't there when we started. Their ability to lie dormant until the conditions are right just amazes me) I've been quite busy. But it felt great, as I stood in the garden today, to look around and see things coming along. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

what's the big deal??

I thought it was about time to mention some of our motivation for constructing and cultivating a garden like Amyitis.  I hope that as people become interested in the project that they simultaneously become familiar with our intentions, our inspiration, and what has educated us.  With any luck, our work here may become an inspiration to others wanting to make a conscious change in their community and our environment.  
It has become clear to me that the earth that we live on will continue to develop and change as an organism regardless of how we treat it.  However, if we are to sustain animal and plant life for ourselves, change needs to happen continually anywhere it can take hold.  In other words, the earth would be just fine without us, but we would not be fine without it.  While, as a culture, we often look for set-it-and-forget-it solutions, it has become clear that fostering these imperative environmental and social changes requires constant experimentation, communication, and creativity.  In the simplest of terms, there are no blanket solutions to global issues.  We must treat diverse issues with diverse solutions, drawing upon local resources to create local responses.  Organic farms that still use techniques like mono cropping  are no more sustainable simply because they hold the title "organic".  The greatest change can happen in the smallest of ways, little by little, locally.  Our hope with Amyitis is to participate in this local change.  
Will something like Amyitis really help?  Are restaurants really able to be environmentally sustainable enterprises?  We can only hope so.  There is always the chance that we may find out that a deeper reorganizing of the way that we live is necessary for us to thrive.  For now, we hope that Amyitis and other farms, gardens, co-ops, community centers, and restaurants begin these changes one step at a time, creating a wave of change over time.  If we are able to inspire others with our work, real change has a chance.  
  What are the benefits of small, local farms and gardens? There are almost too many to mention. While there is a rapidly growing catalog of reference material describing the benefits of actions like Amyitis, there are also a few simple reasons.  
  1. We are becoming a community resource.  By having Amyitis attached to a local restaurant we are becoming a source of information for the community.  
  2. We have control over what we produce and what goes into it.  We don't use petrochemicals or chemical fertilizers.
  3. We are beginning to invite volunteers to help us, making Amyitis an educational tool.   
  4. We have created new green space.
  5. We have taken a small step towards sustaining ourselves.
We would like to encourage all of our readers to do their homework.  There are so many books and magazines dedicated to educating all of us around how to best change our world for the better.  Here are a couple places to start:

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan. The Penguin Press.
"Mycelium Running" by Paul Stamets. Ten Speed Press
"The Fatal Harvest Reader" Edited by Andrew Kimbrell. Island Press.
"Toolbox for Sustainable City Living" Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew. South End Press.
"The New Organic Grower" Eliot Coleman. Chelsea Green Publishing.

We also encourage your comments as readers of this blog.  We want to hear about things that have worked for you or your community.  We are in the process of learning how to create the best solutions with the environment we have.  Use this blog as a forum for sharing information about creating this change!!

Jessie will be doing most of the new posts for the next month as I am off touring the west coast on my bicycle.  You can follow that blog at and watch us as we ride through some of the U.S.'s most majestic terrain.  



Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Well, the first few weeks of gardening here have been somewhat challenging- a learning experience, I suppose.  I am accustomed to planting into soil that has been worked by other hands before mine. Soil with organic matter and nutrients and the possibility of getting a shovel into it. At least a digging fork. Well, it took a little more work than that. But after hours of pick axes, a rented roto-tiller, and many, many pounds of organic compost and soil amendments, David and I thought that we had everything in shape. 
So, in the beds that David laid out we planted our first seeds. We are growing mostly salad greens, as they produce a fairly large quantity in a short span of time, and from them we could get the most from this piece of land. In went a variety of lettuce seeds, and lots of mustards to make the salad mix more interesting; mustards like red russian kale, arugula, tatsoi, and mizuna. Taking turns watering every day, we quickly got discouraged. Almost nothing came up! I have been farming and gardening for years and that has never happened to me. At first we couldn't figure out what we had done and entertained all sorts of ideas of what had gone wrong- bad seeds, damaged in shipping, too sunny, not sunny enough? But slowly David and I started to put the pieces of this puzzle together.  
We remembered that when we started this garden a few weeks before, there hadn't really been any signs of life at all. No weeds, even- just blackberries and a few tufts of Bermuda grass.  That was a flag to me at the beginning, though I hadn't thought of it too much after we began working the soil. And then one day, after watering for nearly an hour, I stuck my hand into the dirt and realized that the soil just half an inch below the surface was still bone dry. It was a strange experience. The water wasn't running off into the walkway that runs alongside the beds- so it was certainly going somewhere.  Later that evening, we deduced that given the compaction of the soil, any rain that had fallen on it in the past year (few years?) had simply run off its solid surface. As this is California in August, the last rain to have landed here was well over 6 months ago! In the end, it was a very simple matter of buying an overhead sprinkler and watering it for a couple of hours a day for a few consecutive days. I was slightly frustrated that such a simple conclusion took a few days to come to- but thats why I say that this is an experiment with a great learning curve. Never before have I started with land that no one had really been actively working. I'm learning a lot.
Anyway, what an amazing change the consistent overhead watering has made. Seeds that we had long given up on have sprouted, the soil feels healthier, is retaining moisture and looks dark and rich. Things are sprouting up everywhere and I'm trying to keep up with planting new things and thinking about a garden plan for the next month and a half when David is away on a long journey on his bicycle.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


After working out the plans for the garden and ordering the seed, the search was on for how to make the garden fit the design we had made, and on the cheap.  Thanks to Internet posts and classified ad. sites like craigslist, finding used, salvaged, cheap or free items is easier than it has ever been.  For a small scale development project like this, a site like craigslist can provide almost anything you need to fit your budget provided you have the time to go around and get it.  So far we've been able to balance our time and the resources provided to us to search around the web for deals.  I found a yard sale post for some pre-owned flagstone about an hour south in San Jose.  I was lucky enough to able to borrow Pete's van to go down and grab it with Omar, a coworker of mine at Boogaloos.  The downside to searching high and low for bargains is that one may end up wasting a great deal of time searching for the perfect fit at the loss of productive work hours at the site.  When first arriving at the "yard sale" I was skeptical that we'd driven all the way down there for                                                                           nothing.  The seller was unable to provide a great description over the phone.  I really didn't know what to expect.  I suppose I half expected a pile of stone ready for hauling, but when we arrived it was something slightly different.  The stones were still embedded in the ground around her yard forming a rough pathway to her porch.  But, they were "for sale", so away we dug.  Scraping away clumps of mud slugs and ants from the undersides of the flagstone added an interesting twist to the purchase.  With the help of the seller's neighbor (she wasn't even there- we only talked by phone) we piled the stones in the van and named our price.  $70 for the load (about a half pallet in all) seemed like a good enough deal.  They were thick stones that looked as though they would clean up well. There looked as though there were enough small ones to fill out the plans I had drawn.  Stone yards and landscaping centers charge ¢.15 to ¢.50 per pound for flagstone.  Our plundering saved us a good deal of cash.  Not to mention that they were nicely worn unique pieces of stone. Once laid out and cleaned, the stones looked great and were perfect for the design we'd thought up.  For $70 or $80 dollars and a 4 hours, we now had a finished pathway  and mini-patio that made for easy access beds and a garden worth looking at.    Beds made, its is time for some planting.