(While I'm away for a week in the woods, I'll be missing my garden! But I'm delighted to share with you this week some more peeks inside some of your gardens.)
Today we visit Rachel's garden in San Diego, where her background in farming translates to an urban neighborhood garden. Her garden reminds me that each garden truly is the creative expression of the gardener. Just like a quilt, no two are ever alike. What a treat to admire them all!
Welcome to Rachel's garden!
. . .
Garden Location and Zone: San Diego, California, 10b
Garden Size: 30 by 60 feet + 4 raised beds
How long have you been gardening?
Growing food has made our life such an adventure! This is my 8th year gardening. I started container gardening in 2009 just out of college, then graduated to growing in raised beds when we moved to San Diego. In 2011 my partner and I fed 7 or so families a week from an overgrown abandoned lot in the city. Then in 2012, growing food led us to a 45-acre ranch where we worked as caretakers and raised pigs, goats, turkeys, ducks, and chickens. We have since moved back to the city where we’ve lived and gardened at this home for a record 4 years. When we moved here, the backyard was entirely decomposed granite and by adding tons of organic matter we’ve transformed the lifeless soil to a garden oasis. I prefer to grow straight in the ground versus in raised beds, but we have a few of those too!
Why do you garden?
I loved to garden before I became a mother, but since beginning to spend most of my days at home with my two sons, gardening has taken on a greater meaning for me. It is my primary creative outlet (one I can practice with my children), and each year I enjoy crafting not only a productive garden that has fed my family, but a beautiful one as well. It is wild to think about how much love and time is poured into each aspect of gardening: from the planning stage, to the planting of the seeds, to the nurturing of small plants, and finally the harvesting and food processing. I am a better, more patient person because of all of the time and energy that I have poured into our land and growing food for my family and friends.
Urban! We live in the urban core of San Diego, with downtown San Diego just a couple of miles down the road. Ours is a fairly poor community where the houses are jam packed on top of one another and yard space is very limited. People pass by our garden all the time on foot, and it is a joy to hear people share how our garden reminds them of their childhood.
Where do you go for gardening inspiration?
Instagram is a big source of inspiration for me! Pictures often spark ideas- this year it was growing runner beans and a wall of sunflowers. I’ve especially been inspired to grow our cut-flower garden and had great success with cosmos, calendula, snapdragons, chamomile, zinnias, and celosia intermixed with vegetables.
What are your favorite gardening books or resources?
For a no-work gardening philosophy I will forever be shaped by the book One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. I discovered the Encyclopedia Botanica podcasts this year and enjoy listening to them while I’m in the garden or doing housework.
What’s your biggest gardening challenge?
In Southern California (pretty much as far as you can get from Maine!) it doesn’t rain! I start all of my seeds in a flimsy greenhouse as early as January to take advantage of our brief “rainy season.” A heavy layer of mulch also helps with water conservation and we use drip irrigation to water in the morning. Another challenge in the city of San Diego is limited space. Because we feed our soil so heavily, we are able to grow our plants very close together. This year I am growing runner beans, cucumbers, morning glory, and ornamental gourds vertically on arbors made of t-stakes and rabbit fencing. They saved me a ton of space, provided shade for greens, and added an element of visual interest. We grow food wherever there is space to the extent that we have planted blackberries, raspberries, and boysenberries in our public alley. There were even enough berries for some alley-jam this year!
What do you most love to grow?
Heirloom beefsteak tomatoes! They take up a third of our precious space, which is what it takes to keep our family of four in tomatoes all year. Black Krim (from Seed Savers Exchange) is my favorite variety to grow for their beauty and taste. Each year I try a new variety, but I like to revisit my old favorites, just like old friends.
If you have children, what role do they play in your gardening?
My 3 year-old and 16 month-old boys are involved (or creatively entertained) every step of the way. They help care for our ducks and chickens and raised our baby chicks this year. On a day when I am feeling *extra patient they help me start flats of seeds. I often give them packets of old seeds to “plant”, and the last 2 years we’ve given my son a raised bed all of his own. I’ve found that I can actually get a lot of weeding done as I wander around the garden with them, following their lead and pace. They still surprise us by what raw vegetables they’re willing to eat when harvested by their own hands, straight out of the garden. It has also helped to have child-sized garden tools around like trowels, gloves, and watering cans. Our family life revolves a lot around the garden, very different than how I was raised, and I’m excited to see how this shapes them as humans.
Feed your soil! We amend our soil in the winter months heavily with manure from our ducks and chickens, vermicompost from our worms, ash from our woodstove, and locally sourced compost. If you take the time and effort to prepare your soil, you will have a productive garden, guaranteed. We joke about growing soil, not vegetables. Also mulch mulch mulch (I sound like Ruth Stout!)! We keep a no-till garden and with the help of a heavy layer of wood chip mulch we have healthy plants, water less, and do practically no weeding (serious!). Finally, grow what you love to eat and what can be preserved well. I’ve discovered that I don’t need to grow 200 turnips each year, for example. I’ve started making a list of the most essential vegetables to grow, and I limit the rest. All of our excess goes to friends and sometimes the chickens, but I’ve felt much less overwhelmed by the mountains of food this way.
Can you tell us about yourself?
I am a Mama to two small boys, clergy wife, and work part-time as an ER Nurse. I enjoy all things homemaking and share things that inspire me on my instagram @psalterfarm
Thank you, Rachel, for sharing your garden with us!
(If you'd like to share your farm or garden with us this season, send me an email for more details. We'd love to visit!)