Olav Peterson and his wife, Melissa Severson, have managed the Bittersweet garden through trial and error
When Olav Peterson and his wife, Melissa Severson, drew up plans for the former gas station that would become Bittersweet, they focused on two patios that, in addition to seating, would provide them ample room to grow their own produce.
Bittersweet Bittersweet's patio-side beds.
Taking on a small urban farm in addition to a restaurant was, partially, a financial decision. "You can save a lot of money by growing your own product," Olav explains. But the couple also wanted diners to have an intimate connection with the food on their plate -- which, they hoped, would come from enjoying a meal among the plants that produced the ingredients.
"When people are out on the patio, they see where their food's coming from," says the chef. "They know where they're eating and what they're eating. It's another level of awareness." An awareness he hoped would encourage his patrons to question the source of their food in all circumstances so they'd forgo the $1 hamburger in favor of good food -- even if it cost them more money.
The beds were built when the couple opened their restaurant last winter, and the pair planted them in the spring, using trial and error to figure out what grew best and then featuring the best specimens on the menu.
Most of the beds are dying now, including the squashes, zucchini and peppers. Olav says he's also on the last of the eggplants, tomatoes and chard, but he's waiting to see how long the collard greens and herbs go. "I'm surprised the collards are doing so well," he admits. "They're more of a warm-weather plant."
The chef and his wife also planted heirloom pumpkins, but Olav doesn't plan to use many of them in dishes. "Pumpkin's kind of bland," he says. "You've gotta add so much to them to make them taste like anything. There are a lot of better squashes out there."
Once the rest of his garden does die out, though, Olav plans to bring in some Siberian seeds -- most of which are lettuces and squashes that can grow in cold conditions -- from a friend down south. "I'll winterize one side of the bed and replant the other," he says, and "I'll insulate with hay and see how far it goes."
And next year, he plans to employ a different philosophy to his planting. "We'll plant less and nurture those to get more fruit," he says. "We learned a lot this year." He cites, in particular, some tomato plants competing for the same nutrients that eventually destroyed each other.
Not that the couple wasn't pleased with the results of this year's growing season: "We've been pretty lucky with how well stuff has established itself," says Olav. "We got a lot of natural sun and water, and we have a cool microclimate here because we're in the middle of the city. We get a lot of warmth from the concrete."
And with that in mind, he predicts an even better harvest next year.
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