Wednesday, April 13, 2011


At least once a week, someone asks me, "Aren't you afraid people will steal from your garden?" After all, there's no fence, we get a lot of foot traffic, and the raised beds run right up to the sidewalk.

This is one of the risks of putting your edibles gardens in the front yard. It's happened to so many people: you come home one day to find that someone's taken the liberty of harvesting all your corn. You watch your spindly little watermelon plant produce a single fruit, wait and wait and wait for it to ripen, and then it disappears one night.

I'm not talking here about someone helping themselves to a sprig of rosemary, or pulling a plum from a tree that's full of fruit. I've even thought about planting extra culinary herbs along the sidewalk, with signs inviting people to pick a few leaves and suggestions for using them in cooking. That's fine. Taking the whole plant is not.

And yes, I am afraid that people will steal things. That I'll wake up one morning and someone will have picked all the raspberries. And that even though I can easily go and buy more from the farmer's market, a big part of the fun of front yard gardening will be gone.

So why not put up a fence? Because a few times every week, strangers stop to tell me how much they enjoy watching the garden grow. People slow down and smile as they pass the garden. If I'm in the yard, they say hi; if they see me at the window, we'll smile and wave. I watch commuters pause on their daily rush to or from the nearby BART station to check out the new sprouts, or lean in to see whether the pea tendrils have managed to find the trellis I made from downed branches. (The first few reached it yesterday.)

I'm afraid that a fence would change this dynamic. Is there a way to discourage physical entry into the yard while still inviting people to pause, say hi, and check out what's growing today?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


The path from seed to table is a wet one. Plants take a fair amount of water to grow. And if your harvest comes with as many little insect friends as mine does, you'll spend a while at the sink each night, washing the little critters and their poop off your salad.

Now, like most people who grew up during the California drought years, I feel guilty "wasting" water. And while I don't exactly consider watering my garden (or washing bug poop off my salad) a "waste," I do try to be efficient. Until I get around to converting the sidewalk-spraying sprinklers into a drip irrigation system, I'm watering by hand, and only when the plants need it. Now that the soil is warming up, I'll be applying mulch to prevent evaporation. And way up high on my to-do list is setting up a greywater system.

In the meantime, there's greenwater - the water I use to rinse off my harvest, hands, and trowels after gardening. It's real simple: I've got a big basin (actually a large metal Ikea planter without a hole in it) set up underneath an outdoor faucet. I rinse everything off there, the water sits in the basin overnight, and the next day I use it to water the garden.

The water stays in the basin less than 24 hours -- long enough to drown most of the pests I was washing off the plants in the first place, but not long enough to breed mosquitoes or bacteria. And unlike greywater, which generally contains some soap, salts, sweat, grime, bacteria, and other stuff that's fine to water ornamentals and fruit trees with but not recommended for things like lettuce, greenwater is fine for my thirsty little seedlings.