Green Garden Dreams

The Joy of San Diego Vegetable Gardening

Posts in the community gardens category

Vegetables need lots of sun: at least 6 hours, but the more the better. I was looking for a way to raise a planting area high enough to not be shaded by the Valerian plants in my garden plot at the community garden. I’d also wanted to make the soil deeper, since the soil in the community garden plots is only about 8 or 9 inches deep, at most, before you hit the gopher mesh. The gopher mesh is wire mesh that stops the gopher from digging up into the garden. Roots can go below it, but don’t really like to, because it’s crappy San Diego hardpan; and you can’t dig any deeper than that to do things like mix in amendments.

In any case, most vegetables like a  deep, rich, loose soil, and this way I could really add some good soil of my choice, and do some “French Intensive” gardening. By intensive I mean growing lots of plants in a small space.

It also has the benefit of being a barrier for any critters that might get past the electric fence.

My first idea was to use a 5 gallon bucket, and cut the bottom out of it. My second idea was to use a large pot, such as a 5 gallon pot: they are easy to find  – people and nurseries throw them out or recycle them. I could cut the bottom out, and roots would go down into the soil.

I went exploring some local alleyways on my bike – a fun excursion since I’d often seen pots and many other useful things there, including backyard vegetable gardens and fruit trees with fruit hanging in the alley, ready to eat.

Well, I didn’t see any pots, but I did spot something that gave me an idea: some old wooden drawers. All I’d have to do is knock the bottom out and boom, instant raised bed! They could be stacked up for greater depth! I marked the location in my phone and came back in the car and picked them up.

Old wooden drawers in an alley. One man’s trash is another gardener’s treasure.

The first step after knocking the bottoms out with a hammer was to stack them up – seemed like two was the right height (three took them too close to the height of the electric fence wire, and a temptation for ground squirrels to jump over).

Ready to start filling with soil.

The next step was to layer soil in. I wanted to use a mixture of the local native soil plus amendments, and not just used bagged or bought soil. This way i would get the microorganisms that are beneficial, plus get more sand. Sand is good for drainage and soil texture.  using soil from the end of one of the pathways, I removed the rocks (our local San Diego soil is full of sand, clay and rocks).  Then adding compost from a bagged mix, plus some organic fertilizer, I mixed these together with a spade before adding  another layer. This was then watered of course. I also planted some earthworks from the plot in it.

Beginning to fill with soil.

It’s best to let this new soil sit for a few days before planting. That way the community of organisms – including hopefully earthworms – can start to stabilize and process the new mix. Soil is a living thing. And physically it can settle in too.

Time to plant some seeds! I take photos when planting seeds in order to help me remember where they are and what is planted.
On the left are Kentucky Wonder Pole beans; in the middle are Rams Horn beans, and on the right Blue Lake pole beans. These are all vine types, so will need a stakes or a trellis to grow on. This was May 25th:

Its important to keep seeds moist before they sprout. I used a piece of shade cloth in a discarded plant tray and laid it over the bed.

After the bean seeds were covered over, I planted a mix of radishes, beets, a little Cilantro, and some carrots. (These had accidentally been mixed together in a in a ziplock bag I’d been using for storing seed packets). The idea is to have these lower-growing veggies under the beans, which will be vertical. They also don’t need quite as much sun. They will benefit from the nitrogen-fixing activity of the beans too! Like all legumes (bean family) plants, beans accomplish the miracle of taking Nitrogen from the air, and using  a partnership of bacteria in root nodules, convert it to a form that plants can use.

Only four days later, and the beans are starting to emerge! The Kentucky Wonder Pole beans, which was fresh seeds from last season that I harvested from my vines after they dried out, were the first to come up. This is May 29th:

We have liftoff!

A day later, May 30th. The radishes are starting to sprout also:

May 31st:

June 1:

June 2:

June 9th. The bean leaves are starting to fill out. Thinned a couple of plants. Have yet to see if the beans are going to shade the radishes and beets too much. This is an experiment.

June 9th
June 9th

Some radishes did manage to grow just fine down underneath the beans! I grew a rainbow radish mix called “Easter Egg II”, from Renee’s Garden. Beautiful colors, and some were sweet. I really enjoyed growing, eating and sharing these with a friend.

Rainbow Radishes, June 23rd.
Easter Egg II radishes, June 23rd.
June 27th
June 27th

July 25th Im starting to get nice harvests of Kentucky Wonder Pole and Ram’s Horn beans from my little drawer bed.

July 25th harvest
July 25th harvest

By August 1st, the beans are flourishing, flowering and fruiting a-plenty, and I’m eating them straight off the vine for snacks. And steamed, on top of rice for dinner. Especially the Kentucky Wonder Pole beans! They are very productive.

August 1st
August 1st
August 1st, Closer View
August 1st, Closer View

End result of those months of toil and joyful tending: dried beans ready to cook or plant next year. I made a wonderful pot of beans in the crock pot from these!:

I stayed in Escondido for a little while in March of 2012. On my way to breakfast one day, I spied a large community garden on the west side of Centre City Parkway.

Doing a little research during breakfast, I discovered there are two community gardens in Escondido.

The smaller one is the South Escondido Garden, at 1540 South Escondido Boulevard.

I went and took some photos and looked over the fence. One interesting thing was the little concrete posts used to border the plots. And why is every community garden full of Fava beans?!

Another view:

One more:

I then drove up to the larger garden, the Escondido Community Garden, near Centre City Parkway between El Norte Parkway and Mission Avenue. They have to main area: one for the general public, and the southern section for seniors. I talked to a couple of people at the senior garden. A very nice gardener named “Lilian” spent quite a bit of time chatting with me about the garden. Their plots are 20 feet by 20 feet! (The main section plots for the general public are “only” 4’x16′). They get free mulch from the city, and mushroom compost from a mushroom farm (also free I believe).

The use of concrete blocks for plot borders is a difference from other gardens I’ve seen.

A nice covered picnic table area:

A longer view, looking north to the main section:

The senior gardens area:

Another view of the senior gardens area. This underutilized plot is going to be given to a new gardener:

Before I left, Lilian gave me a large bag of lettuce straight from her garden. We had shared experiences and knowledge about pests, community, and many other aspects of gardening. That sharing is one of the great things that a community garden is about!

For more information, the City of Escondido has a page here about their program:

On August 27th, 2011, I went up to lend my hand at the building of a new community garden in Linda Vista.  Fifty five people showed up at the Bayside Community Center (2202 Comstock St. San Diego, CA 92111).  The Bayside Community Center teamed with Ford Eco-Challenge San Diego driver, Dave Cynkin, to build garden beds for the Linda Vista Community Garden. Here’s the story as it appeared on TV – NBC 7 San Diego.

I volunteered to help the cutting and laying of wire mesh since I had experience doing this for my own plot at the Golden Hill Community Garden. The photographer for the Linda Vista Gardens site caught me hard at work here.

Here’s the story in pictures (they are all my photos except for the links to the community garden’s Flickr page):

Before work started, we got the overall plan from Bob Greenamyer of Victory Gardens San Diego. By coincidence, the day I worked on this blog post (September 28), The San Diego Reader newspaper published a front-page article about replacing lawn with vegetable gardens, and Bob appears in the article on page 24:

Safety First

A big pile of mulch and shovels ready to go!


Plots marked out on the lawn. They are going to make new garden plots right on the lawn using the “lasagne method”. This is where you where you lay down cardboard, then layers of soil and compost. The grass underneath dies for lack of light, and roots grow down through as the cardboard breaks down. Worms will eat the cardboard too! This constitutes grassroots soil building (pun intended) and getting some better use out of a lawn in a dry climate at it’s best.

Replace Your Lawn with Veggies

Lots of gardening tools piled up, ready to go:


Here we are rolling out the mesh over the cardboard. The wire mesh keeps out gophers. Chicken wire has holes that are too large, so you need to use wire mesh (1/4 or 1/2 inch):

Rolling out Wire Mesh to Keep Out Gophers

Here I am again. I dont’ know why they always shot me from behind, but that’s OK.

The bulletin board inside the community center:

The retaining walls that were needed on the canyon side:

Retaining Walls

Building a retaining wall:

Building a plot wall

Here you can see the mulch being spread. First we put just plain local soil on the cardboard, took the biggest rocks out of it, then put down layers of mulch and grass clippings. Over time, as water, plant roots, worms and microbes do their work, good soil will be created. A simple border was made with local rocks:

Lasagne Method of Creating a Garden Plot Over Lawn

Digging the plots (Phelan Reissen manning a pick ax – he’s my boss/partner from Digithrive, and can be credited with telling me about the event). The soil in San Diego can be pretty hard, as it’s full of clay, sand and rocks:

Watering some of the “lasagne” plots:

Watering a "Lasagne" Plot

Laying gopher mesh in the plots near the fence:

Laying Gopher Mesh in a Plot

Next: I’m hoping to visit the garden soon and get pictures of how it’s growing!


Linda Vista Gardens Blog