Parking strips are undervalued real estate primed for planting edibles. But there are at least two potential problems with growing in a space that technically does not belong to the homeowner. Here is how to overcome those problems and grow food anyway.
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Recently I wrote about how we grow edibles in our parking strip. The parking strip is the narrow strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. It is usually a sad, unused piece of land. For me, it was an opportunity to increase my growing space in the only section of the yard in full sun.
However, there are a few things to think about before ripping out that grass and planting. I address five of those considerations in my article mentioned above. For me, considering water access and plants that can withstand dog pee, for example, were things that I had put a lot of thought into prior to planting.
But the considerations I wrote about in the article became more personal when I had the following two experiences. Both situations highlight the fact that the parking strip does not ultimately belong to the homeowner, even if s/he is required to maintain it. Luckily, we can work around these issues if we plan ahead.
Utility Work: Who has rights to the parking strip?
The parking strip, while maintained by the property owner, is a right-of-way for utilities. This means that if the parking strip needs dug up for utility repair or improvements, the workers are in the clear to dig up anything that’s there. They are only commissioned to seed with grass after the work is complete.
Being that the parking strip gets the most sun of anywhere on our property, we decided to roll the dice and plant some stuff anyway.
Before we invested any time and money, we located–as best we could–underground pipes and wires so we knew where NOT to plant. We planted three cherry trees, with two of the trees straddling either side of the inlet for water and gas pipes to the house.
We thought we hit a home run in the category of small-space gardening!
Invasion of the Construction Workers
And then on July 1st workers, orange cones, dump trucks, backhoes, machine noise, dust, and “no parking” signs showed up right in front of our house unannounced. There was even a port-o-potty.
September rolled around and they were still here. We were unable to hold classes or social gatherings all summer due to a lack of parking and the general disruption of aesthetics. The noisy machines revved up before I was out of bed at 6:30am and went long into the evening. Holes were dug at the end of our driveway, blocking us in for entire days.
The workers worked long hours, so I can’t fault them for their hard work. Apparently they were replacing the main water lines, which I also can’t complain about. What I CAN complain about is the complete lack of ANY official notice of what they were doing, what we could expect, and when the work might be completed.
Once, I was about to start an afternoon of batch-cooking, when our water was turned off without notice.
Another time I came home from my exercise class to find a man standing in a 5-foot-deep hole in between two of our cherry trees, where the main water line in the street connects to the pipes that run to our house. The foreman told Mr. TAF that the trees would *probably* be fine, but obviously a significant chunk of their root systems was cut out when digging the hole.
The middle tree showed signs of stress and dropped its leaves because the earth underneath the tree-including support plantings of chives and comfrey–was power washed away in an earlier stage of their construction, essentially sterilizing all of the soil life that we had worked hard to nurture.
Did the cherry trees survive?
Luckily, we did place the trees in the best spots to avoid the backhoe, and the trees bounced back without skipping a beat! But the whole experience was stressful and could have been mitigated with a little public relations work on the part of the utility company.
Would you like to learn more about using under-utilized spaces like the parking strip to improve the biodiversity of your yard and increase yield?
You’ll find loads of information just like this in my book, The Suburban Micro-Farm.
So, lesson #1 is to REALLY be sure you locate those underground pipes and wires before you plant.
Sharing: Are you Ready for it?
In my aforementioned article, I state the obvious: “Parking strips are prime picking spots for pedestrian grazers.” I go on to say that there’s really nothing you can do about it and that you should just go ahead and expect it.
I happen to have really polite neighbors (read: skeptical of homegrown produce). So I went the extra mile and told my immediate neighbors (about five of them) that the newly planted trees were cherry trees and that I would be delighted to share the harvest with them. I invited them to pick to their heart’s content.
I’m not on a through street or anything, so beyond these five neighbors, there’s no one who would know about this “community” harvesting area.
Then one day I found a note on my front door that mentioned an injured dog and that the person had harvested some comfrey from below the cherry trees to help heal the injuries. You can see the note and read more of my musings about this incident in my article someone harvested from my yard without asking.
Normally, I would have jumped for joy that I was able to help an injured dog by growing a powerfully healing herb, that someone knew how to identify it, and that they knew I was growing it.
But I was a little uneasy about this particular situation, and I took some heat for it in the article mentioned above.
The thing is, because my cherry trees (and the comfrey growing underneath them) are in the parking strip that technically doesn’t belong to me, I’m totally fine with community harvesting. How nice that the person left a note!
What made me uneasy was the fact that none of the five neighbors who knew about the community harvesting area had an injured dog. This harvester was somebody from outside of the neighborhood who had been studying my yard. This particular incident happened after several months of receiving visits from a man in a van. He would pull in the driveway when I was outside working and talk to me about the garden…always when Mr. TAF was out of town. He was polite, but: Who was he? Did he have good intentions?
Perhaps he was merely curious about/interested in/fascinated by growing a productive front yard garden, and appreciated being able to connect with a like-minded gardener. Maybe he has no connection to the incident. But in today’s world, unfortunately you do have to be a bit cautious.
So, lesson #2 is to REALLY be sure that you’re ready to share and then be clear about it. The best way to do that? Put out a sign that clearly designates the area as a harvesting area. That way harvesters don’t have to be shy, and you can be confident that if they’re harvesting, it’s because they saw the sign and knew it was okay.
In the end, you may decide that growing edibles in the parking strip isn’t worth the trouble. Aside from the tricky case of the mystery harvester, I was pretty darn happy with the 27 pounds of cherries I harvested each year. If that’s not enough to entice you to give your parking strip an edible makeover, creating wildlife habitat isn’t a bad idea either.
Do you have any parking strip adventures to report?