In Seattle P-Patches, young urbanites are growing veggies and a community
Seattle's thriving network of P-Patch gardens is attracting a crowd of young urbanites who have discovered the pleasures of growing their own vegetables as well as getting to know their neighbors.
What to do if you want in
• Seattle has 54 P-Patches with 2,500 individual plots tended by more than 6,000 gardeners.
• Sign up for your own P-Patch at www.seattle.gov/Neighborhoods/ppatch/waitlist.htm. The Web site has an interactive map and descriptions of each P-Patch, including wait times. You can sign up for three locations, which is a good idea because waits can be two years or more in dense neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, Ballard and Queen Anne.
• Check out the patches in person, because each has its own distinct character. Gardeners have created an amazing diversity of art and structures as well as edibles and flowers.
• Costs vary; the smallest 10-foot-by-10-foot plot rents for $34 a year, and gardeners are required to donate eight hours a year to the common good, meaning weeding and other maintenance tasks. The city supplies tools and water.
• For more information call the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods P-Patch Community Garden Program at 206-684-0264 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you picture young urban professionals rushing home after work to water their tomatoes? You know the world is changing when careerist millennials take such joy in growing their own vegetables that faithful tending of P-Patches becomes a priority in their busy lives.
When our daughter, Katie, moved to the Central District last year, she scored the last plot at the little Squire Park P-Patch. I was amazed to watch her and her 20-something neighbors set in to grow their own food, undeterred by rubble-filled soil and lack of experience. After last fall's harvest, I got together with Katie and three of her cohorts to talk about their first-ever gardening season.
Because the Squire Park P-Patch backs up to a construction site, the soil posed the first challenge. "I started out by digging up and sifting all the soil in my plot," said Kyle Ford, an engineer who found a tire iron, oil lamp, rocks and glass buried in his plot. Katie pulled out blackberries and weeds, then, being an architect, built up little brick walls around her plot to fill in with good soil and manure bought in bags at nearby Lowe's. "It took a weekend of backbreaking work," said IT specialist Todd Davis, "but then it wasn't so bad."
Davis grew tomatillos and chard in abundance, but lost nearly all his corn to a hungry raccoon. "I planted my garden a week and a half after the rest of these guys, and it really showed," said Davis regretfully.
Graphic designer David Hammock started out buying organic tomato starts at Seattle Tilth's annual edible-plant sale. Turns out he found as much satisfaction in meeting neighbors and sharing produce as he did in his bumper crop of tomatoes.
Which vegetables were worth the work? Hammock and Ford both enthused about their carrots and radishes, and even in a cold, wet summer harvested "tons of tomatoes," especially the heirloom 'Cherokee Purple.' "We loved having greens all summer long," said Ford, who also raised Walla Walla sweet onions from seed.
"Broccoli was surprisingly worthwhile," said Katie, who grew a delicious kind called 'Blue Wind.' Not all of her tomatoes ripened; the cherry tomatoes did best. "My chard grew like crazy, but I really didn't know what to do with it," Katie added, expressing many a gardener's dilemma.
So have these novices fallen irrevocably down the wiki-hole of gardening? Katie is already on the list for a larger plot, hoping for more space away from the tree that partly shaded her little garden. She plans to grow fewer herbs, which tended to take over, and no basil, which was disappointing. "I'm going to work more on the soil next year so I can grow better carrots," she concluded.
"I'd like to learn more about efficient gardening — how to sequence, and get the most out of a small space," said Hammock, sounding like a real urban farmer. Which is what these young gardeners have become in just a single P-Patch season.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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