community garden

Greed never pays. Listen to what happened to us and our new, dramatically bigger community garden plot.

here you can see the part that we had to return

here you can see the part that we had to return

After a couple of arduous weekends working on our new plot: digging, cleaning debris, adding topsoil, planting boundary poles and installing wood planks to hold the soil back, then finally wrapping the whole lot in chicken wire, we thought we were happily done with delimiting the grounds and were finally ready to do the actual gardening. What a chore! I had pain in muscles that I hardly even knew existed.

Many of our community garden neighbors came by to congratulate us on the job and wish us luck with the new plot. Steven even quoted Robert Frost’s “good fences make good neighbors.” We were content.

Well that lasted for less than a week or two, then the unthinkable: we received an email from our community garden coordinator apologizing for his mistake in determining the boundaries of our new plot 17. Noooooooo!!!!!!!!!! He wanted us to give some land back. And after all that work!

He claims, though it was his mistake, in fact we misappropriated part of plot 16, at the time a pebble strewn, overgrown nothing that had been vacant for at least a year or more. He wanted us to re-do the fencing, and so sorry about all the tomatoes that you’ve planted, but, um, they simply have to go. We were flabbergasted by his mistake and demands. We flirted with the idea of suing the community garden, but that’s expensive and likely not to get much traction. Naturally, we protested on the grounds that we were innocent victims here. And what about all the work, time, energy and money we had already invested?

here I am breaking my back to tie off the chicken wire around the new boundary line

here I am breaking my back to tie off the chicken wire around the new boundary line

But it was to no avail. I wonder if this is how the ‘49ers felt when they made the horrific trek cross country to California to strike it rich with a goldmine, only to have their hopes dashed when the land got snatched back from under their feet? I bet that happened a lot in the old days.

Morgan was sincerely sorry for the problem he caused and offered to assist us in moving the fence. He even volunteered to remove a couple of annoying stumps that were sort of on the new boundary. That was nice. We were just super upset. Plus we were about to go on a vacation that had been planned for months. Eventually we told him that we’d comply but at our own pace (i.e. after vacation). What a letdown!

So we went to Arizona and Death Valley. And Morgan more than lived up to his word. Not only did he move the fence on his own, he also removed the stumps and brush around them while we were at work. That really was cool. The shrunken plot didn’t shrink quite that much it turns out. Only about a 5’ by 5’ section on the border with #16 was reallocated, which is probably about a tenth of the entirety of #17. So we were happy again!

view of plot 17 from the land reallocated to plot 16

view of the revised plot 17 from the land reallocated to plot 16

We did have to do a bit of work straightening the fence and adding a few more planks to secure the dirt on the new border, but nothing major. Our plants are thriving. We just recently had our first harvest of broccoli rabe which I prepared with pasta. We ate it for lunch after a few hours of intense labor at the plot on a sunny Saturday morning. It was so successful that we planted a few more beds to rabe. Already they’ve begun sprouting.

broccoli rabe and squash

broccoli rabe and squash

The tomatoes and various squash are really coming along. The transplanted artichoke has recovered and is doing well. We sowed a whole bunch of new veggies from exotic heirloom seeds that our friend Michelle mailed to us from New York. The rhubarb plant that came with the plot is making gigantic leaves. Some of the stalks are over 20 inches long, though still green. Our gardener neighbor gave us some confusing advice about rhubarb but suggested that it makes an excellent chutney.

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I registered, um, I mean Steven took the initiative to register my name for a community garden plot after we moved to Potrero Hill in San Francisco about eight years ago. I’d wanted one for ages! But every time I looked at the SF community garden website I just felt dismayed by the number of people that were ahead of me on every list: about 50 or so. It seemed impossible. So, silly me, I just kept dreaming about growing my own veggies someday vaguely in the future. Steven’s more pragmatic. It only takes a moment to join the list, and who knows? Perhaps that’s another kind of dream. I dithered for about three years then waited for five on the list, so it was a test of patience and fortitude. Even so, it turns out that the community garden dream came true faster than I’d imagined possible.

smiling in the new plot before the work really began--my back wasn't hurting then

smiling in the new plot before the work really began--my back wasn't hurting then

the Swiss chard and flowers came with the plot--it even has some fava

the Swiss chard and flowers came with the plot--it even has some fava

We were so happy about our first plot despite its puny size. As soon as we got the green light from the garden coordinator we started digging, revolving the dirt, bringing in new top soil and uprooting weeds in that cold, sunless and wet December. Steven’s parents came for visit that month and we took them there. They were excited about it and not too long afterward, Steven’s mother, Lynda presented me with few books on organic gardening. Very cool! Thanks again for the useful gift.

right now it looks a little messed up

right now it looks a little messed up

Steven looks like a farmer here, don't you think

Steven looks like a farmer here, don't you think?

it's looking a little better now that the fence is in place and the heavy lifting is over... oops I forgot those bags of dirt

it's looking a little better now that the fence is in place and the heavy lifting is over... oops I forgot those bags of dirt

Since it was winter, the first thing that we tried to grow was French radish. They’re so cute, and crunchy, tasty and mostly sweet. The roots are white at the bottom and red at the top. You know, the pretty kind. Per package instructions, they thrive in cold weather. What the instructions failed to mention was the voracious appetite of all the birds! I was a tad upset when they were devoured before we had time to pick them. But looking at the bright side, I think we made some winged creatures happy and I truly appreciate waking up every morning to the free avian concert right off my bedroom window. It’s all good and I mean it, especially because we registered for multiple gardens and our number kept coming up!

Twin Peaks view from our plot

Twin Peaks view from our plot

some of the herbs, tomatoes and other yummies ready for planting

some of the herbs, tomatoes and other yummies ready for planting

A few months later I got a thrilling email from the community garden we wanted in the first place. When Dan, then the garden coordinator, showed us the new plot I was smitten. It was perhaps 2 to 3 times the size of the first one, in a more established garden with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Twin Peaks, the Mission and Civic Center areas of San Francisco, all an improvement. So we switched. It’s not all a bed of roses. The place is really windy. So windy that I was contemplating getting a few sheets of plexiglass to break it a bit. Over the last year we grew many different veggies. It’s incredible how fecund the land is. Right now it is dominated by fava beans. Really the place is like an unruly beard or even a small jungle. Fava beans are a delicious vegetarian source of protein. I love eating the whole young pod deep fried in tempura batter or just eating them shelled and puréed. This is my absolute favorite recipe. And now’s the time of the year to eat enjoy them. We planted the whole thing to fava both because we like the beans but also they’re supposed to fix nitrogen in the soil, thereby revitalizing it.

our new plot after all the heavy lifting and toil

our new plot after all the heavy lifting and toil

here I planted the edible pansies

here I planted the edible pansies

baby tomato plants

our baby tomato plants

We were looking forward to harvesting a lot of fava from the garden and then move on to a summer crop. But then three weeks ago during our spring garden meeting, the unimaginable happened: it was announced that one of the gardeners had surrendered her plot after moving to Oakland. Hers is one of the biggest there: about 23 feet by 11 feet. Huge! The first proposal was to split it up to allow more gardeners in. But that was voted down after someone suggested that gardeners working in larger plots would be more motivated and stable members of the community. Plus it’s sort of a reward for those who stuck it out in smaller plots, as they can transfer. Plus, from the coordinator’s point of view, more plots means more individual gardeners to ‘take care of.’ I‘ve always looked at the bigger plots with a bit of envy. I’ve been happy we ours, but more is more, right? Next to vote on was the reassignment of this large plot, number 17. I raised my hand immediately, and yippie, I got it!

The new plot is more than twice the size of our last one and probably 5 to 6 times bigger than the first. It took us two entire weekends to cut down the weeds, remove the many rocks and debris, build a new fence, replenish it with top soil, prune some bushes, redesign the plot and plant. We would come home exhausted, covered in dirt with muscle pains in places that we didn’t even know existed. That’s why our blogging has slowed down in recent weeks. We hardly had time to shop for food, let alone write about it. But it is totally excellent!!!

these are pretty

these are pretty and the bumble bees are excited, too

We preserved some of the original plants and added several more. It already had some Swiss chard, a small rosemary bush, a Buddha’s hand tree, some artichoke and rhubarb plants as well as a few herbs and flowers. We planted about eight kinds of tomato, some zucchini, Japanese eggplant, broccoli rabe and some edible flowers to attract bees and other insects.

I’m thrilled with the new plot. I’m exhausted, too. It does actually hurt having to move, though everyone knows that. Now, like farmers worldwide, I hope that the weather keeps so our plants can flourish.

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community garden plot update

by Heguiberto on February 23, 2012

pretty flowers from a neighbor's garden

pretty flowers from a neighbor's garden plot

It’s been a year now that we’ve been community gardeners. Wow: one year. That’s a long time in dog years and in urban gardening. Already we’ve harvested several types of herbs, artichokes, beets, kale, collard greens, lettuce, sunflowers, Serrano peppers, tomatoes, broccoli rabe, and Swiss chard.

Potrero Hill Community Garden

Potrero Hill Community Garden

baby Swiss chard

baby Swiss chard

baby escarole

baby escarole

For our “Winter Garden” we planted almost the entire plot to fava, which started from seeds back in November. They are huge now, and just beginning to flower. Yesterday I saw some bees buzzing around the flowers, so we’re hopeful for lots of gorgeous pods full of tender beans soon. Can’t wait! We’ve read that fava plants also do a favor to the soil, naturally fixing nitrogen, so many good synergies are going on right now. It is the magic of the cycle of life happening before our very eyes.

right now our community garden plot is a fava jungle

right now our community garden plot is a fava jungle

We just harvested a bunch of deep purple beets to make room for some tiny escarole and more Swiss chard plantings. Steven’s already nagging about tomato plants for the summer, but I think that it is still too early for them.

I never realized how positively creepy asparagus could look slithering out of the ground

I never realized how positively creepy asparagus could look slithering out of the ground

fluffy greens close up

fluffy greens close up

these are pretty

these are pretty

Working in a community garden isn’t all tasty fun and games. Throughout the year we participated in a couple of garden events: helping clear debris from an empty lot adjacent to the garden, weeding the common areas and mulching the pathways. Plus managing our own tiny plot can be back-breaking. But we love it.

It is amazing how fecund this little spot of land is and what it can do. Our neighbors grow asparagus, potatoes, chayotes, flowers, various beans, citrus and a whole host of cabbages. There’re a couple bee hives during the warm months. And of course, the views remain spectacular. It’s been a great year being urban farmers at the Potrero Hill Community Garden.

city view from the community garden

city view from the community garden

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We were really flattered the other day by our community garden coordinator. Dan told us that he was quite impressed with how well that we’ve done in our “first year” with a garden plot. Many others, he claims, struggle.

Michelle's sunflower is starting to show itself

Michelle's sunflower is starting to show itself

Well, certainly we’ve been eating kale a lot: to the point where I had to put my foot down when Steven tried to harvest some more this weekend. We’ve had it cooked in so many ways! It is really good, and obviously healthy, but two or three times a week for months is a bit much. Can you believe it? Here I am, rejecting kale, my favorite veggie of all time? Steven says… next year let’s have only one or two plants! I think we agree on that plan. We uprooted a few of the older plants. They’ve gotten overgrown and the eggplants were suffering for lack of sun. We still have plenty of kale though.

We’ve eaten almost all of the lettuce that we’ve grown from the seeds our friend Michele gave us when we
met her in NYC last May. We were both surprised how well it did. We must have had at least two dozen heads. Growing among all the speckled trout lettuce was a single broccoli rabe plant. I am letting it produce seeds so we can try sowing them next year.

our community garden plot

our community garden plot

The tomatoes are struggling a bit because of the unusually cold weather and the furious afternoon winds. So far, from the three plants, we’ve had only one ripe tomato. There are many green fruit in various stages of development. If the sun doesn’t shine more, we might have to prepare a large batch of fried green tomatoes. Though I’m still vaguely hopeful that the Indian Summer will come soon and save the crop.

Purslane, sage and chive have all been growing wild. We’ve had sautéed purslane twice already, and Steven’s been drying the sage for winter stews and to burn in the fireplace on a rainy February day. He’s got big plans to dry the lemon thyme and Greek oregano, too. I just replanted the chive and relocated the sage bush to make more room in the miniscule space for other things.

the summer fog looks romantic, but it is no friend to my tomato plants

the summer fog looks romantic, but it is no friend to my tomato plants

close up of one of the larger albeit still green tomatoes

close up of one of the larger albeit still green tomatoes

The artichoke plants have dried out, but little offspring are growing around them. So no more artichokes for now, but the future looks bright. Amazingly, after a weak start, the Serrano pepper bush is producing. It is always in bloom with tiny white flowers attracting bumble bees and butterflies. I wonder if the honey from the beehives nearby tastes sweet and spicy? We’ll harvest some peppers soon and let you know how they taste.

Michelle’s sunflowers are doing really well. Grown from seeds, the two surviving plants are tall and strong. I love the rich deep orange-red colors of the flowers. They look beautiful and one of the buds is starting to open.

our garden plot neighbor thinks these little flowers are chamomile

our garden plot neighbor thinks these little flowers are chamomile

My hue, or arruda, as they call it in Brazil, at the entrance of the garden, is growing slowly. I like to touch the leaves to get some of the fragrant oils on my fingers. I can’t describe the wonderful scent, but I love it.

The garden has changed shape. When we planted the first vegetables, they were all sort of placed in an orderly way. As old plants give way to new ones that sense of a ‘manicured’ garden has gone away. It is looking more organic now.

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The weather has been good to us in San Francisco lately. Long days with plenty of sunshine. And in a record-setting event, we even had a couple of days of rain recently to wash way excessive pollen and dust floating in the air. Our community garden plot couldn’t be happier.

rainbow trout lettuce

rainbow trout lettuce

sage and blooming chives

sage and blooming chives

lemon thyme and oregano

lemon thyme and oregano

In addition to the good weather our garden has been getting our usual TLC: weeding, watering, pruning and some added topsoil (humus) every other day. As result now we have a mini jungle! It is really satisfying seeing that the artichoke plants producing buds, the chives blossoming with cute purple flowers, the kale growing almost wildly, the flowering sweet peas making so many tasty pods, and so on. The Italian parsley has almost taken over and has become a medium-sized bush. I’d no idea that it was as prolific as that; it almost reminds me of mint. This is quite a change from the rather tiny and somewhat sad plants we started nurturing in chilly foggy February.

The new additions to the garden include tomatoes, rainbow trout lettuce, sunflowers, hue and eggplant; and they’re all thriving!

sweet pea

sweet pea

Tuscan (dinosaur) kale

Tuscan (dinosaur) kale

artichoke plants with chokes

artichoke plants with 'chokes

We’ve been eating lots of the produce weekly and kale really almost too often. We’ve had so much that we’ve even been able to give some away. I am amazed by how much a little plot of land can produce. I think that the dream of becoming an urban farmer has become reality. Compare the progress here and here.

huge parsley plant

huge parsley plant

purple kale

purple kale

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I’ve made this delicious recipe before but this time around it is even more special to me because this Swiss chard has Potrero Hill terroir. That’s right! My community garden plot has finally produced its first crop.

sautéed rainbow Swiss chard with garlic and lemon

sautéed rainbow Swiss chard with garlic and lemon

I was able to harvest this batch of tender, shiny chard leaves from my thriving plants. They are clearly enjoying soaking up the California sunshine and Pacific breezes in the windy heights of Potrero Hill. What an exciting moment! We’ve been working on this garden since February and it is finally paying off. Now I’m really looking forward to harvesting the different types of kale and the sweet peas soon.

one of the Swiss chard plants in my community garden plot

one of the Swiss chard plants in my community garden plot

fresh rainbow Swiss chard from my community garden plot

fresh rainbow Swiss chard from my community garden plot

This dish is very simple to make. In the original post, I used Meyer lemon. This time I used a squirt of Lisbon lemon at the end just to give a hint of sourness. This is a perfect side dish of greens to accompany almost any meal. I served mine with Pindzur, rice and cranberry beans. Yum!

sautéed home-grown rainbow Swiss chard with garlic and lemon

14 leaves Swiss chard, stems cut into ½ pieces, leaves roughly cut into large pieces or left whole
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste
Juice of ½ Lisbon lemon

Add oil to a skillet on high. Add garlic and sauté for a couple of seconds until aromatic. Add chard stems and cook for a minute. Add chard leaves. Shake the pan a couple of times to coat leaves with olive oil. Cover and vigorously continue to shake the pan to cook leaves evenly. It’s ready when volume has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add lemon juice, transfer it to a platter and serve.

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Spring has finally blossomed here and our garden plot is doing well!

the Swiss chard have taken well to the plot...

the Swiss chard have taken well to the plot...


...so has the Italian parsley

...so has the Italian parsley

Since the last update, besides the ritual of periodically weeding and irrigating, I’ve covered some of the plants with a net to protect them from the voracious appetites of birds and bugs. These veggies are yummy but not for you little beasties. I’ve also done my community service and placed several wheelbarrows of wood chips along the paths to mulch the common areas around the plots. This protects the soil and retains moisture. It also slows down weed growth and makes it easier to walk around plots without mudding your shoes.

When we started, the plot was infested with snails. We were both terrorized by those slimy things. Steven even had nightmares. Some were enormous! We were advised by an experienced gardener to kill them (manually by crushing—what a horror show) and to scatter small saucers filled with beer around the garden late in the evening. Snails are nocturnal creatures and presumably beer lovers, so at night they come out to eat, drink and party. Can’t you imagine a charming animated film on that theme? Perhaps called something like “Curly and the Striped-shells Go Out.” But the caveat is that beer doesn’t do them any good (just like us), so they either die or migrate elsewhere for re-hab. Either way, it is an ugly business. No chemical products are allowed in this organic garden. Brute force and seductive violence seem to be the validated approaches for snail population control.

Actually I have yet to use the beer saucers. The snails seem to have vanished with the wet weather. Have any of you ever heard of doing that before? Do you know if it worked? It is grimly funny thinking of drunkard snails.

the various greens from the cabbage family are really starting to grow

the various greens from the cabbage family are really starting to grow


I remain hopeful about the sweet peas

I remain hopeful about the sweet peas

the plantlets at home are surviving

the plantlets at home are surviving

As for the plants, I think the Swiss chard and the globe artichokes are thriving. The artichoke plants were droopy last time, so I wasn’t sure whether they were happy with their new windy home or not. Well, it seems that they are, since perky new leaves have sprung out. The Swiss chard is probably ready to have some of its leaves plucked, which I will probably do this weekend. Perhaps I can prepare it simply with garlic and lemon.

Bugs or birds were eating our brassicas, serrano pepper plant and the sweet peas. The net has done wonders. One of my gardener neighbors mentioned that perhaps now with the better weather and the abundance of other plant foods the animals have become a little pickier with what they eat, leaving my veggies alone. I wonder if she’s saying my tiny plants are less tasty? Harumph! Either way I am not removing the net for a while.

At home I’ve still got the plantlets in my used egg carton. The okra died, which is such a shame. I think it was a combination of cold weather and over-watering. The heirloom eggplant, and Portuguese and Jimmy Nardelo peppers seem to be hanging on. I am going to try re-planting the okra this weekend. Let’s see if I can grow them here.

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Pacific Orchid Exposition

by Heguiberto on March 11, 2011

Some of the weirdcombos went to the Pacific Orchid Expo last Sunday, held at Fort Mason in San Francisco. This was such a lovely event, which especially lifted our spirits on a cold, rainy, dreary day. None of us had ever seen so many orchids in so many shapes, sizes and colors before. It really was stunning. So today, instead of a food or wine story, we offer you a glimpse of these beautiful, fragrant and mysterious flowers. Sometimes it is enough to merely be pretty. We hope that you enjoy the show as much as we did. Happy weekend!










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Community Garden update

March 4, 2011

Woo hoo! We were offered a larger plot and we took it! The new plot is at least twice as big as our former plot 8. In a community garden at the opposite side of Potrero Hill, now we face the Mission neighborhood, Twin Peaks and the Sutro Tower, parts of the Civic Center and […]

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community garden plot 8 update

January 21, 2011

The Sun has finally come back to the Bay! Perhaps he’s been shy? More likely, he’s been enjoying the summertime beaches in Rio de Janeiro and didn’t have much time for us chilly San Franciscans. Last Saturday morning the members of my new community garden joined forces to weed the common areas. It was fun […]

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