Community Post

Urban Agriculture: Making good use of public space

Seattle is full of area markets and huge amounts of fresh, local produce. But for some, the satisfaction of eating great, sustainable food is not enough. For the third installment of urban agriculture in the Central District, CDNews visited the home of Dana Belkhom and Jude Ovalles. Over the last 9 years, Dana and Jude have created a monster garden that nearly engulfs their Jefferson Street home. Dana has even pulled out less than average plants to make room for more quality flowers. But their latest investment was the most intriguing part about Dana and Jude’s garden. This year, they purchased and set up three 12 ft. planters outside of their fences, in the parking strip just past the sidewalk.

“It’s been a great spring for it,” says Dana. Despite an in increase water usage, he has had great success with the huge variety of plants that are in the planter. Tomatoes, green beans, beets, Bok Choy, eggplant, basil, sage, zucchini, pumpkins; even watermelons. Dana and Jude generally use their crops for personal use, but the public space of the parking strip may lead to some “borrowers”. They weren’t too concerned with people walking by and taking a cherry tomato, but “we just don’t want people using it as their grocery store,” said Jude.

Originally, Dana shied away from parking strip planters. “They just recently eased restrictions on planting. No more inspections. The new rules make sense,” says Dana. The department of transportation encourages planting anything besides certain trees in the parking strip, but using raised planters similar to Dana’s and Jude’s requires a free street use permit. Most restrictions on this sort of planting deal with how much space the plants take up, as a safety precaution. Depending on the wood used in the planters and the type of crops you plant, start-up cost can be anywhere from $50 to $300. Maintenance, as with any other type of garden, is usually limited to watering once a day and weeding once a week.

The full text of the planting strip law can be found here.

0 thoughts on “Urban Agriculture: Making good use of public space

  1. is there any concern about the effect of air pollution (or tainted soil) on what’s in the produce? i’ve always wondered that – i mean who knows what has gone on in the area around my house (23rd and Union) .

    i’d be interested in doing some testing on the vegies from a garden .

    i’ve limited my gardening to just herbs and mint, and i’m still even concerned about that.

    any info out there?

  2. I don’t think we’ll do any planters like that in front of our house but I am interested in starting our own raised garden next year. Hopefully I don’t kill them and make the project a complete flop :)

  3. We’re hoping to set up planters in our parking strip this summer, and are also a bit concerned about how pollution — and also the local dogs, might taint what we might want to eat. Technically, one could also worry about the treated wood that is used to build the planter — I’ve heard there’s concern about arsenic leaching from older treated wood; not sure about the wood currently available, but I assume it’s better though not actually “food grade.”

    We’re definitely putting in new topsoil — the dirt on this lot isn’t too nice anyway.

    So, for this first summer / fall we’re shooting for planting pumpkins, gourds, sunflower and maybe ornamental corn if we can get it planted in time. It’s a way to grow fun and somewhat useful stuff that we won’t actually be eating.

  4. We had the same concerns about the soil, specifically because one of the neighbors told us they had their soil tested and were unwilling to grow based on what they saw – though they noted that their neighbor used to do LOTS of work on cars, and that was likely the source. So, we’ve done lots of stuff in pots.

    We did put a raised bed because our growing area is much higher up than what they tested and we dropped about 18″ of fresh soil in. End result? Fantastic. We’ve had dill and lots and lots of romaine and peppers and blueberries and are near tomatoes. The world’s gonna end in 2012 anyway… :)

  5. We built some raised beds in our yard and in our parking strip last year, and we were concerned about treated wood too, so we used Trex decking boards made from recycled plastic. A bit expensive, but they’ll last forever and won’t leach nasty chemicals into your veggies.

  6. I’m an avid back-yard CD gardener, and I thought I’d chime in with my $.02. Raised beds are definitely the way to go, and new pressure treating methods are supposedly pretty harmless. I just did a big remodel and chose pressure-treated with the thought that it’s stronger and much cheaper than trex, plus I read somewhere that any leaching goes down rather than out. If you’re really concerned and have the space to spare, cinderblocks are a good alternative.

    A convenient soil source is Sayer’s Fuel, on Rainier close to the Safeway. You can get a small pickup truck-load of high quality topsoil (Cedar Grove compost + sand or something close), for less than $40. If you don’t have a truck, a entrepreneurial neighbor may. We’ve had good luck with John’s Hauling – 683-6412.

    Keep up the great ag converage, CDN!

  7. You can get a test kit (<$20) to find out. I've had the same question about my soil and I've tried this one ( It showed the soil I had was just fine.

  8. You can get pressure-treated lumber that’s arsenic-free, though it does cost a bit more. (Personally, I think it’s worth it not to accidentally ingest arsenic! New pressure-treated lumber that does have arsenic has a warning that you must wash your hands after touching it… doesn’t really inspire confidence for gardening.)

    Raised beds are the recommended way of avoiding the lead and other nasties that are likely in your soil (not just in your parking strip, but everywhere in your yard, mostly due to decades of lead paint/dust flaking off home exteriors).

  9. We used soil from Sayer’s, and I have to say we were pretty disappointed. Don’t think we’ll use them again.

  10. Now its free to get a permit for these grass strip raised beds. You still have to apply for the permit but it doenst cost anything. New this year, heard about the change through my local p-patch.

  11. We don’t have a truck, and so just got soil delivered from Pacific Topsoils. The experience was great – same day delivery, and the driver dumped the soil exactly where we wanted on one end of our parking strip. We got their 3-way topsoil.

    It’s free delivery with 6 cubic yards, but $85 delivery fee (I think) for less than that. So, if you’ve got a couple neighbors together who need soil, or want a whole bunch (we needed soil for both inside our yard, and on the parking strip) , it’s a good deal.

  12. That’s amazing! Tomatoes and watermelons, I might have to be a “borrower” after stopping by Ezell’s!