Browngirl Going Green


The Antidote to Browngirl’s Eco-Blues: Garden Bounty
July 7, 2010, 2:22 am
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The BP oil spill is still depressing, the City of Oakland is nearing hysteria over the upcoming verdict in the murder of Oscar Grant, and Obama still hasn’t lived up to our expectations. But some things in life are still beautiful: here are some photos of some veggies I’ve been growing in the backyard of my friend T. She grew the zukes, I grew the tomatoes (which are just starting to come in), beets and onions. Yummy and gorgeous!







First Broccoli Harvest
May 21, 2010, 10:41 pm
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I’m about to enjoy tasting the first batch of broccoli from the vegetable beds I’ve been tending in my friend T.’s backyard. They were a short-season variety that I bought at the Temescal Farmer’s Market a couple months ago, and they sprouted up quickly! Here’s a picture from a couple weeks ago of the broccoli bed:

And here’s a picture of the first few huge heads of broccoli that I harvested today from the garden. I think I probably should’ve harvested the largest ones a few days ago, but I didn’t have time to get out there until today. Lesson learned for next time.

As I was working in the garden today—as I’ve mentioned before, the beds are actually in my friend’s garden, and I visit there about once a week or so to weed, water, harvest, plant, etc.—I realized how luxurious it seemed to have the time to do this. When I was working a regular 9 to 5 job, there was no way that I would have had the time or energy to drive even 10 minutes to a friend’s house and work in the garden for an hour after work. It just wouldn’t happen. But now that I’m working more humane hours (about 4 days a week on average, thanks to my burgeoning fundraising consulting business), I usually have at least a couple hours a week to garden.

As I watered in the ‘urban quiet’ (the sound of birds chirping, wind rustling through trees, and cars rushing by a few blocks away on busy thoroughfare) I thought to myself how much I enjoy gardening. And how much my mother, and my cousin in LA, and my aunts and uncles who are all immigrants from the Philippines, love gardening. Regardless of class background or how long they’ve been in this country. Along with love of pork, fried foods, gambling and the Roman Catholic church, love of gardening is one thing immigrant Pinoys seem to share in common.

I remember though, that when I was growing up in the South Bay, and my mother and step-father both worked full-time in San Francisco, we didn’t have a garden. We had a yard yes—a pretty good size one too, that was mostly made up of lawn, some hedges and an olive tree or two that never seemed to make the kind of olives I saw in the store. But my mom, I’m guessing, didn’t have time to garden. And I bet that that was a bummer for her. Now that she’s semi-retired (she only works a couple days a week), she gardens a lot more, and grows lots of flowers as well as some vegetables (eggplant, tomatoes).

I knew I didn’t want to wait until I was semi-retired to grow a garden. Not just because that seemed like a long way away, but because I NEEDED to have a garden. It’s one of the few things that us city-dwellers can access on a regular basis to put us back in touch with nature’s cycles of birth (seeing the tender young leaves of a seedling), growth (watching the seedling turn into a plant and then a vegetable or fruit that you can eat), reproduction (bolting and flowering) and death (watching the leaves of my crops turn yellow or brown and wither away). Watching this cycle and being part of it by taking care of these plants, these living things, has been immensely healing to me. I crave the solitude and quiet productivity of my weekly garden-time. I have grown to need it the way I need time with friends or good food or even sleep.

So I’m thankful—even though it’s taken me a long time to realize it!—that I always had some form of nature around me, in the form of a garden, when I was a child. From helping my Mom and Aunt weed in the front yard to picking Meyer lemons from our small bush to watching my grandpa grow lush and overflowing cherry tomato plants against a fence in his backyard, next to the carport. I must’ve learned something about the soothing, healing power of nature from these suburban oases of green living things, and I’m grateful and glad.



Too Much Goin’ On
May 5, 2010, 2:42 am
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Where do I start? My life has been super-hectic with work lately, which is good for my pocketbook but not very good for my blogging and other writing (at least not in the short-term). And the world’s been kind of a schizo place lately, it seems—from the celebration of all things Earth Day and enviro this last month of April, to the devastating and tragically ironic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on the last day of the same month, to the craziness around the new Arizona anti-immigrant law.

On a more personal level, I’ve been trying to keep up with my garden while working tons more hours than I have in a long, long time, and mostly succeeded—me and my husband put a couple hours into taking care of the vegetable beds the other day, and were rewarded with the sight of broccoli heads poking out from between the huge leaves on my broccoli plants. I’ll post some pics later.

In other news, I went to check out some local ‘Bay-friendly’ aka environmentally sustainable gardens as part of the annual East Bay Bay Friendly Garden Tour, which was super-cool. Saw three Oakland gardens not more than a few miles from my home: a lovely terraced mini-forest garden shaded by huge redwoods; a C-shaped garden full of plants and flowers suited for its sunny location; and finally my friend Wally’s garden in deep East Oakland, which he pretty much ‘built’ himself, and includes keyhole veggie beds overflowing with fava beans, lots of drought-tolerant and native plants, and a hammock (aaahhh). Wally’s was the only stop on the garden tour, I’d venture a guess, where we were offered wine AND rum and coke.

Also, ate some of the pork chops from the sustainably and humanely raised pig that we share-bought a few months ago. Every bit of meat we’ve had from this pig has been frickin’ scrumptious—dense, meaty, savory.

I hope to put some more time into the garden and use some of my home-grown vermicompost in the beds soon. Which reminds me of something else I gotta do: feed my worms!



Gardening Update: Beets, Broccoli and More Onions
March 10, 2010, 1:31 am
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Just a quick post to give you the update on the garden I’m planting in my friend T.’s backyard raised beds. First, the cats that are digging up the beds are irritating me, although they haven’t done as much damage as I thought they might, which I attribute to the rain keeping them at bay.But I got a good tip from my friend Cathy about using old coffee bags (or any burlap bags, I’m guessing) to help keep kitties from digging up our beds and using them as litter boxes. Ick!

My husband and I spent a couple hours in the garden last weekend, planting more of the onions plants that I had (there were like 36 of them and I didn’t realize how much space they’d need, but I planted some of them closer together and plan to harvest them as green onions/scallions), as well as sowing some beet seeds and putting in some broccoli plants that I got at the Temescal Farmers Market. The nursery says that these broccoli are easy to grow, so I’m hoping that’s true as I’ve never grown broccoli before.

Next I’ll be sowing some lettuce seeds in pots, which I will eventually bring back to my yard behind my building, which is too shady to grow things like tomatoes but seems to do well for herbs and lettuce. Hope to post some pictures of the garden soon too, so stay tuned.



Onions and Arugula
February 18, 2010, 2:46 am
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I wasn’t planning to plant today, but when I got ti T.’s house to water my onion seedlings (it’s been unseasonably warm these past few days), I was so excited about getting started with my new garden project that I started digging in the dirt. I put in about 20 yellow onion seedlings today, as well as some arugula seeds in between. I’m trying out the biointensive or Biodynamic/French-intensive gardening method, which entails planting seeds/seedlings in a fairly concentrated way in order to save space and more effectively use resources like water and fertilizers, and to help plants naturally fend off pests by companion planting. For example, onions and garlic because of their smell can be very effective at repelling certain unwanted pests.

I don’t actually know if arugula and onions will grow well together, and had planned to grow beets with the onions instead, but I forgot the beet seeds at home and couldn’t wait to plant the arugula. But since I’m growing the arugula from seeds I can always transplant them to another bed later, and plant the beets with the onions like I planned originally.

Some other veggies I’m planning to start growing this season are radishes, a few of different kinds of lettuce and broccoli rabe. I LOVE broccoli rabe, so I hope it grows well for me. I’ve been referring to the bookGolden Gate Gardening, the seminal gardening text if you’re growing veggies in the Bay Area. While it’s not exclusively about organic gardening, it does have a lot of valuable information about how to garden more naturally and minimize using chemical pesticides. I don’t plan on using any chemicals in the garden, but may have to put in some fencing to keep the neighborhood cats away.

Are you gardening at home or in a community garden? What are you planning to grow this year? Would love to hear about your garden and share tips.



Digging in the Dirt
February 8, 2010, 6:52 pm
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Am about to start gardening in earnest, in a very shareable way: my friend T. is letting me garden in the raised beds behind the house she rents, after I posted this article on my Facebook status recently and said something about how cool it would be to share a veggie garden, and did anyone in Oakland have space to share? I had recently given up gardening in my own backyard—which although spacious, doesn’t get much sunlight, especially in the winter months. In the summer, I can grow some herbs and lettuce there, but not much more. So T. responded via Facebook that yes indeed she had raised beds in her backyard that I was welcome to. We brunched oh-so-sustainably at Brown Sugar Kitchen and talked details, and the deal was sealed.

I bought some yellow onion seedlings the other day which I’m going to plant this week, and have several packets of seeds—broccolini, radishes, lettuce, even okra (although I’m not sure how it’s going to fare in this not-very-hot climate)—that I’m going to sow soon. I’m really excited about the possibilities, and just happy to have the chance to dig in the dirt. Gardening has always been a very meditative, relaxing thing for me, even when it involves harder labor like digging holes in tough clay soil. There’s a way that your body and mind become completely focused on the gardening tasks at hand that is beautifully natural and pleasurable. And plus, it’s always nice to have something healthy to eat at the end of all your efforts!

Will post pictures when things start growing. Wish me luck!