Bottom Feeding on the Top of the Crop

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.

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