Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Bettie Page Photo by CMG Worldwide

By now you’re probably conjuring images of lusty tomato plants wearing pasties.  Fuck yes.  What a pleasant daydream, and also a great business idea (note to self…).  So go ahead.  Take a moment to really let that image sink in.

Ready to move on?  Oh, okay, I’ll give you another minute.

You guys are twisted.  I like that.

WELL, my twisted little misfits, I got a question via Twitter from one of the darlingest misfits I know–@pinecone99.  Here’s what she had to say:

“Dear BMG, what is the best edible to grow in an alley in a narrow patch alongside a garage?”

Well, first off, this is awesome because she’s now abbreviating “Bad Mama Genny” to “BMG,” which naturally makes me “The Notorious BMG.”  At least, I hope it does.  ‘Cause I’m kinda diggin’ the street cred that no doubt comes along with such a badass name.

Secondly, it’s awesome because HELLO, misfits, she’s interested in capitalizing on an unused strip of land and homesteading the shit out of it!

And really, that’s what we’re all about here: homesteading the shit out of things.

So after some clarification about the size of the strip and the amount of light it receives, we established that she’s dealing with a 2 foot by 10 foot strip of land on the west side of the alley, which translates to plenty of morning sun exposure.

Misfits, she could do a lot with this space.   She could do a hell of a lot with this space.

So after I finished wetting myself at the prospect of additional land to exploit (sexy!), I got to work.  Let me show you how you can grow a ton of food in a small space.  Here’s what I had to say:

2 feet by 10 feet?  Hardly a challenge!  You can grow a lot there; things you wouldn’t want to grow include plants that get insanely bushy and spread out, like indeterminate tomatoes, vine-style squash, or conventionally-grown fruit trees.  But since it’s morning sun, let’s put your less heat-loving plants there.  That way they get everything they need early in the day and can recover in the afternoon and evening if they were overexposed.  I’m thinking things like lettuce, cabbages, cauliflower, chard, peas and green beans (both bush and vine type). While you could technically fit some bush-type squash in there, I wouldn’t recommend it.  They have spines on the leaves that can irritate your bare skin, so you may get a temporary itchy rash if you brush past them in bare legs.

Other ideas include dwarf blueberry bushes (no thorns, stay nice and compact, gorgeous ornamental coloring), onions, and garlic.  Strawberry patches are a great idea, too (why not plant a mix of early-bearing, late-bearing, and everbearing for a continuous harvest?).  Grape vines and fruit trees are entirely possible in that space as well–if you grow them espalier style and train them to snake along the wall.

If you think you’ve got the sun to support heat-loving plants (we’re talking at least 6 hours of direct sun per day), peppers and eggplants stay compact and actually produce more when they’re “holding hands,” or packed fairly close together.  Another heat-friendly idea–a wall o’ cucumbers.

Let’s think about how some of these things can be executed:

*Cabbages and Cauliflower–Each require about a square foot of space–a 2 x 10 foot space laid out grid style means you can grow 20 cabbages in that strip!  Your very own cabbage patch.  Plant some anise around it if you want to keep cabbage moths at bay naturally.

*Bok Choy–Each plant require a six inch square…so 40 bok choy!

*Beans and Peas–Depending on the variety, you’ll plant these between 1 and 2 inches apart, with poles or a nylon net strung up for support.  That means you’ve got room for A TON of beans and peas!  Plus, you’ll be able to say that your “STRIP” is flashing some “SERIOUS LEGUME.”  Get it?!  Get it?!?!  Ahaha, I’m totally killin’ it.

*Fruit Trees–When trained espalier style, these require lots of horizontal spread, but not much depth–let’s say two dwarf pear or peach trees for that 2′ by 10′ space.

*Peppers or Eggplants: Give ’em eighteen inch squares to grow in–so only 1 row, but spaced a foot and a half apart like that, it’s about 6 or 7 eggplant/pepper plants!

*Onions: Sure, spring onions are space-efficient, but bulbs are, too, and even a large, crazy-sexy specimen like Heirloom Red Wethersfields only need 4 inches of space in each direction.  A strip as large as yours could accommodate enough onions to braid and hang in your kitchen come fall!

Those are just a few thoughts, and there’s an endless number of combinations you could pull off.  How about a pickle garden, with cucumbers trained up the trellis and alternating garlic and dill in front?  Or peas and pearl onions, which can and freeze (and cook!) so well together?  Or a root vegetable patch, with baby radishes, exotic carrots, and golden and red beets?  A kraut garden with cabbages, carrots, and onions?  A gourmet salad patch with baby greens, sugar snap peas, cut-and-come-again leaf lettuces, kale, radishes, and edible flowers, like nasturtiums?

Any questions, just ask!

Bad Mama Genny

Well, misfits, I’m not gonna kid myself–I kicked the shit out of that question.  But there are so many more ideas out there–really, we’re just grazing the tip of the iceberg.  What would you do with that kind of space?  What are you considering doing with your teeny strip of unused land?  Anything you’d like to try, but you’re not sure if it’s possible?  (Hint: it probably is, I’ve probably tried it, and you should probably ask me.)

Much love and big red kisses to every one of you adorable, huggable weirdos!

Bad Mama Genny

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Photo by Greyson Orlando

If you follow me on Twitter, by now you know that our garden apartment flooded this weekend.  Badly.  The Boy and I lost about a third of our possessions, but we’re both acutely aware of how much worse it could have been if the plumber hadn’t made it out when he did.  The garden is suffering, too–last week’s intense heat followed by this week’s deluges and heavy rains have meant damage and calcium problems.  We’re knee-deep in homestead recovery efforts, but at this very moment I’d like to think about the one bright spot in my weekend.  Actually, it was more like hundreds of bright spots…

And they were all a gift from The Boy.

On Friday evening he came home from work clutching a brown paper bag in his fist and wearing a grin as big as his face.  And when I unrolled the bag and peeked inside…

Ladybugs!  HUNDREDS of them.

I was, honestly, bowled over by the romance of his soul.

So why was I so thrilled with my bag full of insects?  Well, ladybugs are beneficial bugs–they’re carnivores, and they’re pretty much non-discriminating about it.  They’ll eat any bad guys they can possibly find with no picky whining and no asking for ketchup.  In fact, I once read that a single ladybug can eat over 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.  If you’re anything like me, that little fact alone was enough to sell you on adding ladybuggers to your garden because HELLO THOSE FUCKING APHIDS NEARLY DECIMATED THE NIGHTSHADES AND THEY SHALL PAY FOR THEIR TRANSGRESSIONS.  But if you’re looking for another cute fact, I gotses one!

Did you know that ladybugs bleed from their knees when they feel threatened?

Aww, that’s the CUTEST!

Okay, now for a fact that isn’t so cute: cannibalism.  Did you know ladybugs are capable of cannibalism when they’re out of other bugs?

What a Bummer.

Well, that won’t happen at this homestead, that’s for sure.  Between the cabbage moths and the aphids and all the assorted THINGS, my ladybugs should be set for quite some time.

Now haven’t I made you want to release ladybuggers into your gardens?  Don’t you misfits think you need littler misfits?  Don’t you want the newest and cutest garden accessory around?  The one that comes in polka-dots?

Of courses you do!  I mean, come on.  I can make you weirder yet.

So here are My Almighty Ladybug Tips and Hints:

*Get ’em from a reputable, preferably local nursery.  You want to make sure that you’re not introducing an invasive species that could compete with local ladybugs.  And buying from a reputable source helps to ensure that you’re not getting weak or diseased bugs.

*Newly released ladybugs are often cranky and parched from their travels.  Remember how cranky and parched YOU feel after a 7 hour flight in a tiny seat in a tiny, airless cabin with too many cranky and parched strangers?  Yeah, it’s like that.  So release ladybugs after a rain, or water the earth well before releasing them.  Of course if you’re like me and you just had a flood you would laugh at this advice and go AHAHA LISTEN LADY WATER ISN’T EXACTLY MY PROBLEM MMMKAAAAAY?  But.  I.  Digress.

*Diversify your ladybugs’ dietary portfolio.  That’s right–if your garden doesn’t seem hospitable, your ladybugs just may peek under the fence at the neighboring yards, turn to you in frustration with their little ladybug “hands” on their little ladybug “hips,” put on their best Eric Cartman voice, and screech, “Screw you guys!  I’m going home!”  That is, someone else’s home.  Dammit.  So when you’re releasing them, resist the urge to dump the bag in one place.  Instead, sprinkle them throughout the garden.  Same goes for containers–distribute them as evenly as possible.

*Release your ladybugs when it’s starting to get dark out.  That makes them less likely to be all, oh, hey, let’s run as far away from here as possible, even if that means leaving the yard and blowing this loser’s investment.  Yeah.

*Cold air makes them slower and calmer–hence, releasing them becomes easier if you chill them in the fridge for a wee bit before letting them roam free.

*If some of your ladies don’t want to leave their bag, turn it upside down and tap gently.  If they still won’t leave, why not place the bag on an area of moist ground and just walk away?  Come back in the morning–once you’re out of the picture and your bugginses have had a chance to review their options, I’m sure they’ll come to the conclusion that OH, HEY, LEAVES AND INSECTS AND WATER ARE PREFERABLE TO THIS DARK, DANK, BARREN HELL BAG.  But that’s just a hunch.

*Check your hair, body, and clothes for stowaway ladies before heading back inside.  If nothing else, the process of picking off the clingers just may have you giggling in delight all by your lonesome, and if there’s one thing we urban homesteaders need, it’s YET ANOTHER REASON THE NEIGHBORS THINK WE’RE STRANGE AND/OR DANGEROUS.

Well, whaddya think?  Anyone ’bout to head out for some ladybugs?  Done it before? Think they’re weird?  Think they’re cute?  Wanna dress up like them?  Wanna marry them?

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Oh, for Delilah’s sake, misfits, my garden is like the set of “16 and Pregnant” right now.

It’s an epidemic!  Babies having babies!

And you know what?  The little sluts want more!

Okay, now that’s just ASKING for it.

That last photo is Blondkopfchen tomatoes–little yellow pear tomatoes.  The name, literally translated, is “Little Blonde Girl.”  (In bed!)  That pretty much says it all, now doesn’t it?

So how do I feel about having a veritable brothel on my little plot of earth?  I’m not gonna lie–I’m pretty freaking proud.

Also, if I ran a brothel, it would be the awesomest brothel in town, full of fishnetty goodness and lots of good times spent sitting around eating chocolate truffles and laughing with all our teeth showing.  We’d all stick together, like in that music video for “Love is a Battlefield,” and we’d dutifully share tutus with one another.  And if someone crossed one of us, we’d make an example of him.  Like those hookers did to Neil Patrick Harris in that second Harold and Kumar movie.

But I digress.

Oh, yeah, and those soon to be enormous tomatoes?  All grown in containers.  This is as close as Your Bad Mama Genny gets to a religious experience.  Check out my bitchin’ soil recipe for fab tomatoes.

So how does your garden grow right now?  (In bed!)

Are your plants whorin’ it up as ambitiously as mine, or are they regular prudes, with nary a bloom in sight?

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Sexy, Sexy Vegetables

Bags of bok choy and a huge bowl full of Egyptian Walking Onions.

This is just the bok choy that’s getting frozen.  The rest is being pickled, fermented, sauteed for dinner, and turned into Hot and Sour Cabbage.  Wanna grow your own bok choy next year?  They have shallow root systems, so you could pull it off in windowboxes!  We started harvesting at 30 days after transplant…not too shabby, eh?

Speaking of pickling and fermenting, why not take the classes I’m teaching in those very subjects?  Sign up for the Creative Connection Event in St. Paul, MN, September 15th through 17th!  It’s going to be a blast!  My classes are Pickle It! and Let’s Ferment!   If you’ve ever wanted to know how to make the easiest ever vinegar pickles, naturally fermented vegetables, apple cider vinegar from fruit scraps, sourdough bread, and a heck of a lot of other things (ooh, mysterious!), you’ll love these classes.  Plus, I’m hearing about all the fun social stuff (Cupcake Farewells?  Craft Markets?) that’ll be included in your pass, and, uh, it sounds freaking delightful.


Register today!–class size is limited to keep everything hands-on and fun, fun fun!

What are you harvesting?

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Hello, Greenie Beanies,

I recently got an email from another satisfied customer.  That is, someone who read and liked my regular column on Urban Homesteading, which runs in every issue of MaryJanesFarm Magazine.  Her name is Linda, and she wanted to pick my brain about urban homesteading.

Linda has been living in a rural home in California, and 2 years ago she moved into a city apartment with her adult daughter.  Linda is not used to cramped city apartments.  Linda does not like to feel cramped.

Oh, we can feel that pain, can’t we, sugar dumplings?

In any case, she’s having a hard time adjusting, and she’s finally looking for some ways to bring out her inner farmgirl.  But how to do it in the city?

Oh, sugar pies, YOU JUST KNOW she came to the right place!

Since I get questions like Linda’s fairly often via email or text message or Facebook nudge or secret message (seriously, people, if you have a question, ain’t no shame in postin’ it for all the guacamole-lovin’ world to see!  We won’t tease you!  And I kick jerks off my comments board, which makes “The Alchemist” the fun-lovin’, free spirited, totally tolerant, non-judgmental, warm and fuzzy, rolicking good time encouragin’, dictatorial palace of blogs.  Or something like that.).  Okay, I forgot what I was saying.

Oh, right.  Since I get questions like Linda’s fairy often, I’m going to print a piece of my response to her here.  Benefit from it, add to it, improvise, my sweet pets!

…It sounds like you’ve had to undergo quite the adjustment, you poor dear!  I was born and raised in Chicago, but have lived elsewhere–always in major cities, including Honolulu and New York.  So the crunch for space and land has always been an issue for me, and boy, do I sympathize.  I think one huge perk about city-living and small spaces is that they make you creative.  It is, of course, far easier to homestead on forty acres than it is in a 600 square foot apartment.  So you get plucky.  You get creative.  You become less wasteful and more ingenious.  You will, too!  Embrace it, and give it time, Linda.  But maybe I can help you to hurry things along….

Most of what I grow is in containers.  People have no. Idea. How. Easy. This. Is.  Really, I’m astounded at all the naysayers who will tell you vegetables can’t be grown in pots.  [Readers: remember when I showed you how easy it is?] Listen, you can grow colonnade apple trees in pots!  Almost any plant, given the proper space, soil, water, and nutrition, can be container-friendly.  A great beginner’s book I’d recommend is McGee & Stuckey’s The Bountiful Container. I’m not sure what kind of balcony space you have, but I say, load it up, girl!  A big part of urban homesteading is seeing what you can get away with.  The answer, in my experience:

a whole lot.

Think lettuce in window boxes that hang over your balcony railings.  Patio tomatoes in pots.  Strawberries in hanging baskets.  Peppers and eggplants are extremely container-friendly–mine are very productive in a mere 8-inch pot.  Zucchini are notorious for a reason–they are practically reproductive machines.  Though I’m a big fan of heirlooms, you might try the Raven Zucchini hybrid–it’s container-friendly and produces loads of fruit very quickly.  Tea gardens are a great offshoot of the herb gardening thing, and mint and chamomile do very well in confined spaces.  Make use of vertical space, too, with plants that climb.  Just be sure that your landlord is okay with all this, and that you’re following the necessary safety precautions for balcony weight limits and such.

The great thing is, I think city neighbors, while they may not know much about what you’re trying to do, are usually pretty receptive and curious.  You may have been no big deal to your far-off rural neighbors, but you’ll probably be a sensation when you cut pumpkins from a vine twirling around your fire escape.  Try to make friends with your new neighbors, if you haven’t already, and let your garden be the icebreaker if need be.  Share your produce, try not to drip water onto your neighbors below (I said “try”…it won’t always be possible), and if you make friends with people who don’t really use their space, go ahead and ask if you can put a box or two on their railing.

Remember, mushrooms are a great edible crop that you can grow indoors in low light–why not try a mushroom kit?  Several issues ago, I wrote about the process in my “Urban Homesteading” column in MaryJanesFarm Mag.  In another piece titled “Bunnies in ‘da Hood,” I wrote about raising indoor angora rabbits for their knitting fiber (they shed it naturally).  My very first article for that column was about community gardens and yard shares.  If your ambitions outstrip your land, you might try to find for-rent gardening plots nearby.  You’re likely to meet new neighbors who share your farm fantasies.  Try to cultivate online relationships, too–I like to do a little seed swapping on the forum at www.gardenweb.com.

Homesteading for me goes beyond gardening.  I cook, I bake, I sew, I knit, I ferment, I pickle (I’ll be teaching pickling and fermenting workshops during MaryJanesFarm Day at this event in St. Paul in September–why not attend?!), I bake my own bread, brew beer and wine, make cheese, and am generally engaged in any nonsense I can lay hands upon.  Now The Boy and I are getting into roasting coffee.  We also subscribe to a local CSA or farm share box, which connects us to great local produce that we can’t or don’t grow ourselves (try www.localharvest.com to find one near you).  It helps to make us feel like part of a community.  We satisfy this urge by visiting our local farmers markets, too.  Perhaps you could start a weekly farmers market habit and hobnob with farmers and foodie neighbors?  These little things can help to put you in touch with a local, land-loving community that you didn’t even know existed.

…Lotsa hugs,

Well, whaddya think, my little custard tarts?  Did I just about cover it?  Did I give you any fresh inspiration?  Can you add anything to help Linda’s transition go a little more smoothly?

Duh, you totally can!  Do so in





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