Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gardening uh-oh

I may have mentioned previously that we're living in the home of my husband's brother and his family. We moved to Tacoma to stay in their home because my brother-in-law, who is in the Army, is serving overseas for three years (now down to two).

It's a beautiful house and yard, but if you could have designed something really poorly for growing edibles, this would be it. Edibles (most of them) need a lot of sunlight to grow. The house is built into the side of a hill. The front of the house faces south, the orientation which provides the most hours of sunlight per day. However, there is a carport in front of the house, effectively blocking all sunlight that would otherwise reach the front windows. In front of that is the small front yard that faces the street, and has the most unblocked sunlight of any area around the house.

The back of the house emerges from the hill. The hill that surrounds us keeps the house and yard cool--great for reducing air conditioning bills, but poor for growing veggies. My in-laws had some beautiful landscaping done on their big backyard, which is filled with wonderful trees, shrubs and a fountain. Beautiful, but they block sunlight.

That leaves the terrace, with its spectacular view of Puget Sound, where I had originally thought to have our garden. However, it's covered and faces north--again, poor for sunlight.

As I wrote earlier, the folks from the U-Washington Master Gardener's Program* said that because of all these obstacles, planting in the front yard was the way to go. Yesterday, however, I thought of a new obstacle: deer and bunnies! We're in a suburb right outside of Tacoma, not exactly the boonies, but still, we are blessed with the awesome sight of deer and rabbits in the yard now and then, mostly in the front. I called the Master Gardeners again, and they said yes, the deer and bunnies would munch my veggies, especially the lettuce.

What to do? Raising the plants high enough off the ground will keep the bunnies away. Deer Begone and other deer deterrents don't work, I was told: the smell deters them for a while, but then they get used to the smell and come back. The only thing that will keep deer away is to put up a wire fence at least 8 feet high. Anything shorter, and they'll try to jump over it.

Two thoughts crossed my mind at that point: the fencing might be expensive, and this is not our yard. {{deep sigh}}. OK, what's left? Well, one of the advantages of growing lettuce is that it can do well in shade or cooler temperatures. So the Master Gardener I spoke with said I could try growing the lettuce on the terrace. The herb pots don't need to be big, so I can try to keep growing them in the window downstairs. I'll have to keep the lights on them, and probably warm them for a few hours daily with a heating pad since the house stays so cool in the summer. And it's a good thing I didn't start our tomatoes yet, because those would have to go in the front yard to grow at all. I'll try to freecycle the tomato starter kit.


*According to Wikipedia, "Master Gardener Programs are volunteer programs affiliated with a Cooperative extension service office and a land-grant university that educates the public on gardening and horticultural issues. Typically Master Gardeners answer questions via phone, speak at public events and participate in community gardening displays.

"Master Gardeners are active in 48 states in the United States and four Canadian provinces. It is estimated that there have been over 60,000 master gardeners. The Master Gardener Program was started in Seattle, Washington in 1972, in response to repeated requests for gardening information from community members."

If you want to find the Master Gardener Program in your area, google, "Master Gardener Program" and your city, town or county.


Update: I might still do the tomatoes, after talking with my husband. The Master Gardeners told me that planting beside the house is an option, because deer won't come up to the house. The only part of the front of the house not blocked by the carport is the front door, which we only use when we have parties. (The rest of the time, we use the side door that you enter via the carport). The front door is a double door, and there are two steps leading up to it. So the idea is, we'll place the tomato plant on the steps, in front of the half of the door we don't open. Tomatoes grow up, not out, so it shouldn't block entry, and we should be able to tie the trellis to the steps' railing.

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