I feel the need to begin this blog by recognizing how lucky I am to have a home of my own, where I can grow a substantial garden of fruits and vegetables, and perhaps eventually keep a few livestock for eggs and milk. If I ever lose sight of how fortunate I am in this, I have only to look out my west windows at the parking lot of a church that abuts my property, where others less fortunate take up residence on a temporary or regular basis, living out of their vehicles. It wasn’t easy for myself and my husband to arrive at owning our own home, and we only achieved it with help, in spite of decades of work. If I ever lose the opportunity to have my own kitchen garden, or indeed, even a kitchen, I will at least have the memory of having once been so lucky.
I hope to make the most of the large yard that surrounds the 1910 farmhouse that we now own near the center of Portland. While “urban farm” may be too grandiose a term for what we might achieve here, we can certainly have a large vegetable garden and even a decent-sized orchard. I’ll do my best to grow the most amount of food possible, to waste the least possible, and to share as much as I can.
(A winter row of Harlequin Mix Rainbow Carrots from Renee’s Garden seeds, doing nicely in a pre-existing bed.)
I’m also fortunate in that I’m not starting this venture from zero. I learned to garden as a child from my mother, who mostly grew food for us, while I always wanted to plant flowers. Once an adult away from home myself, though, the desire to have my own vegetable garden was a constant. I tried to grow food in the most impossible places — on window sills of an apartment in a high rise, in shadowy waste spaces squeezed between buildings, out of boxes and even a trunk on north facing doorsteps. (My trunk garden actually did pretty well.) Eventually, I was able to be more choosy about the places I rented, and space for a garden became a prerequisite.
I haven’t been alone in my striving for a kitchen garden, either. I learned that growing vegetables in my yard also grew connections between myself and my neighbors. It started conversations, and even inspired others to try their hands at growing food, though they had never done so before in their lives. I had moved to Portland, in part, because I loved how many gardens there were, even in the center of town. Most, back then, were ornamental. As I was building my vegetable gardens, however, more and more food spaces like them were also springing up all over town. “Urban farming” was becoming a thing, both here and in other parts of the country. Trying to garden on rented property always came with restrictions, though, and I longed to be able to build something more permanent, such as an orchard, as well as a vegetable patch.
I still almost can’t believe that I now have that chance –and what’s more, I already have a head start on that dream orchard. A well-established and healthy cherry tree, apple tree, and black walnut tree exist on the property and have been fruiting in abundance. I’ve also been able to quickly establish more foundations of the garden: planting native species as an understory and ground cover beneath the walnut tree; putting in some companion plants for the fruit trees and ordering plum and pear saplings to plant with them this winter; adding plants to the existing strawberry bed; planting a hedge of native roses and native honeysuckles along northwest fences to provide privacy, windbreaks, and some shade, and to attract wildlife and help retain moisture. I’ve got a couple of blueberry bushes in the ground, posts waiting to be sunk for a grape trellis, existing raspberry canes and a stand of thimbleberry, a male and female hardy kiwi, plus some other natives to provide more shade and create more wildlife habitat. And I just finished building 8 raised bed frames for veggies.
(A new raised bed frame constructed of reused materials from pre-existing ones, in front of new frames built of juniper from Sustainable Northwest Wood.)
Hopefully, the timing will work out neatly, so that I’ll have all those frames full of nice, rich compost, ready to plant by the new year, when I can put the first radish seeds in the ground. This blog will be my garden diary, in the hope that it might inspire or help others to grow their own kitchen gardens — if not today, then perhaps some day in the future.