Happy Berm Day

A year ago the city installed a sidewalk on our street (March 28, 2016, to be exact), and we asked them to not spread the dirt and lay sod after the work was done. We wanted to keep the “berm” created by the displaced soil. At first it was a lot of work to remove big rocks and create a somewhat uniform mound, so we wondered if we made the right decision. And it continues to take effort to (attempt to) fend off the bermuda and crab grasses. Would we do it again? Unequivocally, yes. If entertainment value alone were the only metric: yes, yes, yes. The berm has given us so much:

  • Food for humans and other animals: culinary and medicinal herbs, eggplant, okra, winter peas, sunflower seeds, nectar, and more to come.
  • Community: We are playing or working out there often, so we get to wave to drivers or chat with walkers. The berm is a conversation piece. Some people clearly are baffled and others are inspired. Either way, we eagerly share our experiences, challenges, and future plans. Also, we were flush with cowpeas and now winter peas, so we share with our neighbors.
  • Activity: The berm hums with life. The berm provides opportunities for wonderment and movement with purpose — both are a joy to share with our daughter.
  • Beauty: Flowers! See photos and plant varieties below. I sought out advice for seeds that might have a fighting chance against the invasive grasses. The best performer was cowpeas: They thrived all summer and fall and they’re pretty, edible nitrogen fixers.
  • Buffer: Our house is situated on a curve and the berm gives me a sense of security when we’re playing in the front yard and a car takes the bend too fast. I feel less exposed in general, but even more so when the mammoth sunflowers are up and we have a “living fence.”
What we planted in the spring:
“bee feed” mix*
Oriental scarlet poppy
assorted sunflowers
brown cottonseeds
Heliopsis helianthoides
anise hyssop
calendula mix*
red marietta marigold*
Michels cowpea*
butterfly weed
purple prairie clover
What we planted in the fall:
Austrian winterpeas*
golden sweetpeas
Windsor fava beans
crimson clover

*Most successful

To save money, we planted a lot of seeds and just a few transplants (eggplant, sage, rosemary, hibiscus). We’re hoping that many plants will readily re-seed this spring and we’ll plant seeds I saved at the end of the season.

Tucking In

It’s been about three months since I moved in with Brian. Our household boasts an impressive collection of cast iron skillets and mason jars waiting to be filled with homemade goodies like jam, pickled peppers, and barbecue sauce. Oh, and the assemblage of spices and dried herbs! One exciting weekend we spread them out on the kitchen table and thoughtfully culled the dated, mysterious, or simply redundant bottles and baggies. More recently I consolidated our seed collections while Brian baked a fish pie — perfect activities for a rainy Sunday in December. Seeds saved from our respective gardens were tucked into envelopes made from the colorful pages of last year’s seed catalogs. Then I trimmed and stamped old file folders to separate and alphabetize the packets. Brian’s mom, Linda, recently took us shoe shopping for Christmas and an empty Asics box became our seed storage bin. Simple and satisfying!

Give peas a chance.

I’ve never had much of a winter garden, but last year I grew a healthy patch of Austrian winter peas. My goal was to keep the garden bed in production so that I wouldn’t have the task of digging out bermuda grass like the previous two years — mission accomplished! Winter peas were especially appealing to me since they are edible (both the greens and pods), cold-hardy nitrogen fixers.

Getting seeds proved challenging, what with the loss of Horn Seed in Oklahoma City. (What a shame!) And my go-to online sources were sold out. I turned to the OK Farm Friends Facebook group, and farmer and artist Samantha Lamb came to my assistance, promptly mailing me a generous offering of seeds.

I sowed the seeds in October. Growth was slow until late winter/early spring, when the mounds of pea plants intertwined to form a carpet of living mulch that easily was rolled up and removed when it came time to plant the summer garden. I ate a couple of pods, but mostly I was interested in saving seeds for next year.

give peas a chance
Austrian winter peas
Austrian winter peas
Austrian winter peas
Austrian winter peas
Austrian winter pea removal

Seed Saver

saving seeds
Over the winter, mice munched on most of my vegetable and flower seed before I learned to store it in jars. (Take heed!)

Left untouched were the amaranth, anise hyssop and basil seed heads I cut in the fall and hung from the ceiling of the laundry/mud room.

Last week I collected the seed in anticipation of planting time and an upcoming annual seed exchange. (If you’re in the Oklahoma City area on Easter Sunday, you should come out to Ron Ferrell’s Friendship Seed & Plant Exchange. Here‘s how it all got started.)
saving seed
The amaranth and basil were both grown from seed. The sage leaves were from Guilford Gardens. And the hyssop was grown from a transplant from Gabe.
saving seeds
I have referred to this handy guide for my rudimentary seed-saving. Saving seed seems like a fairly simple exercise, but there are those seeds that have a reputation, like tomatoes. They’ve been deemed difficult, but I’m not sure why. I haven’t attempted saving tomato seed, but that largely is because I haven’t had a lot of luck growing the suckers. I don’t store seeds in the fridge, and I don’t do germination tests. And as you can see, I don’t bother with threshing. I am just not that rigorous. Should I be?

I’d like to devote some time to developing a deeper understanding of seed-saving and botany. Seems like this book would be the place to start. Any other suggestions?


After growing okra for the first time last year, I saved some whole pods for funky indoor decorations. A couple of weeks ago, I pulled out those pods to replace them with fresh ones from this summer’s garden. However, I liked the looks of the papery, old pods — all splayed out after I collected the seeds — so I decided to keep some of them around. (Jeez, this is venturing into agrarian erotica.)  The look probably won’t appeal to everyone, but I think it works with my eclectic style. What do you think?
okra seedsdry okra pods
An arrangement I took to the Oklahoma Food Co-op Hootenanny: sunflowers, okra pods, Malabar spinach tendrils.

Against the Odds

Look what I saw in our yard today!

It’s a tiny amaranth plant. It doesn’t look like much yet, but look what it can become!

Last summer I collected amaranth blossoms from Kamala’s garden, put them in a paper bag, and hung the bag in the basement over the winter. By springtime, the flowers had dried and the seeds could easily be shaken loose. In mid-April I planted the seeds along a small section of our fence line. I did the planting in a very haphazard fashion: at first I used a trowel to loosen the dirt and remove some grass, then I got impatient lazy and just sprinkled the seeds on the ground. I watered in the seeds that day and then promptly forgot about them. So I was pleasantly surprised today to see that a few plants have emerged. I would love for them to take off; maybe I should give them a little love.
dried amaranth blossomAmaranth seeds

Elm Seedlings

These elm seedlings are everywhere! This has not happened the previous two springs we’ve been at this house. What is going on?
Look at the opportunistic little buggers!
opportunistic elm seedlings
Have you noticed them around your yard or in your garden? Do you pull  them out? There are hundreds (thousands?) of them in my lettuce bed. I haven’t taken the time to pull out all of them. Matt suggested they might just die off. If I leave them along are they going to start competing with my vegetable plants?