Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Food Not Lawns ...Not Bikes

As you might expect based on the banner at the top of the page, this blog has been predominantly about bicycle racing, albeit with a few other topics thrown up from time to time. It's been a true reflection of my activities and impressions, and my posting frequency is usually a good indicator of how much I'm thinking about bike racing.

Or how little, as it were. Last week I did not use those few precious blocks of clear-weather time to crank out VO2Max intervals or climb tempo pace up the mountains. Instead I planted food. Lots of food. Blueberries, raspberries, asparagus, potatoes, garlic, onions, lettuce ...LOTS OF LETTUCE..., Fava beans, spinach, chard, cauliflower, soy beans (edamame), peas, and basil. My mind was in the garden and not in the saddle. Wait, that didn't sound right...

And it's not completely true either. I have watched most of the Tour of California, and marveled at the Pros' ability to race in horrible conditions. I've also been enjoying the race reports from SB riders who've been ripping apart pelotons all over California. Chesta-san taking a Cat-3 Vee at the UCLA RR in the desert, and C-Walk taking 2nd in P/1/2. Great placings from Chicken Ranchers John, Bob, Matt, and Danny up at the Velo Promo races, along with Derek Johnson and Steve Weixel, with the latter doing three races and bagging two top-10s. Finally, HeyRon, Chesta, and Brandon raced a crit in Brea this weekend, with Ron sprinting to a Bronze. Congrats to all.

I included all those links so you could read about bike racing, because the rest of this post is about gardening...

It's been three or four years since I dug up our back lawn and started a mini-farm. Gina rolled her eyes but went along with it because of the good supportive wife that she is. Besides, the lawn had died by that point and was being overrun by weeds. How much worse could it be? As the picture here shows, I planted crops in the rows-and-furrows style of a real farm. When the plants were mature, it was both productive and attractive.

But it wasn't the best approach. After every crop, I'd need to cultivate the soil and re-form the planting rows. That's pretty harsh on the soil life, and soil life is crucial to healthy plants. Watering was more difficult and wasteful, especially when the plants were young and their roots hadn't yet reached the furrows. Walking down the rows compacted the soil more than the plants like.

Last year I built a bunch of raised beds, shown in the picture here. Each bed has a drip irrigation system on its own valve. Lots of advantages to this approach. First, the soil fertility and life can flourish right where the plants need it, and you need not walk on it or disturb it after every crop. The size of the beds allows easy access so you can plant densely, in the so-called "French Gardening" technique. The drip system allows very efficient watering, and the drainage is good if it rains a lot (like lately).

One of the most exciting (haha) things about gardening is how dynamic it can be. Day-to-day and season-to-season. Californians can grow food year round, especially true here in Santa Barbara. The picture here is from this morning. Mostly greens and root crops are growing now.

Not visible in this picture, but I recently added a few new beds around the sides of the yard and house. Slowly but surely, this farm is taking over my entire 0.2-acre lot! Now if you think that doesn't sound like much room, check out what these good folks have done with the same sized tract-house lot.

Anyway, a few more pics with some details of what's growing now...

Collard Greens, a southern favorite, first time I ever tried growing these. Leaves are tough as leather but get tasty and tender with 20-30 minutes of steaming. I cooked these last week with garlic and onions, topped with bits of bacon. Served with cornbread and pork roast.


Hard neck garlic. Supposed to be a lot stronger taste than the grocery-store varieties which are mostly soft-neck. I'll let you know in a few months. The yellowing leaf tips are a sign that the soil is a bit too wet.


Chard is sure happy though!


Fava beans grow like crazy in the winter. Lots of biomass for green manure and also nitrogen-fixing roots. A great plant to grow. I hope to find a good Chianti soon.


I planted some Blueberries in a special bed that I'd prepared months ahead of time. Added lots of peat moss and some elemental sulfur to get the soil pH down to around 5.0. Blueberries need very acidic soil. If all goes well, they'll make a beautiful six-foot-tall hedge.


Compost is the real black gold. Early results of my son's science experiment shown in this picture. Equal number of spinach seeds planted three weeks ago. The soil on the right has been amended with our homemade compost, a very rich brew of kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and Azomite. The soil on the left was amended a year ago with garden-variety store-bought potting mix. The results are dramatic, both the number of seeds germinating and the size and health of the young plants. We'll see over the next few weeks if the healthiest plants avoid bug problems.


One challenge with food gardening is getting the timing right. Sometimes you want to leave an area fallow, to give the soil a rest, but usually you want the ground to be productive. How to avoid long stretches with barren dirt in the vegetable beds? Easy! Plant seeds in flats and time it so they're ready to transplant as soon as the previous crop is finished. In fact, plant extra and give the "starts" to your friends and neighbors. Then later you can share the bounty.


OK, if you've read this far, perhaps you're interested in building a garden or expanding one you've already got going. Need motivation and/or ideas? Find a copy of "Food Not Lawns". The author is a grass-roots (haha) activist and she's been the inspiration for a growing movement. In Santa Barbara and want local help and advice? Check out the local chapter of Food Not Lawns. Looks like they'll even help you with installation!

This is the wave of the future.

8 comments:

Drea said...

Your yard is fantabulous! You clearly exhibit all signs of classic type A. I knew I liked you!

Jacob said...

I one day hope to live my dream of working on my house and having a garden full time. Need to get some lottery tickets

Marco Fanelli said...

Drea-

Type A? No way! I like to play. Every day. Like a Holiday...

...and least that's what Jacob's comment would have you believe.

Jake-

Ouch. That touches a nerve. Perhaps because I remember working like a dog for years and years, suffocating in hotel rooms while my kids grew up, saving and living way below my means, investing (!!!) for the future... And then finally downshifting to part-time work to find a happier balance, yes, including substantial time working in the garden. Hey, if this economy continues on its current path, that garden may become our most valuable asset!

But back to your comment, which probably wasn't really meant to be as biting as I interpreted it to be...

Don't you already spend all your time working on your house and garden, riding your bike, and playing with that cute baby of yours? Methinks you have it pretty good!!!

Marco Fanelli said...

Woah! Who was that defensive, thin-skinned dude who took over my computer and wrote that comment above?

I should have added a :-)

Drea said...

See, total Type A. And now you are talking to yourself and questioning who you are. Hmmmm. Type A, Type A, Type A. Besides, the A does not mean an absence of play, it merely means a bounty of ORDER. Tell me, how clean is your bike? Tools all in their spots? OK, not everyone seperates socks into different color piles in different little bins, but come on, admit it....you like it tidy.

Marco Fanelli said...

Dearest Drea-

This is one of those situations where the more I protest your diagnosis, the more it looks to be true. Kinda like when I repeatedly blame that smell on the person sitting next to me...

So anyway, rather than give you more fodder for amateur psychology, I took the picture of my work bench and put in the post above. I would take a picture of my sock drawer, but unfortunately it's stuffed so full that it won't open. Gina can confirm that one. My bike is not pristine, but in the interest of our excellent sponsors, I won't post a picture of that.

You have given me a great laugh with your comment. Type A!!! Hahaha... I once got two years behind on MONTHLY progress reports for a project I managed. Search this blog for the dumpster story. I WISH I had a bit more Type A in me...

Anonymous said...

Are you a Type-Wannabe-A personality? You want things to be in order but know they can't all be in order so just kinda give up?

Marco Fanelli said...

Yeah, that's a good diagnosis.