Starting a Garden

While growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, my family had a large garden every year from Spring to Autumn. Much of our food came from the garden so it was very important to us to take good care of it. We grew many delicious fruits and vegetables and spent a great deal of time gathering them and preserving the extras for winter. It saved us a lot of money, the work brought us together as a family, and something about growing your own food just makes it taste better too. It was always more than worth the effort we put into it.

Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve been amazed at how much gorgeous and fresh produce is available year-round. Avocados, peppers, tomatoes and citrus abound. However, it’s not quite as gratifying to get everything from the grocery store. It’s also nice to be able to go into your own garden and emerge with a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables that you sprouted from seeds and nurtured into maturity.

I recently identified an opportunity to set up a small garden in the backyard of a rented house just south of Los Angeles where my boyfriend, Charlie, lives. There was already a lovely little chicken coop in place that one of his roommates installed and it seemed like a few raised plant beds would fit right in, plus beautify the space.

The yard itself was quite overgrown and there was a great deal of cleanup needed but the more work you put into doing something, the more satisfaction you get when it becomes what you envisioned it to be.

For many folks, myself included, the hardest part of a big project can be figuring out where to start. I stood in the yard for a time while looking around, trying to visualize what I hoped would be a smart, visually, and aromatically appealing use of the space. I wanted to come up with a plan that would not only yield lots of produce, but also beautify the area to make it a nice place to spend warm LA evenings. I settled on installing a few raised garden beds for vegetables and edible flowers, clearing out the weeds and debris, and putting down a fair amount of mulch to cover most of the area that would be left over. We’re experiencing a severe drought right now, so it seemed more ecologically responsible to put down ground cover that would retain moisture while not requiring the addition of it.

Here are a few shots of what it looked like when we started on April 25th:

IMG_20150425_193542 IMG_20150425_193556 IMG_20150425_193704 IMG_20150425_193708

Luckily, I didn’t have to start the cleanup alone. Charlie and his roommates were happy to get on board with the project and helped with cleaning up concrete debris and trash, clearing weeds, building and installing raised beds, laying down mulch and spreading good vibes (which are every bit as important as anything else when it comes to getting hard work done!) so progress has been made at a very comfortable pace. We have a few plants in one of the raised beds and a few seeds are sprouting there as well.

Here are a few shots of what the space looks like as of yesterday:

IMG_20150601_200943 IMG_20150601_200948 IMG_20150601_201008 IMG_20150601_201021 IMG_20150601_201046 IMG_20150601_201116

We are faced with a few challenges. First, the chickens living in the space are free range. They will have access to the raised beds so we’ll want to work out a way to protect the plants without detracting from the aesthetics of the space or the chickens’ comfortable and unrestricted lifestyles. Second, there is a lot of concrete in the yard so tilling up the soil is impossible. Preparing the ground in general is time consuming and difficult. It requires close attention and care in order to avoid damaging our tools. Finally, the drought is severe, so we want to optimize our water distribution approach to keep the plants healthy while using as little water as possible.

I’m very excited about this project so I’ll be posting regular progress updates. There may even be a few how-to’s, tips, and recommendations based on my experiences. I’m new to SoCal gardening, so if you have any suggestions of your own for how to make the most of this space, please leave a comment!