Life in General Progress Report South 36 (Community Garden)

I Grow Food!

When I was pregnant, I walked around announcing: “I grow humans!”  Now, I can affirm that “I grow food,” which is not quite on the same level, but still rather amazing. Whether you want to attribute reproduction (human or plant varieties) to the miracles of intelligent design or evolution…its pretty wild to experience it.

Lots has happened since I last posted. (Its been a minute, hasn’t it?) Nothing majorly impressive as far as output, but just in my own learning curve. And I still have far to go in acquiring these most basic of skills that really everyone should know at least a bit about. It’s distressing how much basic skills we let go by the wayside and just trust a huge industrial complex to take care of our basic needs.

I put way too many wild flower seeds in the magic flower pot. But I kind of like it out of control like this. That’s what wild flowers are supposed to do, right?

I have joined Melissa Norris’s Pioneering Today Academy and am working my way through her different classes. She is ultra organized and very helpful. But sometimes I think I still learn more from Jess at Roots and Refuge, who is not so organized or purposeful, but if you can wade through her stuff, she explains the exact things I was wondering about really well. So, between the two of them and some others, I feel like I am very slowly but surely gaining a LOT of new knowledge.

I also hired [name redacted] to help me out. I will have to ask him if he wants me to link to him or put his whole name here. But for now, we will stick with first names. He is a local permaculture guy who is helping me see what I can get out of my small plot of land and where things should go and that sort of thing. I am discovering that Julian is probably a little what I tend to think its neurodiverse, which makes me have to keep pretty organized and push out info to him in a way that makes sense. I can work with neurodiverse people just fine, as I often enjoy their way of looking at things differently and can be super creative. But I think we miss each other at times, as I am not fluent in the language of permaculture and gardening yet, so it is hard to be really concrete about what I want when I don’t know what it is or the terminology. But I am trying to be more clear while still giving him the freedom to do his thing.

The backyard raised bed has remained unchanged for weeks. Nothing has died, but nothing grows past its seedling stage. There are lettuces, spinach, radish, carrots and onions planted here. All shade tolerant plants, but still not enough sun. The onions were planted as sets, but the others were planted as seeds. Nothing has grown or died.

One reason I need his help is that my garden box in my backyard has failed. I suspected it might due to the lack of light coming in through the shade of the giant plum tree that owns my backyard. The decision becomes whether to take it down, if vigilant pruning will help. or what else can be done. Julian told me that landscapers install and prune things in such a way to make you have to keep calling them back for more business. He said my plum tree has not been pruned the right way and that is one of the reasons it grows prolifically and uncontrollably. If it had been pruned from the bottom up, it would have been a lot less of a Goliath that it is now. This does not surprise me.

My herb garden pots are doing ok. Because we had so much rain, they have grown slower than normal, but they have grown a lot since the rain stopped, so I think they will be ok.
A close up of a pot of sweet basil.

It is probably good that I am not going to get a huge harvest this year. I am a little overwhelmed by the prospects of all the different ways to can and preserve the food. I am moving a bit at both ends. My garden is really at this point an experimental sampling. Whereas on the other end I am learning about preserving and preparing whole foods and trying to eat better. For a while, (probably always, actually) I am going to have to supplement with farmers markets and that type of thing. Nik has been getting a few things at farmers markets. And so we are getting better at doing that. One advantage of the quarantine has been that farmer’s markets have gone digital and want you to pre-order off an app. This is a huge help when you are blind and can’t just walk around and see what there is to buy. So, now we can buy online and then we just have to find the place for pick up when we get there. Much easier and more accessible.

These walla walla onion sets were purchased at the farmers market the same time as the ones in the backyard. The ones at the community garden have grown significantly.

I do notice a huge difference when I eat better sourced whole food and less processed food in my health. I have joined a Chronic Kidney Disease online support group, and am learning a lot about kidney diets that improve health that I was never told by a renal dietitian. Sure, there is limiting your protein and phosphates, but when you can eliminate much of the toxins found in processed foods, your kidneys have that much less to deal with. Kidney disease makes you feel sick because your body is carrying around such a toxic load all the time. (And often due to anemia, which is because kidneys also regulate red blood cell creation. ) There is not a simple solution to anemia, but it just makes sense that the less toxins you put in your body, the less your kidneys have to deal with and that hang around in your body.

Squash is doing very nicely. I am not a big squash eater, but I will have to find some ways to incorporate these into our diet. There are three plants with multiple squash that are doing quite well.

An aside, also learned that regularly sweating (yes, sweating, sorry) helps eliminate toxins from your body, and especially helps with the skin itch that is so common with kidney patients. I don’t really regularly sweat all that much, but I can if I really exercise hard. So, I am trying to start doing more hard cardio so I can sweat some crap away.

A grassy decorative plant and my metal water jug. Having plants to take care of gets me out more and walking quite often in the quarantine. Maybe a bit of summer sweat as well.

I am not anywhere near perfect about not eating processed foods, but I do notice a definite improvement when I cut way down. Its the difference between facing a day in pain and fatigue so bad you are struggling to stay awake and get through the day to feeling pretty damned functional. Its huge, and it takes work, but is not that hard to do.

Green beans are happening on this bush bean plant. I’m not sure there will be enough to do anything with, but the experience of figuring out how they grow is important, too.
Pea plants are crazy! I had no idea! But again, they are growing and I am learning about what they look and feel like, how big they get, how to trellis them, etc.

Nik’s and my garden goal this year as far as actual food is to make and can some pico de gallo. No, it isn’t the most important food in the world, but its a place to start. We have tomatoes, peppers, onions, and cilantro doing pretty well. If I get the hang of canning (I don’t have a pressure cooker at this time, so its just water bath canning for me at this point) I may also can some bulk buys from the farmer’s market as well.

Nik is very excited about these jalapeño peppers. He wants them to go red so they are plenty hot.

I am 50 today. (WUT???) So sometimes it is hard to feel like it is too late to make changes or improve things or have enough energy to grow food, etc. I was a bit depressed by my lackluster backyard raised bed. But I suppose you just have to work with what you have and who you are and where you are and most especially keep going. So many disabled people are shut out of ways to take control of their own health and gardening and other outdoor pursuits. So I know it will take time to figure out everything, but it is worth trying. I also like that gardening is one of those things where it connects you with others in a way where it circumvents disability, (like figure skating has done for me in the past) because people are so enthusiastic about it that they just want to share it with you and they don’t much care who or where you are, as long as you’re there for it. Its an interesting community.

I was having trouble taking pictures of the tomatoes, but there are some little green tomatoes in there somewhere.
Disability Adaptations Progress Report South 36 (Community Garden)

Labels, Labels, Labels

Just a short progress report to say I did get some plant labels and braille them. I tried them in my braille writer but they slipped around too much and kept brailling over what was already brailled. (I know you can apparently get a tape label attachment for a braille writer, but I don’t have one and don’t know whether it would work for such short “tape” anyway.) So it was the good old fashioned slate and stylus that came through. I had to push pretty hard, though.

All my attempted methods of labeling these little plastic suckers. A braille writer on the left, a crazy slate that I won in a door prize at a convention that allows you to do braille from left to right and not in reverse (but the labels were too thick for it.) and a standard slate and stylus, which requires me to emboss from right to left and in reverse.
The winning strategy, a standard slate and stylus. I don’t use a slate very often, but I am very glad I have this skill. Its the only thing that always works for stuff like this.
A couple of my peat pots labeled with braille plastic markers. These say “pepper.”

In other news, I have heard that because of all the shut downs, we still don’t have water at the community gardens. This creates a little dilemma. It still does rain a good deal right now, so I could plant things (was planning to start after our frost date in early April.) and let the rain take care of them. Or I could start everything I was going to plant there, here. But I’d have to go down there and get some soil for little starter plants, carry them back, carry them there, etc. etc. I know some people are hauling their own water, but they have cars. I can’t figure out how to haul that much water for beginning planting a mile without a car. But we will see what happens in the next couple of weeks. Maybe the water will turn on. I’ve emailed the garden manager guy just to say hi, but have not heard back.

I’m also in email communication with a permaculture design guy. We are trying to see if we can set up a remote consultation. My main goal there, besides just learning, is to get advice on the best use of the small amount of land I have.

Finally, my marigolds and wildflowers in the pot are growing. So, my first signs of success is not food, but I will take it.

This terra cotta pot has a few green sprouts coming out of it. The official start of my garden!
Progress Report South 36 (Community Garden)

Clearing Out the South 36

We call the Community Garden plot the South 36 because it is 12X3 so 36 acres, I mean square feet. There is an orientation meeting in early April, so I might know what the hell I am doing, but we went and cleared the bed on Sunday. My first barrier is the shed door lock. It is a combination lock and I can’t see combo locks. I can use the ones that you just push or slide the buttons by memorizing where the buttons are, but the ones where you turn a dial, blind people are out of luck. I asked if I could change the lock to one I could use, and explained the problem to the garden organizer, but I don’t think she understood what I was saying (I even included a link to a type of lock I could use.) She said she had new locks on her desk. So, I think she thought I meant that the lock was old and rusty and that’s why I can’t see it. She will put on a new one that I still can’t see. So, I can’t just do it without anyone noticing (like I have sometimes done at gyms) because other people use the lock. But its kind of like…how much should I make this a thing in a new community? I hate always starting out as the pain in the ass who constantly needs something. I already have had to convince her to use 711 relay when I paid my dues over the phone. I have been using Aira (a virtual visual interpreting service) to open it, which takes forever but does work. This last time, my son opened it.

In any case, we tore everything out of it and put some mulchy compost in it. I know about square foot gardening and have been learning about “Back to Eden” Gardening, so I will probably do some kind of combination of those methods. I will reserve things for that plot that need lots of sun, but still have not planned out what to plant and where.

These pictures make it seem like I made Nik and Avery do all the work, which is kind of true!

My 10 year old standing on a pile of compost.
Our guide dogs hanging out of the way while we worked. My yellow lab is on the left, Nik’s mostly retired Golden is on the right.
My son got into driving the wheelbarrow. This is all the stuff we pulled out of the box, heading for compost.
Nik stirring some compost into the bed.
Garden Progress Report South 36 (Community Garden)

Tour the “Acreage” As Is (The “Before”)

I live on a 0.09 acre lot. Yes, my acreage is 9/100ths of an acre, and that includes my house that sits on it, the sidewalk in front of it and the driveway behind it. I don’t plan on being able to be food independent on it, but I plan to make use of the space as best I can in a manner that makes it more useful and sustainable. I have ideas on how to do that, some can be implemented immediately, others are years off. But this is just to give an idea of what I am working with and the state it is in now. I think the easiest way for me to do this is to write descriptions in the body of my copy for those who need visual descriptions of pictures. I will always try, to the best of my ability as someone who can’t see pictures well, to describe them. But let me know if something does not make sense.


So this is my house in the burbs from across the street. It is a two-story house (Well, 1.5 story). It is kind of grayish, beige with darker trim and a stone framed porch stoop and part of the front of the house is also stone. (Its like, stone facade, of course.) It has cement block terracing up to about 2.5 feet on each side of a short cement path that goes to some steps to the stoop. On either side of the house is a small front yard that is managed by the HOA. My family owns this home, I do not technically own the house. Its complicated and I will maybe discuss that more later on. When I moved into an HOA neighborhood, I really didn’t understand what that meant. I thought they just took care of the parks and maybe told you not to keep your old beater up on cement blocks in the front yard. I did not know how much power they had or the sometimes ridiculous rules. So, the HOA manages the front yard and there are a lot of rules as to what I can do with it.


This shows the left side of the front yard. There are a few bushes along the house. I don’t know what they are. The grass is maintained by the HOA but it doesn’t look that great. I’d say this area is maybe 10X15 feet?


This is the right side of the front yard. Pretty much the same as the other side.


This area is to the left of my house. It is only about 6 feet wide. I am guessing I only “own” the right three feet. It doesn’t get a whole lot of sun and so I’m not sure if anything can be done here.


This is the right side of my house. It is a long strip of bark mulched waste. It is pretty big actually. At the front of the house is about 6 feet. It widens in the rear to about 13 feet. The A/C is near the rear and it has a slight slope to it. But other than that it does nothing and gets decent sun. This is HOA controlled, but I wonder if I moved my back fence up to the front, would they even care? It seems like this could be better utilized.


This is the back alley of my house that shows the driveway and our fenced in backyard area. The van is not ours. I am “storing” it for a friend of mine. Its a little rusted out and I have gotten HOA grief about it being there, so at some point it will have to move. I am still trying to work that  out, but it has been low priority. It has been there so long there is a hornet’s nest behind the side view mirrors. Anyway, if I ever do get it out of my driveway, I feel like my driveway could have potential. We don’t drive, so we don’t use it. (Our garage is just storage.) At least, it could be container garden. It gets good sun. But I actually would love to extend the fence around it and have a deck there or just more backyard or something. Again…HOA. Sigh.


This little strip next to our driveway…I am wondering if it could be utilized. It is mine until the fence changes styles. It is a strip of about 2 feet of bark mulched space. We are at the end of an alley, so we are kind of hidden back here in some ways. So, maybe we can sneak some stuff in there?


So, this is the backyard looking from the back porch. It is maybe 30 feet by 18 feet at its widest, and then narrows as you go back. When I moved in, it was landscaped with most of the trees and bushes that are shown around the perimeter. It had sod in the middle. The sod was diseased with a sort of yellow mold. We did two attempts at sod, and both were problematic (you can see some of this in the front yard as well.) In the winter, the patio always gets mossy. I don’t really know how to destroy the moss without that chemical powder. If you know a better way to deal with moss, let me know.


Here is another view of the backyard from the back looking towards the house. I have too many trees in the yard. Behind me live a leaning cottonwood tree and a maple. To the right is a lovely plum tree that doesn’t give plums. It is the king of the yard and takes over everything. To the left is an apple tree that doesn’t grow apples. In the middle of the yard are lots of weeds. A gardener came in once and stuck a device into the ground and said “You can’t grow a garden here, there is not enough sun. Sorry.” I don’t understand that because everything grows here. It can get pretty lush. I’m going to try to grow a garden here anyway (in raised beds) so we will see.


This is not on my property, but I just got this garden plot from a community garden about .5 mile from my house. It is a raised bed about 3×12 feet and right now in this picture it is full of weeds and last years garden hangers on. It is a really sunny spot and I am excited to try this this year.

Here is an area that is across the street from me. I’m just bookmarking this for the future. It is owned by the city and maintained by the HOA. There is a ravine and a stream behind the fence and light rail tracks beyond that. I think it was not big enough or stable enough to put houses on so its just kind of there. I’d love to maybe make this into a small community garden for the neighborhood in the future.

Well, that is what I am working with. It is not a lot. But I recall Jess from Roots and Refuge talking about making whatever space you have being your classroom. So that is what I intend to do. I don’t know if I will ever be able to move out to more space. I would love to live on like, an acre or two but within city limits. But this little .09 acres is a good enough place for me to start.