Food should be free, and it is when you grow it yourself. Even better is when your neighbors also grow food and everyone can share in the bounty.
My husband Paul and I moved to Salem, OR from Southern California in September of 2016, and purchased a home on a 1/4 acre. That’s a whole lot of land for someone who comes from where we do, and though it’s not huge, it is big enough to grow enough food to feed our entire block and enough native plants and trees to keep the pollinators from becoming extinct. This section will chronicle our journey in transforming our front and back yards into a bountiful food forest for humans and pollinators, and our efforts in getting our community engaged to do the same. You may think grass is pretty, but it’s a water hog; you can’t eat it and it has to be mowed. If you insist on keeping your lawn then don’t mow it as much, as it is much better for pollinators that way. Most importantly, DON’T USE GAS POWERED EQIPMENT EVER! According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “a new gas powered lawn mower produces volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emissions air pollution in in in one hour of operation as 11 new cars each being driven for one hour” Read about it HERE.This first photo is of our spacious, grass-filled back yard at the time that we purchased it.
The overall idea of my master plan is to have community members grow different organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers and to share what we harvest with each other and the community at large. Overflow and abundant crops will be harvested and sent to the local food banks and homeless shelters. I also believe that front years should be either edible, pollinator habitats or both – because it is always more beautiful, practical and useful than traditional manicured lawns or landscape, which is what I am planning for my outdoor space. You should know that a lawn does not flower, which makes it a food desert to bees and other pollinators. According to Michigan State University, “One of the best ways to support pollinators is by increasing the number and diversity of flowering plants in your yard,” [and] if you prefer a traditional lawn free of flowering weeds, you can bolster the resources for pollinators by planting flowering trees and shrubs and expanding your flowerbeds [or] choose [ing] to allow a few flowers, like clover, in the turf.” You can read the article HERE. The energy and time you spend mowing, edging, trimming and fussing with your lawn could be better spent nurturing and harvesting organic food, which to me is a no-brainer. This photo is a photo of our small but interesting front yard with that crazy monkey puzzle tree smack in front of the house. Talk about a really bad idea!
I knew when I moved to Oregon that I wanted a beautiful outdoor space, and we purposefully bought a home with a large lot so that we could get creative. 1/2 acre doesn’t sound like much, but it is when you realize you have to fill the whole thing up and that all that freakin’ grass has to come out. Ugh. We started with the front yard because it was more manageable size-wise, so we had the monkey puzzle tree taken out and my husband and I removed a large mature rhododendron, several old , non-native and not so attractive hedges of some kind, then we removed all of the grass by hand (and with a lot of elbow grease), and we then had a blank palate. Kind of. We didn’t realize that the root from the tree was the size of a walrus, so our neighbor, who is an Arborist for the state of Oregon (bless his heart) and my husband spent the better part of 3 days with pick axes, shovels and a saws-all digging that sucker up. This photo is of the back of the property when we bought it with built-in kid stuff and what I called the “creepy little house”.
I also knew that I wanted an organic garden, but I had to learn a lot about native plants and growing in Oregon, which is extremely different from growing in southern California where I am from. I have been designing the outside space to be full of native plants and flowers and to be equally as full of food and yummy things to nosh on. There is a middle school near my house and the kids walk down my street on their way to and from school, so want them to have tasty organic snacks to pick and eat on their way home. Lastly, I want to be a role model for my neighbors, because I know how harmful and wasteful lawns and landscaping are, not to mention gas-powered gardening tools and pesticide sprays that poison the soil, flowers and food, making them unsafe to eat. I am building a space that is clean, healthy, chemical free and wild, which will attract pollinators, butterflies, worms and all the things I need to build and sustain an optimal ecosystem. Once I accomplish this, I hope to be an inspiration to others to follow suit, and one day our neighborhood might be a united force that helps to sustainably feed the neighborhood and contribute to the local food banks and beyond.
I spent 2017 working on the above tasks, and also amending the soil, which here is almost all clay. I was startled at first because I had never seen nor heard of this, but it turns out it is quite common in Oregon and in many other states. Also, the prior owner had put plastic down in the soil throughout the front and back yards, and I dug every last piece of it up by hand with a shovel, which was arduous at best. Also surprising just how much plastic sheeting one can jam into soil if one is inclined to do that. Again…Ugh!
I was fortunate enough to meet and make friends with a local named Pamela who grew up here and has a brag-worthy, amazingly spectacular garden. Even better is that she knows just about everything there is to know about growing flowers and herbs in Salem. She gave me pointers on amending the soil and fertilizing organically and throughout the fall and winters of 2016 and 2017 that is what i did. I loved ever minute of it, because all I could think about was how beautiful it would be in the years to come. This photo includes the creepy little house again, lots of non-native hedges and an 8- person spa that was hard-wired into the deck. Really you ask? Yes, really.
Throughout this post I have included photos of where we started, and soon I will post photos of where we are now- in the spring/summer of 2019. Stay tuned!