5. My first Garden Workday, and piling paths

27 Oct

And so my experiences of being a community garden member continue to grow me and challenge me.

This past Saturday was my first community garden workday.  The community garden workday is a day on the calendar to which each member/plot owner is contractually obligated to attend. These work days are usually spent working on larger projects, projects larger than a single plot. For our work day we tackled weeding and mulching the two main entrance paths. Alas I was too busy helping to spend time snapping photographs so this will be a picture-less post.

In the ten plus years of this particular garden’s existence, path maintenance methods have changed from grassy paths to mulched paths. Both have their merits. The current method is mulch since there is an abundance of free wood chip mulch material delivered to the site by various tree companies. We he piles and piles of it lining our frontage where the trucks dump it. It is a wonderful resource when used properly. Here lies a problem with this method in my opinion. This practice has gone on for several years now. In those years garden members have sought to overcome the weeds in the pathways between each garden with new layers of mulch. Weeds pulled, new mulch laid in. Problem solved. No, problem created I say. I have no problem with the use of this mulch to suppress weeds and to walk upon. I too use this method in my garden at home. From the very same sources, no less. The problem is that there is now an accumulation of many years of this practice upon the grid of paths in our garden. Thus the paths have gotten higher while the plots themselves have remained or in some cases lowered. This problem was exacerbated this past season when our area experienced the wettest summer of the past seventy years. The rains came in but could not get out of most gardens due to such high walkways resulting in lost crops and yields. For many gardeners the potatoes never stood a chance in all that wet. Not to mention all the other low to ground or sprawling vegetables such as squashes and greens. But the weeds loved it. They absolutely loved the neglected growth because it was too rainy for many gardeners to work in. Between records rains, failed crops, and massive weeds, it is sad to say that we lost many a member this past year. Too many members just walked away, paving the way for many new members of course including myself.

When I took on plot #32 this past summer, one of the first tasks I took to doing was this very issue as it existed in my plot. I needed to raise my garden with more soil and lower some of the paths bordering my plot. So I scraped off the weedy top layer of mulch then took the rich soil beneath it and placed it in my beds to raise them up. I have advocated this practice before to my fellow members who laugh at my apparent mounds. Some call them hugelkulture, some call them potatoes. I joke back and call them burial mounds. I had hoped I spread enough of this idea to my neighbors to effect the coming workday. Perhaps I did not talk to enough people. Perhaps I talked to just the right ones. Perhaps the majority simple wanted to accomplish the task as quickly and effortlessly as possible. For whatever reason, the mass of workers accumulated on that day did not scrape up the paths to lower them. They did weed them out some but then they just layered more cardboard and mulch right on top. If that large path gets any higher we could start calling it a wier.

Since I am new to this group I know there is only so much I can say in order to be heard, and not many are going to hear me till time and seasons have proven me out. I am fine with that.

Not all was as bleak as I may seem about the paths. there was a great much work accomplished in the community flower beds. I large overgrowth of Johnson Grass was pulled up and the ryzomes below lifted so they could freeze. Some mysterious slab was discovered beneath this bed that beheld the curiosities of a great many men for a while. If you want to watch men act like boys, bury something in the dirt and they will dig and dig in search of what it is. the leaf pile was cleaned up and quite a few loads of rich compost removed from beneath it. In general it was a very productive day even though I was not able to accomplish anything on my particular plot.

Aside from all the accomplished task, a great deal of talking did occur as can be expected amongst the gardening community. I imagine that community and civilization began as gatherers began to come in, planting fields instead, and they too carried on a great many conversations with their fellow planters. We who grow, love to talk. In our talking, plans were made, ideas shared, and new responsibilites accepted. All in all the coming seasons are looking bright in foresight and this member is looking forward to them.

And this makes five. Five what you say? Follow along here.


2. The Unexpected Swiss (chard, that is)

24 Oct

So a couple of weeks ago I gave in to my impatience and haste as a gardener and planted a very many alliums in two new raised beds just finished at plot #32. OK, truthfully, I planted them the very same day I built the two beds but I digress, you can read more about that account here.

This, my second post in my 100 in 100 challenge, is meant to be an ode (if I dare call it that) to the newest addition to plot #32; two transplanted Swiss Chard, a gift from a fellow community garden member, Toni. Thank you Toni for the gift. May it grow well in its new home regardless of the fact that I have never grown Chard before and really do not know what to do with it.

What is Swiss Chard?

Cousin to the better known beet, and also known as silverbeet or mangold, this leafy green superfood is as colorful as it is healthy. One of my favorite online resources, gardenate.com, gives this description:

Edible dark green glossy leaves with wide white or cream stalks produced over a long period. Some varieties have red, yellow or orange stalks. They are all edible. Both leaves and stalks are eaten. This is a cut and come again plant, providing leaves for some months before going to flower. Can re-sprout from around the base if cut off when it starts to flower.

How do I grow Swiss Chard in my garden?

By all accounts, this plant is a somewhat hardy vegetable. It will last longer into the spring than turnip, collard, mustard, and other leafy greens and will survive late into fall until it is killed by a hard frost. Since this area is not prone to many hard frosts till the holidays, I might be able to get a picking or two off these little guys before then. If you happen to live in an area that does not experience hard frosts, then the good folks at Bonnie have this to say:

In areas that never experience a hard freeze, Swiss chard sometimes behaves like a perennial, living for several years. When it blooms, you can cut off the bloom stalk and it will produce more leaves.

According to the research, in this area Swiss Chard is typically planted early spring (February/March) or late summer (August/September). We are in the third week of October now, so I might be a little late to the game, but one never knows around here. Plus, hoop-houses are fairly easy and common practice in this area.

Since it is a leafy green vegetable, Swiss Chard likes a cool moist but well-drained soil amended with a slow release nitrogen inputs. I am using composted cow manure (already turned into the soil at the time I planted the onion sets). Then the whole bed is covered in a layer of leaf-mold compost. Water regularly if not receiving 1-2 inches of rain a week.

This plant looks to be a forgiving and sturdy type. This is good news because I am just beginning to learn this one.

By the way, thanks again Toni.

2 down, 98 to go. Follow my 100 in 100 challenge here.


RCCG#32 Update: Mid October 2013, New beds

14 Oct

This is an update long overdue. Over the weekend I was given an opportunity to spend my afternoon in the gardens. Thank you! But my story telling gene is not working this morning so this post will be less than flattering.

On my way to the community garden spot I stopped by the Home Depot and found enough lumber on the culled rack to install a smaller 4′ x 6′ end bed. These smaller end beds will be ideal for longer term crops, perennial flowers, and composting. Since they are smaller it will also be more convenient to protect them with better hoops or to continue raising them as a low-rise tower for growing tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes) and drilling roots like carrots and parsnips. Lastly, the smaller size of these beds will also allow me to more easily control the soil type if I want to grow anything requiring different or atypical soil conditions to the majority of the more native crops I hope to grow in the rest of the beds.

Plus the 70% discount on the culled lumber was a good incentive to do something now rather than later.


Food Justice

20 Sep

What is Food Justice?

According to a quick Google search of this query, Food Justice is

Communities exercising their right to grow, sell and eat healthy food. Healthy food is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate and grown locally with consideration and deep care for the well-being of the land, workers and animals, critters and all creatures.

The Food Justice Project at the Community Alliance for Global Justice adds that Food Justice is

the right of communities everywhere to produce, distribute, access, and eat good food regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity, citizenship, ability, religion, or community.

And, lastly, a quick look on Wikipedia clarifies Food Justice as a “collective approach to achieve food security.”

[the Food Justice view] notes that globally enough food is produced to feed the entire world population at a level adequate to ensure that everyone can be free of hunger and fear of starvation. That no one should live without enough food because of economic constraints or social inequalities is the basic goal.

Look at that last one again.

globally enough food is produced to feed the entire world population at a level adequate to ensure that everyone can be free of hunger and fear of starvation.

If the United States is the world’s largest agricultural producer, the land of plenty, then why then do 1 in 6 people within her borders struggle with food insecurity everyday? (hunger facts, feedingamerica.org) But this plight is definitely not only in the “land of plenty.” According to the United Nations’ World Food Project, 870 million people in the world do not have enough to eat. (hunger statistics, World Food Programme, www.wfp.org)

One Man Does make a Difference

All these numbers, all this talk is very big, but it’s not too big for one individual to make a difference. Growing It Forward is not a new solution; it is not a total solution. Growing It Forward is one man’s vision to make a difference using what he knows he can do; that is growing good food to help feed the needy in his area.  If he only feeds one, then that is one less hungry man, woman, child; one less hungry mother, father, son, or daughter. That is one more student able to pay attention in class, one more retiree able to buy his medicine, one more mother able to feed her children. That is one more. That is one less. One is more than none.

If this one man can make a difference then so can you. Join the fight to end hunger in your area. Yes, there is a need in your area too. Stand up for Food Justice; stand up and say that good food, plentiful food is not only for those who can afford it but for everyone regardless of the ability to pay. Make a difference today by helping to end hunger in your area. Start by doing what you can because one man, one woman, one person does make a difference.

Fighting the Urge – A practice in patience

13 Sep

Many gardeners will tell you that this hobby, as some call it, is indeed a practice in patience. As such it is very counter-cultural to today’s “gotta have it now” mentality. Now this is beginning to sound a bit familiar. Maybe I’ve posted on this subject before.


So we have this new plot and the possibilities are seemingly boundless and I find myself eager to plant my first vegetable and even more eager to pull it back out and hand over to the intended recipient. Who will undoubtedly thank me gratuitously for such a beautiful specimen and lament the fact that they mush soon clean, carve, and cook such wonderful in order to feed the many mouths they serve. I wish growing were that simple and easy.

Maybe it is more simple than we realize sometimes. At least for us gardeners. I mean what do we really do except dig and furrow, sow and weed, and then pick and pull. All the real work is performed by the miracles of nature, and just to slap my pride in the face again, nature will grow a seed to harvest regardless of my efforts digging and furrowing, watering and weeding; and many times better than when I interfere, or so I have witnessed from time to time.

No, now is not the time to sow in my selfish pride, but rather now is the time to practice patience. Wait. Let the soil rest and build itself up. Now is not the time to sow.

Everything in its season.

The cover crop of Winter Rye is sprouting. Soon it will transform this red clay into beautiful black soil

The cover crop of Winter Rye is sprouting. Soon it will transform this red clay into beautiful black soil

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ESV)


PicPost – A few views from the plot

13 Sep

Thought I might share a few shots from around plot #32 this morning. Some shots are from a neighbor’s beautiful growth. It was all so beautiful that I had to snap a few to share.

We’re growing dirt.

9 Sep

When a fellow community gardener asked me the question, “What are you growing?” I promptly and humorously answered, “Dirt. We’re growing dirt.”

That is in fact the current vector in this first season for RCCG plot #32; dirt. Dirt is where it all starts. So we are taking the time to treat it well and in return it will treat the plants we impose upon it well. Lord willing.

First, we measure and layout the beds and walk paths between the beds. In this case the plan is simple; three 5′ x 20′ long beds with narrow 18″-24″ walk paths between them.

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Then we spade, fork , and dig up the beds piling them high and mixing in some Used Coffee Grounds (UCG) to add organic matter into the soil, attract worms, and build up volume. We also scrape all the top-soil out of the path between the beds, piling it on the growing beds, and refilling the paths with mulch.

Then we cover the mounded beds with cardboard to shield it from the baking sunlight and allowing the worms to work thru more soils beneath the protective shade while also choking out and preventing weed germination.

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Then we water the cardboard in place. Afterall that is what you do when you are growing something, you give it water. And little helpers just love to water the garden.

Remember to Grow some Forward.