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Adam Guerrero, Compassion Farm, Urban Farming

I’d bet a big old stucco or brick house covered with clinging vines wouldn’t cause any problems in Memphis or Lantzville UNLESS THEY WERE GRAPE VINES! Someone might notice you were growing contraband food in your yard!

My July 11 post on Your Small Kitchen Garden expressed dismay and annoyance at the way people in Oak Park, Michigan were treating Julie Bass for growing vegetables in her front yard. Poor Julie was just one in a line of abused citizens drawing grief for growing their own food. This must stop!

Adam Guerrero in Memphis

Math teacher Adam Guerrero in Memphis, Tennessee has been told to remove his home kitchen garden from his yard. He tutors several children in all things gardening and has support of many neighbors. But apparently, one of his neighbors deems his garden a public nuisance, and that’s all the city needs take action.

Compassion Farm in Lantzville, British Columbia, Canada

No doubt both Memphis and Lantzville are OK with homeowners who have tall shade trees in their yards. But what if, one day, your gorgeous shade tree drops some of these terrors on your lawn? Yes, it’s food! Black walnut trees, hickory trees, pecan trees, apple trees, pear trees, even crabapple trees all represent the dreaded public nuisance: a food source growing in your yard.

This one is a bit more complicated than Adam’s and Julie’s situations. Apparently, Compassion Farm is a fairly large property on which Dirk Becker and Nicole Shaw grow produce to sell. At least one neighbor has hassled Compassion Farm for some time, and the city government is insisting that the farm cease operations.

At the same time, the city council is working to rewrite code to allow urban farming—though it’s not clear how that’s developing or how it might affect Compassion Farm. Apparently, the committee working on these code changes includes people known to oppose the existence of Compassion Farm.

Preference for Poison

A section of Memphis’s code provides for the city to remove personal property: …if such personal property is dangerous to the public health, safety, or welfare; or creates an unsightly condition… …tending to reduce the value…of the property. This seems to be the basis for rationale to act against Adam Guerrero.

Do you see the craziness? Growing grass in a yard in Memphis is a code violation but the government doesn’t even know it! Homeowners treat lawns with toxic chemicals to make them grow and to kill insects and funguses. Then they run lawnmowers and weed whackers that spew noise and air pollution. Poisoning the soil and groundwater and spewing carbon monoxide and noise into the air is dangerous to public health, safety, and welfare. Every lawn-conformist in Memphis should receive a cease-and-desist order.

If the electrical grid goes down or our petroleum supply drops abruptly and hampers transportation, the city of Memphis can expect to run out of food in three days. You know who I want as my neighbor in the event such a catastrophe occurs? I want the person who has a yard like this one! This person has food even when the rest of the city has none! How can any human think that having a lawn is a better option than having a kitchen garden? Of course, all the neighbors will suddenly support urban farming when it’s their only source of food.

Despite the obvious code violations, the city thinks citizens should toil for an hour or more each week growing gorgeous green grass so they can cut it down and THROW IT AWAY! If the city required people to grow something useful like food, they’d be laughing stocks. The absurdity is mind-boggling.

Save Some Kitchen Gardens

Please help these and all kitchen gardeners save their yards; help them gain the right to use their yards in socially-responsible ways. I’ve included links below to petitions you can sign, and links to other web sites with more information about Adam Guerrero and Compassion Farm. Some of the information in this post came from those web sites.



Adam Guerrero petition:

Where I first read about Adam Guerrero: Mister Brown Thumb

Adam Guerrero article: Tree Hugger

Compassion Farm petition:

Compassion Farm web site: Ways to help


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Touch Me Not on Bloom Day

The flowers of Jewel Weed are small but quite pretty and they attract all kinds of native pollinators. Jewel Weed prefers damp soil, so look for it along stream banks.

This Garden Bloggers Bloom Day in my Small Kitchen Garden is a real downer. 8 inches of rain last week drowned roots of my climbing beans and my chili peppers… and I must believe the winter squash isn’t happy. The rhubarb is also looking pretty bad which is especially distressing because rhubarb should be building up stores to help it through the winter.

Stepping out of My Small Kitchen Garden

To escape the ugliness, I stepped out of the garden for September’s Bloom Day post. I found one of my favorite common plants, the Touch Me Not, which many people know as Jewel Weed, and shot a few photos.

What I Know About Jewel Weed

I know Touch Me Nots from when I was a kid. It grew in thickets at the summer camp I attended. There were three things I loved about the plant then… and I still love those things:

Jewel Weed produces small pods that contain one or more seeds. As the pods mature, they become plump, and you can eventually see dark spots through their skins. The spots are seeds which are ripe when they turn dark.

1. The flowers are gorgeous

2. The seeds are edible and they taste pretty good

3. The seed pods explode

I’ve since learned a few other tidbits about Jewel Weed:

1. The sap is a cure for itchiness—particularly for poison ivy. Supposedly, if you crumple up and crush a leaf and rub it on a rash, the itchiness will diminish for several hours.

2. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.

What’s not to like?

When you bump a ripe seed pod, it explodes and sends its seeds up to several feet away from the parent plant. I contained the explosion of this under ripe pod to capture the seeds and provide a look at the springy parts. Find a stand of Touch Me Nots, gently harvest a bunch of ripe pods, and contain them when they explode. Then snack on the dark-brown seeds. The flavor may remind you of wild hickory nuts.

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Canning Tomatoes at Your Small Kitchen Garden

On my way to canning, I peeled nearly a peck of tomatoes on Sunday. This is the first batch: about 23 tomatoes stacked in a one-gallon food-storage container

Late blight has wiped out the tomato plants in my small kitchen garden. I managed to serve up about six tomato salads and can eleven and a half pints of cut-up tomatoes before the blight shut things down. This wasn’t enough.

I have planted more than 50 plants, hoping to harvest enough fruits to put up three or four dozen pints of cut-up tomatoes along with a dozen or more pints of tomato sauce. Had the plants survived until frost, they’d have produced way more tomatoes than necessary to fill those jars.

Farmers’ Market to Assuage a Kitchen Gardener

I use a lot of cut-up tomatoes in my cooking. So, at the famers’ market last Wednesday, I shopped for tomatoes. I found three options:

  • Kobe Beefsteaks—Gorgeous and super-expensive, these tomatoes must have been hand-fed and massaged daily… absolutely perfect-looking and priced way beyond the budgets of mere mortals.
  • Romas—Several vendors offered pecks of Roma tomatoes that would be decent for saucing, but sauce is a secondary concern this year. I still have about 24 pint jars of sauce from last season, so this season I want to put up more pints of tomato chunks.
  • Canning tomatoes—What, I wondered, is a “canning tomato?” One vendor offered a peck of canning tomatoes for $20 while another offered a peck for $8. The tomatoes looked identical but it didn’t occur to me to ask what variety these were.

After paying $8 and dragging my canning tomatoes home, I decided that they were locally-grown “Vine Ripe” tomatoes. There are, apparently, many tomato varieties the industry calls “vine ripe,” but you’re probably most familiar with the ones you find year-round in grocery stores. They never get soft and they taste bland. My canning tomatoes were firm and they looked perfect—exactly what you’d want to display in a grocery store to impress your customers.

I spent half the day on Sunday canning tomato chunks. Please follow this link for the step-by-step of how to can tomato chunks.

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Painful Return to my Small Kitchen Garden

My artichoke plants are a semi-satisfying success in my small kitchen garden this year. I started several plants from seed indoors in February, and transplanted four into my garden in June. These plants clearly have no intention of making chokes this year, so I’ll devise cold frames or other cover to protect them from deep-freezing during the winter. Perhaps next year I’ll harvest some artichokes.

The growing season had already been tough on my small kitchen garden, and then I really let it go. I spent a week at the annual symposium of the Garden Writers Association, and left my garden to fend for itself. Things were pretty sketchy when I left, but they were downright distressing when I returned.

When I left, I had been collecting tomatoes but things had just gotten started. Plants were topping out at seven feet, and I’d harvested about three gallons of fruit. While there appeared to be many more fruits setting, some type of infection was spreading among the plants. Lesions that looked like late blight had started low on stems and leaves and they were working their way up the plants.

Small Kitchen Garden on the Brink

When I left, climbing beans were just starting to put out flowers. There were three distinct clusters of bean vines growing among the tomatoes. A too-small trellis in an ornamental bed supported too many healthy-looking, crowded bean plants,

Finding a fence panel out of position makes me a little uneasy: how long has it been this way? What classes of rodents have noticed? Is anyone now inside my kitchen garden? What might already be dying because critters have come-and-gone through this huge opening in the garden’s defenses?

When I left, a stand of sweet corn held the promise of, perhaps, two dozen ears for meals—assuming anyone harvested them as they became ripe.

When I left, my cucumber plants formed a bush of healthy green on my deck and they were flowering like nobody’s business.

When I left, my bush wax bean plants were bereft of mature beans, but there were many young beans starting, and plenty of bean flowers were open.

When I left, my winter squashes were putting out blossoms every morning. I hand pollinate my winter squash, so I dreaded missing so many days; no one in my family would be willing to pollinate the squash flowers.

The Sad State of My Small Kitchen Garden

The photos show and explain what I found when I returned to my small kitchen garden. For the most part, the garden’s situation is grim. There are some bright spots, and I’m confident things would be little different had I stayed home… sometimes the elements simply don’t cooperate with a kitchen gardener. It makes me unhappy for a bit, but eventually I shrug and look ahead to next season.

When I returned from the Garden Writers Association conference, my wife asked, “Where are your bean plants?” She had, apparently, looked for them so she could harvest beans, but she hadn’t found them. Sure enough, plenty of beans had matured beyond tender while I was away; I sorted through them to find young beans my family would be willing to eat… but it gets worse: When several of my tomato seedlings had failed in late summer, I had planted climbing beans in their places. The bean plants were healthy and poised to bloom when I left, but two plants were wilting badly when I returned. Those particular bean plants have since died.

Sure, most of my corn plants tipped during a big storm, but kitchen gardeners lament that corn always falls over. My sadness related to corn is that no one harvested any while I was away. There are, perhaps, two dozen ears that should have been eaten but that will, at best, be old and tough if I harvest them now.

I pick tomatoes when they just start to blush. These tomatoes are nearly fully-ripe. I found many overly-ripe tomatoes in my small kitchen garden after my weeklong trip… the green shoulders and cracks illustrate why I pick tomatoes at the first sign of pink and let them ripen indoors.

As sad as I was to find nearly-ripe tomatoes on my plants, this discovery made me much sadder: there’s no question my tomatoes have late blight; all my tomatoes. Many look healthy, but the plants they’re on are in horrible shape. My tomato harvest is done for this season—far too early.

The cucumbers also misbehaved in my absence. In fairness, had I stayed home they’d have been no different. Several oddly-shaped cucumbers developed, but none are compelling enough that I’d harvest and eat them. For this, I’ll concede I didn’t give them the best chance to succeed. I planted too many seeds in deck planters and they performed as if stressed. I’ll grow cukes in planters again, but I’ll set far fewer seeds per gallon than I did this season.

There is a bright spot in my small kitchen garden. Actually, it’s all over the garden: My winter squashes are in decent shape. On the left: a small neck pumpkin. In the center, two small butternut squashes next to a huge butternut; the rear-most squash (only partially visible) is at least five times the size of the one in front of it. On the right: a Blue Hubbard squash that doesn’t seem interested in becoming a giant. Still, it’s great to have several Blue Hubbards that have survived past the typical onslaught of Squash Vine Borers… I hope they survive this more than double the average rainfall for August and September.

This may be the champion squash in my small kitchen garden. It’s a neck pumpkin hanging on what I usually use as a pea trellis. The squash was about 22 inches long in this photo, and it has grown about three inches longer since I took the shot. I’ve seen neck pumpkins weighing more than 25 pounds!


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Small Kitchen Garden Bloom Day, August 2011

There are three pots of basil on the handrail of my deck. I put far too many seeds in the pots, and the poor plants grew up stunted. Still, the flowers are delicate and beautiful.

My small kitchen garden, like so many gardens in the US, has struggled through the season. Happily, things are finally moving along, though I’m afraid there is a fungus trying to kill my tomato plants.

But today isn’t about the problems, it’s about the bling! The 15th of every month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. You can learn more about it over at May Dreams Gardens. I failed to capture decent shots of the flowering mint and cilantro. Also, I neglected to photograph corn silk. Still, there were a lot of blossoms today. Please enjoy the photos of what’s abloom in my kitchen garden.

There are two windowsill planters of cucumber plants under the handrail on my deck. This flower snuggles beneath the handrail, and it is one of dozens that have popped in the last week or so.

A bell pepper flower appears healthy and robust. Oddly, my bell pepper plants are thriving while my jalapeno, banana, and poblano pepper plants are struggling.

Despite the appearance of something blighty on some of my tomato plants, they continue produce flowers. I don’t suspect late blight because all the lesions are on lower stems and some lower leaves. I’ve seen no signs of sporulation, so it doesn’t seem likely to move from plant-to-plant. Still, I fear for my tomato crop: it may be quite limited this season.

How’s this? I understand it’s the male flower on a corn plant. My sweet corn is growing ears, and the silk on those is, technically, the female flower. This corn tassel is red and the corn lower down on the plant is also supposed to be red. I’ve never tried red sweet corn, but I suspect it will taste a lot like yellow sweet corn.

That’s a cosmos trying to hide behind a corn leaf. I planted cosmos with my corn because I heard from an online acquaintance that this would keep away corn ear worms. The first ears are nearly ready to harvest. I don’t see evidence of worms, but they can be pretty sneaky, so I won’t know for sure if the cosmos helped until I start shucking.

As long as I’m confessing about planting flowers, here’s an even bigger sin: My wife ceded an ornamental bed to me so I could grow more climbing beans. I set about ten beans across the back of the bed, and then planted five or six types of flower seeds through the rest of the bed. From the looks of things, only two types of flower plants survived, and the first to bloom is a zinnia. The leaves way back against the wall of the house on the left are Kentucky Wonder bean leaves.

On the subject of beans, here’s a flower on one of my bush wax bean plants. The plants suffered heavy chewing by insects until I treated them with insecticidal soap. With new leaves, the plants show more vigor toward reproduction. I’ve harvested a serving of wax beans and anticipate being able to preserve about a gallon of them before the season is over.

Weed. There’s quite a bit of it near my small kitchen garden, and just a few stems actually in the garden. The flowers are pretty so it’s hard to go all anti-weed on them.

I had to finish with a winter squash blossom because it’s all that! This is the biggest squash blossom in my small kitchen garden. It belongs to a neck pumpkin plant and was one of about a dozen gorgeous blossoms peaking out from rain-soaked leaves this morning. Oddly, my blue Hubbard plants have produced about 8 female flowers and only one male flower. I’ve pollinated the blue Hubbards using male flowers from the neck pumpkin plants. So far, they seem to accept this hybrid pollination, but I can’t predict whether the seeds will be viable next year (and if they are, what the squashes might be like). Perhaps I’ll find out next summer?


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Plastic Mesh Fencing? NOT For Kitchen Gardens!

Looking through the plastic mesh fencing at my garden annex, you can see bush bean and chili pepper plants scattered throughout a robust weedscape. Squint, and you might make out the fencing that stretches along all sides of the planting bed.

I recently reported how I repaired the fence that protects my small kitchen garden. This year, I used plastic mesh fencing that I bought in the garden department of a large discount store. The material came in a 50 foot roll clearly marked as fencing for vegetable gardens.

I repaired, perhaps, three fence panels with plastic mesh, using no more than nine feet from the roll. I stretched the remaining 41 feet of plastic around my garden annex—a small planting bed I added last year where my kids’ sandbox used to be.

My Vulnerable Small Kitchen Garden

The plastic mesh “fence” was three feet tall, and it sat flush with the ground around the entire planting bed. Everything inside looked secure. The photos tell the rest of the story, the unavoidable conclusions of which are:

The day after my son mowed the lawn, I discovered a hole in the plastic mesh that surrounded my garden annex. I guessed my son had run the mower against the fence, and I covered the hole by leaning a board against the mesh. Later, I found two more holes in the mesh… one of them against the rhubarb patch. Clearly my son hadn’t mowed through the rhubarb patch to reach the garden fence; there must have been some other force at work here.

1. If you want to keep critters out of your garden, don’t use plastic mesh fencing as your garden fence.

2. Though metal fencing (such as chicken wire) may be three times the cost of plastic mesh, you will spend more money on the plastic stuff. Some of my chicken wire fences have survived 15 years, while the plastic gave out in a matter of weeks.

3. The manufacturer of plastic mesh fencing and the retailers who sell it as fencing should be ashamed. The stuff is useless as fencing; it can’t protect against exactly the things you’d expect a fence to keep out of your small kitchen garden.

When I examined the damaged fence closely, I noticed a tuft of hair and some flattened grass. Probing with a stick revealed a hole in the garden soil lined with rabbit hair and weeds; a rabbit had eaten through my fence in several places and built a little nursery in my garden annex! Fortunately, I’d intervened before rabbit puppies appeared; my activity in the garden annex discouraged the rabbit from returning.

I don’t know whether it’s the fence-damaging culprit, but this rabbit hangs around my yard quite a bit. When I muse about what a rabbit needs to do, I realize that it has plenty of time to sit next to a plastic mesh fence and systematically chew large holes through it. Plastic mesh fencing is a really bad idea.


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