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as Fall begins…

Seasons are changing and I’m welcoming fall, at this point the tomotoes are doing really well and still bearing plenty of sweet fruit. The cucumbers are growing steady and beautiful….the trellis that I built for them didn’t work very well, so now they are just growing on a straight line of twine and that’s working well. On the other hand, the squash that we planted back in May has yet to show fruit….maybe it’s not time. Still learning…

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our garden...cucumber trellis on the north side of the fence

We planted our cucumbers about 3 weeks ago, and just about a week ago, I started seeing fruit! Everyday the vines grow a little longer, and this reminded me that the cucumbers would need something to grow on. So I did some research on cucumbers and buliding a trellis, next thing I know, I was building my own trellis. Made from an old branch and a couple on strands of twine. I have no idea if this will work, but i feel good about it….

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Sugar Snap Peas and Pitbulls

Flower of my straight-neck squash plant

It is so fun to go into the backyard and visit my garden now because everything is either flowering, or the “baby vegetables” are visible.  My sugar snap peas are growing like weeds, and I was able to pick a handful and snack on them last week.  My squash plants have beautiful yellow flowers, but no vegetable is visible yet, and my cucumbers are growing large as well.

Usually I like to go out into the garden to relax while I weed, prune, and water my plants.  However my neighbors recently acquired an almost-adult pitbull.  These people have to be the worst dog owners on the planet because they carelessly and constantly leave their gate open daily, which allows the dog to freely roam the neighborhood.  A couple of days ago my Dad was standing in the front of the house, and he said that the pitbull came from OUR backyard and surprised him.  My Dad went to check the garden and found that the dog had dug up some tomato plants.  We think that the dog was after the mole that lives in our garden (Remember my previous rant about the mole?  This is NOT the solution I wanted!  Be careful what you wish for people!)

Lately my garden time has been rushed because I fear that I’ll be caught alone with the pitbull in my backyard.  Those buggers are sneaky – you never seem to hear them creep up on you.

*Sigh*  I guess I’ll just carry my big shovel with me.  Pray for me, y’all!

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Soooooo, the sun has finally decided to come outside and play and the strawberries have followed!  I never knew that strawberry fruit literally grew out of the flower of the strawberry plant.  The strawberries from my garden are small, deep red, and delicious.  My other plants are coming along well, also.

I haven’t seen any evidence of the mole that lives in my garden, and hopes that s/he has moved on.  So far, my little garden has been easy to maintain.  I water my plants when I get off work in the morning (around 6 am/6:30ish), and pull any weeds that are trying to grow near them.  I also clip any yellow leaves (a tip from my garden coach, ScottWink).

I’m a little worried that raccoons will eat my veggies when they start to mature, as we some very active raccoons in my neighborhood.  When I was a child, I used to leave cucumbers, carrots, and potato salad in my backyard for them, and I’d eventually witness them eating what I left.  I wonder if there is any sure-fire way to keep pests away (moles included).  Hmmmm….

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Anyone who lives in Seattle knows that we haven’t had the best weather this month.  I heard a meteorologist on the news refer to this month as “Juneuary” and I feel that the tag is well deserved – especially since the cold snap that we had a couple of weeks ago seems to have killed many of my seeds!  Add to that the fact that there is a mole who lives in my garden, & apparently s/he loves to burrow under my sugar snap peas (which are doing fine, I might add).  Oh, if I only had a BB Gun (just kidding, PETA… I think)!

Scott (garden coach) didn’t seem phased by our setbacks.  He said that we could re-plant some of the seeds with the aid of compost.  When I told him that I would go to Lowe’s to pick up the compost, he mentioned that I should check out Lowe’s starts.  Wait, Lowe’s has starts?  I ended up purchasing cucumber and bell pepper starts, and Scott brought me some tomato and straight-neck squash starts.  We re-planted my green bean seeds along with all the starts, and are hoping for the best.  *sigh*

Seattle’s weather is so unpredictable that starts might be a great option.  We’ll see how this goes…

Side note:  When I visited my garden today, I noticed that there was a foam on the underside of one of the sugar snap pea leaves.  When I wiped the foam away, I noticed that there was a tiny bright green critter in all the foam.  The critter was cute and everything, but something is taking bites out my sugar snap pea leaves.  Does anyone know what lays their eggs in foam?  I know that bugs typically lay their eggs on the underside of leaves, but the critter was so small that I couldn’t tell what it was.

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More Seeds and maintenance


Last Monday (May 24th) Scott and I planted more seeds:  green beans, sweet  basil, and zucchini squash.  I am going to start my herb garden in the house, and am planning on using egg crates to plant the seeds.  Once the seeds start to sprout, I’ll put them in the ground :) .  Scott and I also dug up one of each of the previous seeds we planted, to ensure that they had sprouted.  Once we were satisfied that they had, we carefully covered them back up.

There is a huge rock pile in my backyard and I decided to use them to make home-made markers for my garden.  I took a black sharpie and labeled the rocks with what I had planted in the area.  Then I placed each labeled rock in a shallow well in the general area of the crop.

Scott and I also figured out how to “propagate” (google it!) collard green seeds.  My father had some collard green plants that returned (don’t remember the proper term for this) from last year, so I plucked a few of the seeds off.  The seeds didn’t look like seeds at all -  they actually resembled the stalk of a small flower.  In order to propagate them you must first dry the seeds out, so they are currently drying in my room.  I look forward to planting them!

We’ve had some cold and rainy weather this May, so my tomatoes and peppers will have to wait until the sun decides to be more consistant.

Gardening is a lot easier than I thought.  That is to say: it’s a lot easier than forking over money at the grocery store to buy some produce from who-knows-where, and was picked before it was ripe Wink

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Reconnecting with mother nature – a family affair, pt 2


Let the planting begin!  Kristel, our garden coach, paid us another visit; this time, armed with shovels and rakes and such.  She meant business today.  It was a sunny saturday in early June.  The kids and I had just come from participating in the Kidney Festival, a health fair which focuses on issues affecting people of color.  Anyway, I digress.

First order of business, prepare the soil.  We dug, poked, proded, and dug some more.  We saw spiders, and worms, and grubs (oh no!).  Kristel said the worms were some of the largest she’s seen – they were pretty big.  Playing in the dirt was second-nature for the younger children but Johnae, my oldest, wasn’t having it!  She flinched and jumped at every creepy crawly (what a drama queen).  We tossed the grass clumps to the corner of the yard for use later in a compost bin.  We also separated out dandelion roots for the tea I make.  We mixed the free, nutrient rich dirt with our yard dirt (which Kristel commented was pretty healthy looking on its own) and added some composted steer manure.  This process took a couple of hours.  So when it was time for Kristel to depart for another committment, we hadn’t planted any seeds.

Kristel explained where to plant what and how.  For instance, she suggested that the greens be planted behind the tomato plants cause they didn’t need full sun.  She also said that the cucumbers should be planted at the top of volcano-like mounds so that water will travel deeply.  We strategized on locations and methodology.  Then it was up to me and the family to execute.  We drank water, said our thank yous and goodbyes to Kristel.  Then it was time for a break!  We went in the house and had tuna salad sandwiches and more water.  But when it was time to head back outside, I found myself… by myself!  The kids had abandonded the effort for now.  I didn’t blame them, I wanted the break to last for the rest of the day and into the evening – but I pressed on.  I finished the first bed; planting cucumbers, mustard greens, tomatoes, cabbage, and romaine lettuce – all before the sun went down.  I still had one more bed to start and complete.  Sunday would be another long day.

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Reconnecting with mother nature – a family affair


It all began with some free soil and cedar planks, enough to make two raised beds (good lookin’ Syreeta and Kristi).  I had already made my video with Inye and was very excited about the prospect of growing my own food.  Then the kids and I met with our garden coach, Kristel, who gave me pointers on soil preparation and foods that grow best in Seattle.  We made a list of seeds and planned to plant shortly thereafter.  I was geeked!  With our large yard, I thought I could do four beds easy.  Kristel and I chose the best locations based on full sun availability.  It was my job to prepare the beds (which I would soon find out is more than a notion) before Kristel’s next visit.

It took me four hours to hammer and nail together two 4′ x 8′ garden beds.  Cedar wood is extremely strong, making my manual efforts difficult.  Two sore shoulders and numerous bent nails later, the beds were put together.  My daughter assisted towards the end.  Although proud of my accomplishments, I vowed to never do this again without the aid of a nail gun.  It was also at this time that I decided to start small – two beds would be enough for now.  Even with just the beds sitting on the ground, the garden was starting to take shape.

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the lastest scoop in the Bernal garden….

It has been a while; first we have begun harvesting some of your food…..yay!!!!!. Beautiful, healthy, nutritious, living food, including raspberries, tomatoes, cilantro, and beets… I’m still in complete shock about how much our earth has blessed us with such bounty, we are truly grateful. This is experience is humbling….

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Continuing Lead saga

If you’ve been following the story you know that the garden and yard at Inye, Kristi, Yirim and Kinneta’s garden is contaminated with lead. We’ve been trying to figure out what to do about it and this post is my attempt to bring things up to date.

In the short term, we’ve built and planted one raised bed with imported, clean soil. More beds are on the way. The raised bed is on top of existing, contaminated soil, so we put a layer of gravel on the bottom, so no one will accidentally dig down and mix the two layers. lead is not very mobile in soils, so the bed should be good for many years.

In the long run we would like to clean the lead out of the yard, but there doesn’t seem to be a good way of doing that, short of digging up the entire yard and hauling it away to a toxic waste dump — way too expensive!!!!!

We looked into growing plants to extract the lead and found that this only works if you add something like EDTA to the soil to make the lead available to the plants. If you do that, the plants suck up lots of lead and you can haul the plants away. After a few years you may have lowered the lead levels enough to be safe.

Only one problem — adding the EDTA makes the lead very mobile, and it leaches into the groundwater!!! For this reason, adding EDTA to soil is banned in all 50 states.

So as of now, we know of no good method to remove the lead from the soil. Question is, then, what are the dangers and how do we deal with them.

IMHO the biggest danger is not that the vegetables will have lead in them — if they did, we could grow vegetables to extract the lead!! Studies have shown that if the vegetables are washed in mild detergent to remove ALL the soil, then the vegetables are safe to eat.

The danger comes from contact with the soil, either by eating it or by breathing the dust. And this is where it gets interesting.

Lead absorption thru the lungs is much more efficient than through the digestive tract. In other words, you absorb more lead if you breath it than if you eat it.

Adults absorb about 30% of the lead we eat. Children absorb more like 50% of what they eat.

I haven’t been able to find exact figures, but lung absorption is closer to 100%.

So here’s the bottom line if you have lead contaminated soil –

1) prevent dust. keep the soil covered with ground cover plants or mulch. Don’t pile dirt where it will dry out and blow around. Don’t track dirt into the house where it will become dust.

2) At least for the concentrations we are seeing in our garden, if your vegie ripens above ground (i.e. not a root vegetable) AND YOU WASH IT WITH MILD DETERGENT, it appears to be safe to eat.

3. If you have small children, get them tested for lead. Its a simple blood test and it will tell you if they have been ingesting or breathing lead. Note that the effects of lead on growing children are very serious and can lead to permanent brain damage. GET YOUR CHILDREN TESTED IF YOU HAVE HIGH LEAD LEVELS IN YOUR YARD.

4) Everybody — get your soil tested. For only $9 you get a test from UMass and you will know if you have lead in your soil (among many other important things).

This next week we are meeting with the Garden Hot Line staff to share information and talk about lead in soils and what to do about it. I will post more then — probably some corrections, so stay tuned.

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