Northern Alabama Woman Grows Edibles in her Front Yard & Loves Spreading Happiness {INTERVIEW}

Posted on Jul 14 2016 - 7:30am by UOG
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Urban Organic Gardener Interviewing @mujerlocaplanta, from Instagram!

What inspired you to start a front yard, urban garden? I grew up in a rural area about 30 minutes from where I live now. My grandparents and various other family members all live on “the Farm” and pretty much all of them are and have always been farmers in some capacity. My granddad is 85 years old, and at the end of May the family helped him get his garden in the ground to celebrate his last chemo treatment. He has taught us all to love a garden, to respect the land, and to find joy in watching things grow. My grandmother is the same way, but she favors flowers and shrubs instead of vegetables. She is a butterfly and hummingbird guru, and grows the most incredible roses I’ve ever seen. My mother’s partner is a chef and owns a farm-to-table restaurant. He uses our family farm these days to supply the café with heirloom, organic produce. His specialty is tomatoes. I work at the café, and Chef Garfrerick has taught me how to be a bangin’ craft cocktail bartender. I grow most of my herbs and edible flowers with boozy drinks in mind. I have had a lot of wonderful influences in my life, thankfully, and many of the most powerful and lasting lessons I’ve learned and concepts I’ve discovered have come to me in a garden, some with the help of some truly incredible people. I plant a garden to share the wisdom they handed down to me with the people I love. Also, it makes for really good Instagram pics 😉

What do you suppose your neighbors think about your gardening efforts? My neighbors know I am crazy. They don’t think it, they know. I mean, I’m growing squash between the sidewalk and the road in front of a 1-bedroom, upstairs apartment. I’m out there at midnight with a headlamp watering everything. I literally stand in the street sometimes in my wide-brim straw hat and my galoshes and a sundress to gather hard-to-reach tomatoes or zucchini. It’s not uncommon to find me in the garden either crouched down into some undignified position that would make my grandmother fuss like mad, or twisted up like a contortionist trying to take a picture or string up twinkle lights. My neighbors and community are convinced that I’m a little off, but they seem to find it endearing. I have made a lot of friends. People stop while I’m out there all the time and tell me that they love my garden and it makes them happy every time they see it. People like to take note of how things change from day to day as they drive by.

Have you run into any challenges with having a front yard vegetable garden? 
Challenges? The whole thing is a challenge! The first one was getting permission from the city. They had no idea what I was asking permission to do. No one had ever done this here before, so they didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. After a while, we figured something out. Another challenge is city employees. City “groundskeepers” seem to think that their weedeater gives them authority, and they do not like being asked to keep their tools out of my garden. They also don’t like being asked to not spray herbicide in the gutter next to the garden, and mosquito truck drivers resent being detoured away from my street corner. But hey, pick your battles, right? I pick this one. My landlord’s yard crew is another special case. Jerry is the yard crew supervisor. He and his guys aren’t so bad, but it took some tricky conversations to get everyone on the same page as far as the garden is concerned. The worst was my landlord’s handyman who was determined to drive a bucket truck through my garden to paint some trim on my building. I had to make a few phone calls that day, and say a few ugly words, and I may have threatened to kill the guy’s truck with a frying pan. People force you to be mean, I swear.

Other than location-related challenges, there are just regular old garden challenges, too. Space is a big issue. I amended the soil with organic compost so I could plant everything close together, bio-intensive style. Because everything is packed in together, the ground stays shaded, which is necessary when you’re working with a 6-foot wide strip of dirt between a sidewalk and a paved road, and daily temperature highs here are over 100 degrees for days at a time. It gets really, really hot down there. Some things just couldn’t make it, so I’m going to try again with them in the fall. The catch-22 of planting close together is that circulation is a problem, and powdery mildew will take over your whole life if you don’t stay on top of it. A spray bottle of water +1 tsp neem oil, +2 tbsp dish soap, +1 tsp baking soda will help. 
Also, my garden isn’t level. Water runs down the sidewalk and pools up in the west end of the garden, where all my okra is. Instead of fighting this, I pretended that I was a Roman aqueduct engineer and dug some trenches that channel water runoff into hard-to-reach areas of the garden. It’s probably not going to last for millennia like the Romans’ did, but it works just fine for now. Work with what you’ve got, right?

Do you have any tips/tricks to share with our readers on how to start or maintain an urban garden or how to garden in small spaces?  
Be nice. Urban gardening isn’t remote. This type of gardening is art. It’s on public display, and people are going to be interested. Talk to people about your garden when they ask. Educate them. Even though people around here grew up in a traditionally agrarian culture, they are shockingly under-informed about organic gardening and a healthy lifestyle. I spend at least half of the time that I’m in my garden standing in the street, chatting to strangers about compost and heirloom tomatoes. Also, be nice to city employees. They’re just doing their jobs, and honestly, they probably don’t get paid well enough to put up with some crazy plant lady’s crap. Be flexible. Things change. Some kid may drive his mud tires through my tomatoes tonight. I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t be pissed about that, but I have about half a dozen more tomato seedlings just waiting for their turn in the sun.
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