Friday, September 6, 2013

Community Gardening-A new Chapter

In June, my family learned that we would be moving from Meridian, ID to Corvallis, OR.  This move is a blessing to our family in many ways, however, though I greeted the news with great joy two drawbacks quickly made themselves apparent to me.  The first would be leaving a wonderful community full of family and friends who have supported us in a variety of ways.  The second was that I would be forced to leave the community garden that I had created behind just as I could see it reaching all of the goals and dreams that I had for it.

The past couple of months have been spent moving house and settling into our new lives.  We are now living in an apartment and I am once again without a patch of ground to sink my fingers into.  Because we arrived in July it does not seem practical to have a plot this year. Instead I have been visiting a variety of local gardens trying to decide where I would like to apply for a plot of my own.  Corvallis is rich in community gardens and I am eagerly applying for a internship through the Corvallis Environmental Center.

I am particularly interested in an internship in which I would work with the Farm to School Program!  This fantastic program works to bring locally grown produce into our children's schools.  The internship position would put me in direct contact with area growers and allow me to learn more about the growing community here in Corvallis.

I am eager to continue sharing my experiences with community gardening with you.  I will do an overview of the gardens here in Corvallis and give you an update on the Meridian Cooperative Garden at Kliener Park in future posts!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Weeds are Toast!

This years group of community gardeners at the Meridian Community Garden are a force to be reckoned with!  In just two hours they managed to sheet mulch with black plastic nearly half an acre after measuring and attaching drip irrigation line.  This improvement to our garden will save us so many man hours.  We will no longer have never ending hours of weeding by hand.  Our soil will warm up a little quicker in the Spring and this mulch will help us conserve water.

This group took on this project with gusto!  Truthfully we had no idea what we were doing.  Members Youtubed the project, tried out different methods  and assigned tasks like a seasoned team.  The thin plastic is layered over drip irrigation tubing and then the edges are held in place with soil.  We left a few walking paths through the garden for ease of harvesting and because we needed a place to steal dirt from.

The plastic had to be cut to length from an enormous and very heavy roll.  Having nothing to hang the roll from we rolled it up and down a little access road.  Then the cut sheet had to be carried into the garden and laid straight.

Some of us really got into our work!  At this point the team is on a roll!  We lay four rows down and then skip a row.  There are over 60 rows in this garden and the team finished the project in two hours!  They are AMAZING!!!

As you can see everyone got involved.  The very young were eager to try out the shovels and helped roll the big roll of plastic.  Our main body of gardeners are in the 30 to 50 year range but we have many gardeners both younger and older than that.

I took a number of small groups on a tour of the area that we planted a month ago.  I encouraged everyone to taste what we were growing.  A clear favorite was giant red mustard- one of the crops I choose despite it rating very low on my survey.  The kids got a kick out of pulling and tasting the radishes and they were very eager to try the Asian Greens, Spinach, Lettuce, Kale, and Lambs Quarters.

I love that I can include my children and the other members children in this garden experience.  I have a fantastic time answering their questions and showing them what to do in the garden.  The enthusiasm of our members and their families makes me feel very blessed.  I am so glad I began this journey five years ago and that I pursued it to this point.  Our garden is a fantastic success and we look forward to a bountiful year.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Found Object Project

You will need a few basic items to create a container garden from a found object.  These are what I used for this project.
A cordless drill
Left over latex paint
Weed cloth
Box cutter
Potting Soil
Depending on what your object is you may decide to use a cheap plastic pot as an insert.

 First I will admit that this "found object" did not require a great deal of imagination to turn into a planter box for my patio.  However, the simple steps I used to turn it into a miniature garden could be used for a variety of found objects.  The most important step is also the first.  Be sure to provide drainage for your new planter.  Unless you want to grow a bog garden this is essential to the health of your plants.  Because my container was made of wood, I simply used a drill bit to provide the drainage holes.

Second because I wanted to pretty it up I painted the box with latex paint and lined it with weed cloth.  The holes where small but I prefer to keep as much of my potting mix in my container and not running all over the table top where this will live.  A bit more decorating with some acrylic paint to add lettering and my container was ready for soil.

 The girls helped me fill the box with soil.  We used a rather cheap potting soil for two reasons. This container will be emptied every year and the herbs we will be growing will not mind poor soil.  We planted the box with lemon balm, peppermint, kale, Swiss chard, green onions, cilantro, and some red romaine lettuce seed.  This will likely get crowded...but we are happy to eat anyone who runs out of room!  I will poke a few nasturtium seeds in to add some color and we will call it done.
I will post pictures in a few weeks to show how this has grown....but for me this is the perfect kind of project...most of the plants were started from seed and cost us pennies.  Many were volunteers in the garden, so we can say that this project cost us under $10 after buying the potting soil!  Not bad for a pretty little garden.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gathering Media Attention for Your Community Garden

I love answering the door when opportunity knocks!  For the last week or so I have been working on a story for a local publication about my journey creating a community garden.  The article takes a look at what drove me to create the garden, the challenges that we faced (once I had found other gardeners), and where we hope to take the garden in the future.  I was honored to be asked and even more excited when I learned it was to be a cover story for the magazine.  My story quickly became 1700 words when only 1550 were needed- but I figure that is what editing is for!  I need to gather some photographs for the article and then I will wait anxiously until July when it will be published.

Another exciting development is the addition of our drip lines!  The city has completed the top portion of the system and I spent some time yesterday laying out the netafim lines that we brought from our last location.  These are set every 36 inches and we will lay our black plastic mulch down over them.  This will give us some awesome benefits.  The ground will warm quickly early in the season, the mulch will suppress weeds and our water use will be 75% more efficient!

Our seedlings are coming along wonderfully.  Unfortunately, so are the weeds, which means I will soon be spending my afternoons weeding between tiny seedlings.  The above picture shows a Swiss Chard seedling.  Everything is up now.  Tiny lettuce seedlings, kale, radishes, beets, peas, sunflowers, nasturtiums, spinach, potatoes, onions, leeks, garlic and wheat will soon be large enough to out compete the weeds.  I love this time of year as our garden soil slowly turn to green with new growth.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Turn it into a Party!

Many of the chores that must be done to keep a community garden running can be turned into social occasions!  If the weather cooperates with your event everyone can have a really great time while getting necessary work done.  Make sure to plan for all ages and if possible have activities that the children can participate in.  Although the kids can help with planting and weeding it is likely that their attention will not hold for very long.  By having something for the kids to do while the grownups work and ensuring that the area is safe the adults can get the work done and enjoy each others company.

This weekend a great group of gardeners got together to plant seeds for our garden this summer.  We planted squash, cucumbers, melons,zinnias, fennel, lettuce, herbs, and wax beans in containers.  Working together assembly line style we were able to get hundreds of plants started in just a few hours.  We punched drainage holes in recycled containers, labeled them with a wax pencil, filled them with potting soil, added seeds, and moved them to the green house for watering.  At the end of the event various families take home potted seeds to care for until our planting day later in May.  These seeds will be very young transplants but give us a fantastic start.  With our new black plastic mulch this step is necessary and may even give us a jump start on the season!

As we worked the gardeners had an opportunity to learn more about each other.  Some discovered that they had worked for the same employers, had moved from the same parts of the country, had friends in common, or had similar interests.  We had several generations present with grandchildren  grandparents, and parents all working together on a project that would benefit everyone!  The kids worked with us for a while and then ran off to play in the sprinklers.  My father hosted and he pulled out the grand kids toys for everyone to play with in the yard.  Nothing encourages parents that an activity is worth while than their kids having so much fun that they don't want to leave.

Remember to throw a little fun into all your gatherings and your community gardening group will quickly become a fantastic group with connections outside the garden as well!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Environmental Excellence

Striving for environmental excellence while creating and providing a community garden space is something we should all take seriously.  Many people grow vegetable gardens to avoid the pesticide and herbicide residues created in traditionally grown produce.  Certified Organic produce can be cost prohibitive and community gardening is one way for families to achieve high quality produce without the price.  Many of us are also gardening on public land and this comes with a responsibility towards good stewardship of the soil.  Those who garden after us should be assured that the soil comes to them free of contaminates and in good health.  Earth Day has brought a great deal of awareness to us all and in a community garden setting we can prove that growing organically is both realistic and achievable.

The Meridian Co-op Gardeners and the Community Garden at Kliener Park have been recognized for Environmental Excellence in 2012 by the City of Meridian.  I am very proud of what my efforts and my garden have achieved.  With a partnership with a project for March Against Hunger we have provided more than 5,000 lbs of organic quality produce to the Meridian Food Bank.  We have provided education and recreation for our gardeners and those passing through the park.  Many groups have enjoyed our garden while preforming community service projects.  Our garden covers near 3/4 of an acre and shows how productive gardening in Idaho can be.

Last year we had a very small core group of 10 families participating in the garden.  This year we are having to limit our number to 30 families.  Next year it is likely that we will have a waiting list.  As the public becomes aware of the benefits of community gardening and sees our successful garden it is my hope that the program will expand to other parks in our city.

This year I am spearheading an effort to bring the first public seed bank to the Meridian Library.  The idea is to give out free seeds, which gardeners will take home and grow, at the end of the season the gardeners will return quality seeds to the seed bank to be made available next year.  I will be teaching a seed saving class next week and have quite a challenge in determining how to manage this new project.  I need to build a seed book describing the seeds available and their individual needs.  I need to find away to keep track of where the seeds go and to encourage the participants to return seeds at the end of the season.  I can not tell you how excited I am to have a new project to work on!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

First Weekend Back

 This post could have been titled "Spring Cleaning" as we weeded winter weeds, cleaned out the garden shed, and generally prepared the garden for the coming season.  We also planted cool season veggies, marked out beds, made crop markers, and enjoyed time with fellow gardeners.  We had a fantastic group show up on Saturday.  I was so busy I forgot to get any pictures of everyone working hard in the wind.  We planted a ton of seeds, nearly 200 transplants of cole crops, laid out beds, and patrolled the perimeter for weeds.  A huge thank you to everyone who made this possible!

We planted wheat in with our sunflowers and I taught the youth group to plant leeks!
A big thank you to the Friendship Celebration Youth did an amazing amount of work!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Anticipation Builds as the Season Looms!

Fine...I'll admit it.  The anticipation of turning all of this brown dirt into a thriving and productive garden thrills me to no end!  All this bare dirt symbolizes all the possibilities of the coming year to me.  A rush of adrenaline floods my body as I imagine the rows and blocks of verdant greenery taking shape.  The chill in the air doesn't detour me as I pace out the areas for cabbages, chard, beets, carrots, lettuces, and kale.  The bright sunshine promises warming days in the future and the sounds of birds tell of Spring in full swing.

This year there are a number of improvements taking shape in the garden.  A drainage ditch filled with stones at the bottom.  A gravel pathway underlain with weed cloth at the top.  The drip irrigation system taking shape with the wonderful help of the Julius Kleiner Memorial Park staff taking shape- we are still waiting on a filtration system that will help with water pressure.  The black plastic mulch that we will use over the drip line for water conservation and weed suppression is waiting for us to put it in place.


Our first work day is this Saturday and I am very excited as we have a fantastic and large group eagerly waiting to start on this years community garden.  We will be planting seeds, planting transplants, and if time permits laying our black plastic to start warming the soil.  We have decided to limit the garden to 30 families this year. This is mainly to ensure that we are able to produce enough produce to keep everyone well supplied this summer.  A third of the garden will be dedicated to a project called March Against Hunger, managed by Carrie Swannack, and donated to the Meridian Food Bank.

These are the cole crops we will be planting. Our garden continues to be blessed by Spyglass Gardens through the generosity and helpfulness of Steve Smith.  He has been ordering transplants for us, ordering and delivering our plastic mulch, and generally offering encouragement and advice.  I have started a few seeds- pretty late!  They will not be ready for this weekend...but soon!

The garden is going to receive an award for environmental excellence from the City of Meridian in honor of Earth Day.  This is very exciting- especially for me as the gardens founder and creator!
The garden is off to an awesome start this year...looking forward to getting to know all of our new gardeners as the season progresses.  As always I love comments and questions- come by and visit our garden sometime!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sauerkraut Divine

We had a great time making Sauerkraut with some friends this afternoon!  It is such a easy process and there is a lot of room for innovation as you can add a variety of spices or even other veggies.  As it was everyone's, excepting myself, first time we kept it simple today!  We tasted some kraut I made earlier in the month, sliced our cabbage, mixed and squeezed with a little salt and packed it into mason jars.  In 10 days or when we can't wait any longer we will eat it....  Many have plans to sample it in 8 days for Easter!

The kids got in on the action- slicing cabbage and finally mixing and squeezing it in a bowl!  My daughter and I used a mixture of red and green cabbage to make pink kraut. She is 6 and she was eager to try her hand at slicing the cabbage too.  After finding an appropriate sized knife and standing near by to watch that fingers kept clear I let her at it.  Her little sister joined me and helped me pack the mixture into the jars! She was quite proud of herself.
We had two other mother daughter teams!  These ladies arrived eager to learn how to make kraut and looking forward to our Kim Chee attempts later this month. We even had a husband participate- the whole family got in on the action!  This is why I love to work with real food- the whole family gets involved in its creation.
After only about a half hour of work we were all able to take home our sauerkraut jars to await the miricle of fermentation!

The jar on the right holds my seeded sauerkraut!  I will let you know how it all turns out in a couple of weeks!  The bowl holds the kraut I made for everyone to taste- it is very fine as I used my food processor to grate the cabbage for me!  Perfect for hot dogs.....

Please leave a comment and tell us about any fermentation project you have tried!  Both your successes and failures....

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spring is Nearly in the Air!

This week it has really warmed up here in the Treasure Valley of Idaho.  My girls are itching to get down and dirty in the garden so we prepared the raised bed in the back yard and got started!  They have been busy looking over the transplants and seeds available at the local stores and picked a few things out.  For the instant gratification part they choose- peas, bare root strawberries, and cabbage starts.  They decided that the best part of gardening was pulling up the root veggies so they also picked out- carrots, watermelon radishes, and beets. They also felt it was important to encourage the insects and birds to visit the garden and choose nasturtiums, cosmos, zinnias and forge- me-nots.  They say that the sunflowers and morning glories probably seeded themselves so they will wait and see what happens with them this year!

They picked out lots more things than will fit in their tiny plot but we also have the community garden to expand in so I let them choose seeds at will.  We decided to make our own seed tapes and because we are doing a quasi-square foot garden we made seed blocks.  I marked the paper towel with little pen dots and the girls dotted on glue and added the seeds.  I think they turned out great and we won't need to thin anything!

After turning the soil and adding the bag of compost I let the girls plant our transplants with some help.  G who's 2 planted the peas in a nice row along the back of the bed under the trellis and C planted the strawberry starts.  W, who isn't mine but who stays with us most days during the week planted the cabbages.  He's afraid of worms so this was very comical for the girls and me!  Didn't they do a fantastic job?  The black fencing is to keep the dog from trampling what we have planted- a fence will go back up in a couple of weeks.

We had our second community garden meeting last night and I was able to get a better read on what everyone wants to grow this year.  We had a great group of new members who have some fantastic ideas for the future. Ideas that were tossed around include a permaculture area for dwarf fruit trees and berries, an herb garden, painting the tool shed, and building a greenhouse.  This year we are using a black plastic mulch system with drip irrigation.  We expect to have much less trouble with weeds and watering schedules as a result!

I know we are all getting excited about the growing season over here! What are your plans?