*WARNING:  This post portrays a detailed picture of a slug.  Viewer discretion is advised.

I have the most dramatic and intense love/hate relationship with these creatures.  I am terribly scared of them and consider them my mortal enemy.  However, in the most fabulous contradiction, my highest self knows that they hold some essential medicines for my path in this life.

If You Build It, They Will Come
A couple of days ago I put in my broccoli.  The starts had been hardening off in the same spot I planted them.  They were in one of those plastic trays:
I had them there for about 4 days and hadn't seen any sign of slug damage. Great right!?! I thought maybe the slug population was down. Maybe I would be able to get a couple of pest free days for my precious starts once they were in the ground.  Wrong.  Totally wrong.

So Wrong!
Because of my relationship with slugs I'm sure that they were laying in wait.  Giving me a false sense of transplant security, while all along plotting their invasive tactics.  That first night I was carefree and proud.  I went out to look at my broccoli starts by headlamp light (as I often garden at night by headlamp - I am the ultimate garden geek).  They were so happy and strong.  No doubt the slugs were saying, "Let's just let them build their sugars up for a couple of days so they're even tastier...".  Sure enough, two mornings later I saw my first signs of damage.  Part of a leaf had been munched on.  The slugs have arrived.


I planted ten of my broccoli starts today!  I was planning to do it tomorrow, but it rained real good this morning! When I went to look at the beds they were so inviting I just couldn't help myself... I feel like it's my kids' first day of school.  Grow little ones!


Did you know that the first type of leaf that grows from a coriander plant is cilantro?  I didn't.  I always thought that the plant was called cilantro...

I was super excited to grow this because it's one of my favorite herbs.   I got my start and put it in the ground.  It started kind of slow and then had a great spurt of growth.  I was able to add yummy cilantro to my salads for maybe two weeks.  Then the leaves started to change shapes and I could see the inevitable was happening.   The plant was going to seed.
This is not my plant, but shows good detail of how the leaves change when it starts going to seed.  Look closely - The leaves on the top left of the plant are pre-seed leaves.

This made me sad because I had assumed that I would get a much longer harvest period.  I had tried to talk a friend in Texas through the process of nurturing the tender plant and assumed her failure was do to the fact that she didn't have my master gardening skills.  Arrogant, huh!?!  Gotta love a garden for putting things in perspective!  As my plant went from tender precious cilantro leaves to thinner and elongated pre-flowering leaves I tried everything to change the course of nature and bring back that yummy cilantro.  I would have pictures of my plant, but didn't want to document my "failure".  Silly me!

A Lesson In Letting Go Of Control:
I watered more frequently and diligently pinched off the forming flower buds.  I thought that maybe coriander was similar to basil and would produce new shoots that would give me back my tasty salad herb.  As the new shoots grew I quickly saw that no, coriander is not like basil.  The new shoots grew that same pre-flowering leaf.  I did at least try that in my salad.  It worked okay.  (I've since learned that I was just growing coriander a bit out of season.  It likes cooler spring and fall temps.  I started it in late May.)

I considered pulling the plant, but decided to leave it in and see what happens.  The flowers were pretty and I didn't really grow many flowers this year.  So I left it.  It is always interesting to watch the flowering process.  As the petals died off I saw these little clumps of small green balls forming.  Curious?

As the plant dried out these seeds grew.  I tasted them and they seemed familiar.  A quick internet search told me that I had a big 'ole bunch of maturing coriander seed!  I was instructed to harvest them as they turned brown.  So far this is what I've got:

It's going to be so hot when I grind my fresh seed to spice up my dinner one night!  Oh my, that sounded dirty.


I got this question from my cousin.  It was quite interesting to me and has stuck in my thoughts.  My immediate response to him was that it's so political.  I think I actually channeled the spirit of an old black woman and said something like, "Oh, it's all wrapped up in there honey.  It's all there.  It's much more than just putting a plant in the ground and tending to it while it grows."

I think it has stuck with me because I found it so, uhm... ironic?

Right now urban gardening integrates all my politics, all my life lessons and history, all my passions, joys, obsessions, dreams  -- It has become all of that condensed, focused and put at the tip of a needle ready to pierce a hole through the fabric of common conception about city gardening and how it's supposed to be done.  Don't get me wrong though.  I'm not unique in my perspective here.  There are many amazing urban gardening projects that continue to inspire me.  People who are acting my vision to feed their community.  What I'm excited about is nothing new.  But it's new to me and definitely new to my community.

The Dream
My neighborhood growing it's own food and preserving it's desirable characteristics.  It's that simple.  How we get there is kinda complex.  As I've been learning and practicing growing food and dreaming and thinking about community preservation I have some ideas for how to start.

In my community eight 3,000 sq. ft. lots  outfitted with a solar roofed shed and massive water storage systems (with compostable toilets) would be a good start.  One of the lots as the greenhouse - the other 7 on a yearly crop rotation cycle. Each garden would grow 1 "core" crop.

The programming associated would involve honor and purpose for our elders, youth mentorship, a reworking of what's valued as currency and challenging journeys to reconnect with power that is not an illusion.  I'd say it was my sci-fi utopian dream if I weren't so earthly serious about making it happen.  It's my path right now. That makes me very happy.

Articulating the political through this blog will be interesting.  I'm pretty over heady rants - though I'll always love a dramatic monologue!  At this point I'm more inclined to tell the right story of my dreams.   My garden, my ancestors, my spirits want that for me.  So this blog intends to chronicle what happens.  In the garden and in the community.  As I listen to my dreams and sew a new quilt.    A quilt that the community can snuggle up in for a big HUG!

From Sandy:
this post is a work in progress.  i'm not entirely sure how i feel about posting an incomplete thought.  darned perfectionist genes, blargh!  though i feel like i go way back in the soil biz, all this garden / urban agriculture business is quite new to me and i'm still working it out.  i'd love to hear other people's thoughts about urban agriculture and community work.


What a wonderful start to my day!  I was outside tending the garden when my neighbor kids' friend Joshua came by looking for my neighbor kid Uriah.  I make it a point to say hi to all the neighbor kids cuz they rock.  They're also the future of Hilltop Urban Gardens and I want to get them as early as possible!!
I asked Josh if he wanted to sample some orange tomatoes and he said, "Sure!"  Uriah was into it too, but he already knew he didn't like the orange cherry tomatoes.  Josh sampled and totally did not like them.  I'm really curious what it is they don't like.  I think they are super sweet and delicious.  I wonder if their "foreign" color may have something to do with it.

At some point Uriah asked me if I had to go to work today.  What a joy to answer this was my work today!

Josh was actually much more curious about what the green (i.e. not ripe) tomatoes tasted like.  He kept asking me and I kept trying to give him an answer that would shut him down.  Silly me!  I'm so happy that kids are persistent.  I finally started asking me own damn self what green tomatoes tasted like.  So I said, "Sure, lets give one a taste.  Let me go inside and get a knife to cut it up."  When I came back, Josh picked out a tomato to cut open.  I honestly didn't know what it would look like and was surprised when we cut it open and it looked like.... a green tomato.

Ha, Ha.  Silly me!  We tasted them.  Josh said he actually liked it better than the orange one.  Curious?  It could have ended there, but I had an idea.

I am working with magic and practicality to birth an urban gardening project in my community.  What this means when kids are around is that I want to make their engagement in the garden as filled with wonder, curiosity, exploration and fun as I possibly can! (not to mention mutual respect, challenge, creativity, earth-based thinking ---add more juicy descriptors at your pleasure---)

I was pretty sure that they both would like something growing in my garden so I proposed the idea of a taste test!  We would sample orange and red tomatoes, jalapa and chili peppers.  They were eager to proceed.  But before we could move forward Uriah had to take a bath and get dressed for the day...

postscript:  While Uriah was doing his morning ritual he yelled out the window and asked if I had to go to work today.  What a joy to answer back that this was my work today!


A couple of days ago I brought this little package to my cool neighbors across the alley.  They moved in about the same time as me and we've been bonding over some of the issues on our alley block.  They also have a garden and I've shared some of my knowledge with them.  The big dude of the house referred to me as the resident garden master.  It was funny since I'm a master gardener!

It made me feel good to know that he was thinking of me like that.  I don't feel like any kind of gardening expert, but keep reminding myself that I know more than I think.  And broadly speaking, a lot more than the general public.  I'm super happy that this can be the gift that I give to my neighbors.  When I'm ready to post about Hilltop Urban Gardens we'll look at that gift much closer.  Until then, let's just say that gardening has been the gift that keeps on giving and I can't wait to grow that for my community!


This whole blog thing is new to me.  I'm totally playing with it to see what I like and want to use.  In my posts I've been adding links on some of the stuff I mention.  I'm trying to do it for things I think people may be unfamiliar with, but interested in.  I wasn't thinking in terms of endorsements, but some folks might see it this way.  Maybe at some point I'll use the little tool that let's me actually list the things I do want to endorse.

For now let's just say when I link to something it's because I use it, like it and think you might too!


S. Loam


Okay, So First - Fraking Beautiful!  
Pictures of veggies harvested just minutes ago are amazing.  you can basically see the life flowing from them and being offered to you.  I'm totally trying to remember to give thanks and blessings for this miracle each time I eat from the garden!
I Grew This Shit.  What!?! And It Tastes SO Good.
Last night I made a brilliantly delicious tomato sauce for pasta.  It was a simple dish that ended up with wonderful flavor.  I'm spoiled.  
(fresh from the garden.  behind the bowl is plum and pear preserve made that day.  a gift from my alley neighbors)

The first step was caramelizing the onions I just picked from the garden.  I seriously don't ever want to eat a store bought onion again.  Store bought anything for that matter.  Growing my own food has completely redefined the meaning of freshness!
After the onion turned just past translucent I added cut up jalapa peppers and garlic.  Then I finished caramelizing everything.   I cooked this tastiness in olive oil, a little Braggs and some leftover raspberry-honey wine.  Right before the pasta was done cooking I added the tomato and some more wine.   I wanted to cook down the tomatoes just a pinch. The pasta was slightly undercooked so I could toss it in the pan and finish cooking with the sauce.  This way the pasta absorbed all the yummy seasoned juices.  Thanks Kate (and her Food Network tendencies) for that delightful tip!
And here's the dish plated up and tossed with an "Italian" cheese blend.  Imagine fresh basil topping everything.  I forgot to add it :-(  This meal came straight from the garden!  At some point I want to make my own pasta too!


I am in love with Blueberry Park!

I want to marry Blueberry Park!

Look at these yummy blueberries I picked!


My first garden in full bloom. I learned about plant spacing, pest management - easier when plants are farther apart, and how beautiful growing your own food is.

A lesson in abundance!
!::...Oh yeah...::!
I was gifted with the most amazing spring garden. I grew a mesclun mix, rainbow chard. spinach, lettuce, garlic and nasturtiums. Based on the square foot gardening principles I grew things crowded. On top of that I didn’t thin very much. When things were little it was hard for me to imagine just how big they’d get.  I'm schooled with greens thinning now.  It's particularly necessary because of my fear of slugs.  A dense mass of tender greens is slug heaven :-(  -----EEEEW-----

I ate greens from this garden for at least a couple of months. I was going to try succession planting, but didn’t get around to it. That’s something that I’ll strive for next year. With this first garden I wanted to simply grow things, keep them healthy,  and eat them. Then make the transition from spring to summer gardening. I did it!

I started this garden in October of 2008 by creating a sheet mulch of: 
  •  Leaves from my neighbors cherry tree
  • TAGRO Mix
  • Cardboard boxes
  • that order. 
I lost all my pictures in a sucky hard drive crash so unfortunately I can’t show the very satisfying before and after pics. Here’s a picture of my house though. The picture of my first garden is taken facing toward my house, standing on the stairs and looking to the left.  See where the garden went?

This is STAR!



Yesterday I finished prepping the beds that are gonna hold the broccoli! Similar to how I constructed my first set of raised beds, I did a "sheet mulch"** to try and do the least amount of work possible.

The picture to the right is finished product.

The grass in this area had been covered for about 4 months with:
  • 1/4" of TAGRO Mix
  • Light layer of straw
  • And this time I topped it with some leftover 6mil black plastic instead of cardboard. 
The cardboard would have been a good source of organic matter once it decomposed, but I wasn't using wood framed raised beds this time. As a result, the depth of the soil I was adding over my sheet mulch was only going to be about 4" max. My worry was that the cardboard wouldn't break down fast enough for roots to be able to penetrate it. So, I just went with black plastic.

This was a great choice because I had a big roll in the basement and wanted to turn a good majority of my yard from grass to garden in the easy sheet mulch fashion.

This picture gives a bit of an idea of how much
space I'm working with:

I think I made the right decision because the plastic turned out to be excellent for killing the weeds and grass. That did leave me with the problem of a readily decomposable solid weed barrier. The cardboard does both duties so well!

One thing I did differently this time was to actually break up the ground with a pitch fork and mix in about a 1/2" of TAGRO mix.

This is the bed before I mixed in the TAGRO. Real tiny you'll see my broccoli starts that I'm hardening off.

Because of it's free nature and the fact that I had broken up the soil a bit, I decided to just put some paper down before I added the final layer of TAGRO potting soil.  I should note that before and after the paper went down I soaked the ground thoroughly:

I used old weeklies and had about 8 pages layered. This should block any grass and weeds that manage to sprout in the broken up soil. At least long enough for the broccoli to really establish itself as the dominant plant in that area. I really will also try to weed super frequently just in case.

There was definitely work put into this method. I didn't want to go to the expense of renting a tiller so I mixed probably 40 sq. ft. by hand. I didn't go all out though and only down to a depth of 12" or so. That should be sufficient for now!

This is all one big experiment so we'll see. Here's a quick picture of the other area I prepared:

And here's a shot of the broccoli and shallot starts. I'm sure at some point I'll do a whole post series on seed starting. I'll stop for now with saying that seed to fruit is nothing short of a miracle!

The varieties are blends from Territorial Seed: Ambition Hybrid Shallot and Hybrid Fall Broccoli Blend. I read that by using blends you could prolong your harvest.

**I put sheet mulch in quotes because the recipe I used was more 'sheet mulch lite' - the real deal would involve more layers of organic matter followed by a high nitrogen source.  Basically another layer or two of TAGRO and straw or cardboard.  The more layers you build the more loam type quality you give to the soil.  I think of the end product as very fertile organic matter in a form that plants are ready to use.


I wanted to build my gardens with the least work possible since i have a relatively big yard. When I bought the house my front and back yard didn’t seem THAT big. But the first time I mowed them I learned otherwise. So, when I thought about adding gardens I knew I was in for a lot of work. I decided to that I'd try to add more beds with each change of season and eventually I’d have to whole yard in gardens.

That’s a lot of urban garden!  Therefore, I wanted the transition from grass to garden to be the least labor intensive I could make it.  I'm striving to make this life of changing the world be as easy as such a task can be :-)

I did some studying and based on what I learned in my Master Gardener class, and my low-to-no budget I decided to try a sheet mulch. The tilling required is much less if you sheet mulch then build a raised bed.**  And in Tacoma you can get locally made TAGRO products for really inexpensive.  Sheet mulch is also a nice method to use to start building a super healthy, loam soil So I went at it.

Building the bed. 
In late fall, I raked all the leaves that had fallen into my yard over where the new bed was going in. The leaves turned out to be a depth of about 2” inches dry and maybe 1/4” to 1/2” wet. On top of that I put about 1/4” TAGRO Mix and then a layer of cardboard boxes. Then I just waited for the bugs and worms and bacteria to do their thing.

When spring came I built a frame around the bed with leftover pieces of 2x6 and rocks. My sheet mulch was decomposing nicely. When I lifted up the cardboard and dug under the leaves the grass was totally gone. I didn’t see any signs of it!

****I wish I could put pictures here. Unfortunately, my computer hard drive ate everything on it and I lost a ton of pictures.****

The under-side of the cardboard was also beginning to be eaten. I considered this a good sign so I piled on 5-7” or so of soil. I figured the bugs would work their magic in plenty of time for the roots of my greens and garlic to be able to grow to their desired depth. Turns out the greens root zone isn't very deep and the garlic did just fine!

Update: Writing this post about 6 months after I put this bed in I can say I've little to no issue with weeds or grass. The first month or so I had three or four weeds and grass work their way through my mulch, but they were easily plucked as youngins. I love this method so far for ease of installation and weed control. I used a slightly different method for some beds I just started out back

Last spring I also built 2 of these back yard square foot gardens in the same way:

Baby Garden

Gardens All Grown Up

**I actually ended up not tilling these beds at all.  The mulch decomposed deep enough that the depth once soil was added was great for the spring greens I wanted to grow.  I just poked around with a pitch fork to make drainage holes.  You can see from the pictures that this worked out great.


I started a garden blog! I've lived in STAR for about 11 months now.... Holy! Almost a year! Wow - I need to have an anniversary party!!
Hmm, maybe a Harvest Party. But anyway, a garden blog. When I moved in I didn't think I was going to be able to do a garden this year because of the foundation work I'm going to have done. But circumstances changed and that work probably isn't going to happen next year. So, a garden was born!  It's been a great process for my body and my soul!

My intention for this blog is to:
  • Describe how I build my garden
  • Document what I grow, how I grow it, and all the badass-incredible meals I am cooking from the harvest
  • Share all the yummy things that I am learning, practicing or remembering about myself and my community work.
  • I imagine there will be some other stuff thrown in too!
S. Loam