I’m Diggin’ Friday: Gardening Bums

Who doesn’t dig Fridays? I do – and I dig digging!  I’m passionate about playing in the dirt, planting veggies and fruit and gorging myself on the harvest. So this Friday I’m launching I’m Diggin’ Fridays, a brand-new feature here on Danielle’s Barefoot Blog. Once a week I’ll write about what’s going on in my garden and I hope you’ll share what’s coming up in yours!

A bit of background: I live in a semi-urban area, walking distance to shopping, the metro and a community college, among other things.  Not Manhattan but not suburbia either.  All of my gardening takes place in the spaces I’ve carved out of the flower beds and the lawn. It’s not much, but I grow a huge amount of food there. And you can too!

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But first, a little drama…

Garden bums

A couple of weeks ago I received a nasty letter in my mailbox.  It was anonymous, of course as nasty letters always are, with no return address. Written on a torn-off piece of paper in a spidery scrawl, here’s what it said (I’ve used boldface for the words that were underlined):

To the bums at (my address)–

Can’t you see All your neighbors take pride in their homes — Yours [triple-underline] is an eyesore with your tumble-down side porch — you dont even cut Your grass. Why did you buy a house? Our next move will be to call the county zoning. you are the only Bums [triple again] in our neighborhood.

If you’re wondering what the hell? you’re in good company. If you’re thinking that my place must look like an abandoned-lot-druggie-flophouse, you’d been in for a big surprise.

Odd grammar and emphasis aside – oh, and the reference to us as “bums” I mean who uses that kind of language? – this note is freaking ridiculous. And I’m happy to say a minority viewpoint. Neighbors wander by all the time to ask what this flower is or that plant tastes like. Everyone who actually speaks to me face-to-face (rather than anonymously through nasty notes), says how much they like our yard.

I’ve been given so many compliments, I should be in Better Homes and Gardens!

There are few people in my area who take more pride in their garden.  In fact, I’m willing to bet my whole potato harvest (and I planted for than 30 seed potatoes, so it will be substantial) AND my garlic harvest (100+ cloves) that I spend more time I my garden than almost anyone in the neighborhood. (The editor of Washington Gardener magazine lives down the street, so there’s some serious competition here :-)).

We spend so much time planting, growing and harvesting food crops that my six-year old refuses to be called a gardener – he’s a farmer.

What’s growing on?

Let’s see what us bums have been up in the yard so far this year. Here’s a list of what’s growing on right now (#s in parentheses indicate # of different varieties of a plant):

Planted last summer/fall & harvested through the winter until now: collard greens, kale (2 ), arugula (2), lettuce (half-dozen or more), radishes (2), spinach (2), gailan/Chinese broccoli,  pak choy, mustard greens (4), cilantro, salad burnet, mache/corn salad, Swiss chard (2), turnips. (I’ve pulled up one overwintering bed to make room for sweet potatoes – the rest will come out when the peppers and eggplants are ready to go in).

So far this spring: White potatoes (7), peas (2), Malabar spinach (self-seeded from last year), patty pan squash, winter squash (2), cukes (2), other squash (pumpkins? no idea – transplanted seedlings from the compost pile), volunteer tomatoes, lots of garlic (4).

Yesterday, I planted sweet potatoes. I cannot recommend growing sweets strongly enough! They are super easy, super prolific and you can even eat the greens. They’re similar to spinach when cooked and grow at temperatures that would defeat the most heat-resistant spinach.

Seedlings growing under lights, ready to go out when the beds are ready: tomatoes (6), tomatillos, hot peppers (3), sweet peppers, eggplant (2), ground cherries. (What are ground cherries? No idea – the seeds came as freebies with another order).

Perennials, bushes and trees, oh my!

Perennials, bushes and trees  – planted last year and coming up on their own or put in recently in the hopes of future harvests: walking onions, Jerusalem artichokes (they’re going crazy!), strawberries, thornless blackberries, mulberries, gooseberries, goji berries, red currants (2), raspberries (2).

We also have four 20+ year old fig trees (2 or 3?). I’m hoping to propagate them this year and plant more trees – you can’t get enough fresh figs, especially when they’re $4.99 for 7 at Whole Foods!

Perennial herbs: rosemary, lemon balm, parsley, purple cone flower (Echinacea), lavender, chives. mint. Annuals: basil, dill, cilantro.

As for non-food pants, I recently transplanted two suckers from the lilac bush into the ‘hell strip” between the sidewalk and the street, and they’re doing well. We also trimmed our monster rose bush from a brier patch the size of a VW bug – I’m not kidding – to something closer to an extra-large beach ball. And it looks great!

And the verdict is…

Does that sound like the work (or non-work) of a “bum”? OK maybe my root veggies didn’t do too well – I always get more greens than roots on my turnips, kohlrabi, and beets (no idea why – suggestions?) – but otherwise I’ve been pretty successful. And damned busy!

So what’s this guy’s beef? OK, I confess, my yard is not neatly manicured and picture perfect. The weeds always have a good run in my beds before I get around to picking them (if I ever do), and the lawn sometimes grows until we legally have to mow it. (In my neighborhood that’s 10″).

Fancy fertilizers aren’t my thing, not even the organic kind, so I have a monster compost pile for yard waste and a smaller one for kitchen stuff. (I also got a few cubic yards of leaf compost from the county, which is piled in my driveway and doubles as a jungle gym.)

It is lovely, in a way. I have lots of flowering bushes and bulbs – the asparagus is nestled among the false indigo, the hydrangea and the peonies, the Jerusalem artichoke is making a space for itself between the butterfly bush and the lilies. (The latter have edible tubers, by the way, although I’ve never sampled them myself).

A girl’s gotta eat

The truth is that most of the plants I tend are for food. If I’m going to sweat out there – and in the DC area in August I mean sweat! – I want more payoff then just something pretty. I want to eat.

And the tumble-down porch? it’s made of stone without a chink in the mortar. Yes, the screens are torn and I would LOVE for my irate neighbor to come over and repair them. In the meantime they’ll stay on my to do list – I have some more weeding to do.

What else do I dig about gardening? Pushing the wheelbarrow when it’s full of dirt. It’s damned heavy and makes me feel strong.

How Does YOUR Garden Grow?

Have any stories about nasty neighbors? Garden favorites or suggestions?  Questions about how to grow any of the above? Let us know in the comments section below!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.


16 thoughts on “I’m Diggin’ Friday: Gardening Bums

  1. Great post, Danielle! I’d love to see more pics of your garden. I live in the DC Metro area, too, and people are wound pretty tight around here – wonky, anal-retentive, judgmental types.

    You’re not a bum at all, and your garden sounds lovely! I’m just a container gardener (live in a townhouse with a tiny decked backyard), but I love growing herbs, peppers, tomatoes – this year I’m trying raspberry shrubs and peanuts! Trying jack-be-littles again (died last year). We also have hummingbirds and other birds galore!

    One thing I might suggest about your neighbor’s perspective (not that he deserves the time of day from you) is the lawn might be the issue. Neighbors are really funny about lawns. In our neighborhood, if your lawn got to 10 inches high, the neighbors would be mowing it for you, figuring you had a family crisis or something.

    Enjoy your garden!

    1. Yes, the lawn is probably the issue, but he didn’t have to pick on my porch, too! (*sniff*). Sweet potatoes are amazing in containers – especially a small variety like “bunch” Porto Rico or Vardaman. Lovely edible foliage and yummy sweets!

      1. Yeah, the whole thing was a cheap shot, anyway. I agree that he can fix your screens if he doesn’t like how it looks.

        I was considering potatoes, but don’t know much about how to grow them, how to know when to harvest them, etc.

  2. Our roses need major help and currently compete with the weeds…weeds are winning. I’m ready to bring out the flame thrower –OOOOOOOH Hummingbird alert! *sigh….* Just got the feeders out yesterday and the lil’ so-and-sos already guarding ’em. *s*

    We got a citation from the city one year. No joke. The new roses had been put into beds, my husband got busy with work, I was head-down busy with two book projects and the weekds grew taller than the baby roses. Somebody complained. Thing is, you have to KNOW where we live to find the house so somebody was being a jerk. We were told to “mow” or else…they’d send a crew out and charge us. Sheesh.

    Some folks got too much time on their hands. *s* And I love this blog entry.

    1. @amyshojai – Oooo you have hummingbirds! My father put out a feeder but we’ve seen nary a hummer. I’m afraid we’re too close to downtown noise and traffic 😦 In the past 4 years, we’ve received at least 7 notes warning us that a citation is coming but no citation yet! Thanks for your blog love – I’m exited about this new blog feature – but nervous, too!

      @Tiffany_A_ White My guy only does the digging – he’s not interested in gardening but loves digging new beds so I put him to work whenever needed! 🙂

  3. I’m interested in your potato bins. They almost look like laundry baskets, are they? Or should I ask what are they?

    I’m asking cause I’m wanting to do container gardens this year. Just a couple to see how it works. One of them will definitely be pumpkins. I just want to have pumpkins one time, one year that actually live.

    Your home and yard are beautiful.

    1. Unless you live in an area with cool summers (ie NOT the mid-Atlantic!) it may be too late for white potatoes. Sweet potatoes, however, are FABULOUS for containers and super easy to grow. The potato bins are the Geo-bin composters that the county used to gives away. Pumpkins are fun – can’t wait to pick my own this year!

  4. The note IS freaking ridiculous!

    You know those signs they have in nature centers and national parks, large, posted at a 45-degree angle, with some diagram or marked map and then a description or science fact? You need one at the entrance to your front yard with a map indicating your various crops, and off to the side this note, lacquered, with bold print above it: “Do You Have A Life?”

    1. Pathetic, right? This person has called the county to complain about our grass porch, “trash” in the yard (neatly laid-out newspapers I was using as mulch on a new bed) and “lumber” in the yard (some untreated boards I was planning to use for raised beds). Truly pathetic.

  5. I really like your blog and if you are considered a “bum” for planting then I feel that being called a bum along with you would be a complement.
    Here is to all of us bums saving money on our food bills, eating healthy and having less disease from food additives.
    Thanks for sharing it was funny and inspirational.

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