For a while there hasn’t really been a lot to say about the Free Farm Stand. The organic, sustainable produce is mostly coming from the two farmer’s markets, the Noe Valley Farmer’s market and the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. The table is filled with cool weather crops that have been harvested, brought to the market, probably most of it sold, and some left over that goes to us bottom feeders. And this week it felt like winter for sure. Our crew got pretty wet with the constant rain which we are celebrating. They say more is on the way.

The rain didn’t stop a lot of people showing up and collecting some vegetables: A few carrots and radishes, lots of leeks, Romanesco broccoli, purple cauliflowers, celery, collards and mustard greens, spicy watercress, and some various herbs in (all from the markets). We had a nice selection of bread too. There was about a pound of baby lettuce that I cut from our beautiful lettuce lawn at the Secret Garden and a bag of fava bean leaves from 18th and Rhode Island.
We also had two or three pound of lemons gleaned from unpicked Oakland trees. Despite the weather and feeling cold and wet at the end of the day, it was a nice scene, great volunteer help, wonderful neighbors and friends dropping by, and even a few of the local homeless dropped by because we were more visible on the sidewalk (and we offered some hot tea and cocoa). Again most of the food was given away and by the time I got home it was all gone.

What was going on during the past week before Sunday was perhaps a bit more exciting. On Friday and Saturday we had two good workdays at 18th and Rhode Island (and there was no rain). Friday a few of us worked on the hill covered with ivy and rocks. We have created an area to put a beehive and below that will be potato towers and below that will be Jerusalem artichokes (I just got a red kind in the mail), and finally below that an area for some various perennials. And above the beehive we will plant more avocados. We are getting the area ready for sheet mulching and there is more shaping of the hill to do and removing the larger boulders and rocks. Next Friday we will do that and then the following week we will get a load of cardboard and mulch to lay down before planting. On Saturday we planted more fruit trees: two varieties of fig (Black Jack and King), a weeping mulberry tree, two varieties of Asian pear (Hosui and Korean Giant (or Olympic), and one European pear (Seckel). Some of the fruit trees we planted last time are starting to bud and leaf out. A few remain dormant and we are waiting patiently for them to spring to life. As soon as we can get to it we have more things to plant, including strawberries, carrots and beets, potato towers, various perennials, and annual seedlings.

I also continue to be eager to plant more potatoes. I just got about ten pounds of potatoes in the mail, five or six different varieties, and am letting them sprout before I plant them. I have recently gotten inspired by reading about how the English grow potatoes (they plant small whole tubers about the size of a “small hen’s egg” and don’t cut them, the way I used to grow them years ago). This one English garden book I read (The Vegetable Expert by D.G. Hessayon) writes about chitting your potatoes (inducing them to develop small shoots before planting). This other site on the internet is also pretty good This place says the sprouts should be an inch long ideally but the more important thing is that the sprout is green not white (though I noticed some of mine are red). Maeve who helps out at the Free Farm Stand talked to me about potatoes in Ireland where she is from. She says the potatoes are very different tasting there and it sounds like a lot of people grow them in Ireland, they know potatoes. I was especially excited about these “potato shows” they have in the UK. It sounds like the Dahlia tuber sale I used to go to every year where people can buy different dahlia tubers, but these shows feature potato varieties and the tubers are sold at good prices. I was thinking it might be fun to organize a tuber swap this year like a seed exchange. We need people to start growing potatoes. I probably will have extra seed potatoes and wil give some away to people serious about growing potatoes and sharing the extra and maybe bringing some to our own kind of potato show.
The other big activity going on is that I have been planting lots of seeds and rooting trees and kiwi vines. Tomatoes and peppers plants are slowly growing and I am running out of cold frame space. The sticks of wood that I got from the scion wood exchange are rooting it seems thanks to bottom heat. I also have trees that I purchased to go in the park that I need to put temporarily in pots.

About the project of planting fruit trees in our local park: The park staff, the guys sort of at the top, do not want to deal with having fruit trees in their park that they think they will possibly have to maintain, so they are pushing for the community garden to expand to include this neglected space, and then it is not up to them to think about it, it will be part of the community garden. This was going to be brought up at the meeting of the park commission to change the land use, but apparently the whole meeting was taken up with who they are going to fire because of budget cuts.

It is fun to imagine all these things growing someday and producing fruit and vegetables, especially the fruit trees. I plan to give away the trees once they are big enough.

I forgot to mention that there won’t be any Magnolia trees cut down in front of General Hospital. I think because there was a big show at the neighborhood meeting about the proposed tree cutting, the contractor figured out a way to get around cutting the trees (though there will still be over 100 trees cut in the construction of the new hospital). Someone sent me these photos they took in Hong Kong in 2007, an example of saving trees when they do construction. I put this on my blog here only because I value tree so much.
The gleaning project is moving ahead. We now have two flyers (one a general handout letter about the project and the other to leave at a door if you knock on it and nobody is home, both in English and Spanish). We are ready to start gleaning fruit (my guess is that there are lemon and orange trees that could be picked). I already know of trees to be checked out. I am hoping this year I will be able to pass on the fruit picking to others and that the surplus can go to the Free Farm Stand. If you are interested in getting aboard the fruit picking train go to and sign up to be in the email communication loop (sfglean is a Google group and has a website that is being revamped). At some point soon the fliers will be available to download from the sfglean website.

Yesterday my friends and I were at the Free Farm Stand embracing the newly arrived weather front that brought much needed rain and cold to San Francisco. Though the weather slows down our gardening efforts and might bring us some discomfort, we welcome the rain that brings water to our soil and plants and chill to our fruit trees that need it to produce abundantly. I realized the other day that the Free Farm Stand is really a welcome table. We welcome in the weather that we have to live and work with. We welcome all our neighbors who come out on Sundays to share stories with other neighbors and extra home grown produce if they have any. We welcome all the beautiful people that come out not just because they need food, but because they want to help make local food growing and sharing a reality. We welcome the leftover fruits and vegetables from the fancy farmers markets here in the city or the extra bread from the bakery. We welcome the gleaned fruit that shows up sometimes almost magically. Then again, the stand is not only a welcome table, but a grateful table.

I didn’t pick a lot of produce this week from the gardens, although there was some lettuce mix and arugula that could have been harvested (I had a lot from the farmers market and I wasn’t sure how many people would show up in the rain). On Friday fava bean leaves were harvested from the 18th and Rhode Island garden. We just picked off the top leaves of the young plants (they are eaten raw like in salads, kind of like spinach but not in taste), though I haven’t tried them in cooking yet. They were actually more popular than I thought. I also was amazed that there were still some orange cherry tomatoes growing there that I could pick (it must be the heat reflected off the white house wall adjacent to the small garden). And the oregano was spreading beyond the fence and provided me with a big handful of fresh leaves.

My friend Gary left me a big bag of lemons at my door that he harvested from the Oakland neighborhood that he lives in. He says there are a number of trees there that he harvests regularly and makes lemon juice that he freezes and that goes into lemonade. Also, I had smaller more yellow and almost orange lemons that Tom brought me on Monday from Santa Rosa. He lives down there but comes up to this area frequently and usually finds something to glean up there to bring down for the stand. I think the lemons from Tom were Meyer and the Oakland lemons were the Eureka variety.

The stand was loaded with the usual cool weather greens like mustard, broccoli raab, and kale, lettuce mix, arugula, radishes, daikon and beets. We had a box of Romanesco broccoli that someone pointed out to me is a fractal food. I finally understood what fractals are by reading online something in the Scientific American: “… a small piece of broccoli, when viewed up close, looks the same as a larger chunk.” That is really true!

We had a great group of volunteers and more people came out than I expected. Actually, the rain had slowed down a lot until the end and we gave almost all the produce away (I still have lemons that will keep until next week and some broccoli raab and a few mustard greens).

On Friday in between the little rain we had I worked with two women that want to intern for the Free Farm Stand, Sarah and Ashly. We were at 18th and Rhode Island and planted a lot of hot pepper and tomato seeds in containers. We also helped take measurements for the site so David can produce an accurate map. One of the best things that we got done is that I met with David and Kevin and went over the planting strategy that Kevin had written up. I now have an idea of a lot of work that can be done there in future Friday workdays coming up. There is a lot to do in terms of preparing some spaces for potato towers and a perennial bed. And we can start planting carrots and other biennials perennials and possibly some annuals when we get seedlings. The next project is planting a few more trees: We have a white Sapote, some Asian Pears, and a Weeping Mulberry, and sometime later a couple of figs. Friday Feb 20 we will be doing some work preparing for sheet mulching onFriday Feb. 2oth and on Saturday Feb 21 we will be sheet mulching and planting trees.

Potato Towers

As people must know by now I am excited about planting potatoes this year and last week we built and planted four towers in 2 gardens. On Tuesday a few friends showed up at Treat Commons and we installed the tall wire mesh potato tower there. A lot of kids from the park came in the garden to help and they mixed up soil and mulch and added it to the tower. Later that day we went to the Secret Garden with the Jamestown Center kids and planted potatoes in trash cans with their bottoms cut off.

Someone asked me to describe how to build a potato tower and I explained to her that I was reluctant to get into it in this blog. First of all, I have never planted potatoes in towers before only in the ground. Pam Pierce’s book Golden Gate Gardening describes this in good detail and there is plenty of information on the internet and even videos of how to do this. Basically we are planting potatoes in what Pam calls “rings” made of mesh or another way is in trash cans with the bottoms cut off (placing the trash can on the ground bottom side up for stability). Last week we tried out what I call “the cover as it grows” method. We used both mesh and trash cans. We put a mixture of compost and rotted manure on the bottom of the towers and put them on top. We covered the potatoes with about four inches of a mixture of mostly wood chip mulch (what they call compost at Bayview Green Waste Management who will give it to you for free) mixed with a little soil. As the potatoes grow upward we will cover the stems (not the whole plant).The potatoes will eventually grow out the top of the tower (and if it is mesh it may need to be kept from growing out of it). Then when the potatoes die we will remove the tower and pick up the potatoes.

With the lasagna method we will plant the potatoes all at once in layers of potatoes and woodchip compost mixed with soil. The potatoes will grow out the mesh. I have heard we will have a lot more potatoes this way but they will be small. Tuesday afternoon if it doesn’t rain we will plant more towers and one will be using the lasagna method. We may have potatoes by the end of May.

Planting Gardens Project

Besides the new gleaning project about to take off (the fliers are almost out), the idea of helping our neighbors put in gardens and offering mentoring advice is about to fly too. I think we have two volunteer interns that want to help make this happen and we might call a meeting soon of people that may want to help out. The idea is to maintain a list of people in the Mission that need help putting in a garden in their yard and to every week get a group of volunteers who will show up with the stuff needed to make a garden. At first we may need to just offer advice or seedlings, maybe at a well staffed table at the Free Farm stand, it all depends on what supplies we can come up with. The idea is to help establish a neighborhood network of people growing food in their yards and sharing the surplus with each other at the stand. Please contact me if this is something you want to help out with and would like to attend a meeting.