Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Plant a Row for the Hungry

One of my volunteer activities is working at a Plant a Row for the Hungry garden (PAR). We take our produce to a local food pantry, where it can be distributed to people who need food. This morning, the PAR gardeners had a planning meeting.

This was the meeting at which we catch up on everybody's news, drink coffee, and try to figure out what we should probably try to do differently in the garden.

One topic of discussion was the condition of our tomato cages. They are old enough that they have lost some of the legs that are supposed to poke into the ground; as a result, when the plants get big, the cages fall over. A couple of people are going to look into alternatives.

Another topic was that a couple of our trellises need repair. We think this won't be hard to take care of, but we are sometimes mistaken about how long/hard such work is going to be. We will see how that goes.

Our Fearless Leader also told us the soil test results for this year. Apparently, the soil is very depleted and needs more 10-10-10 than it has in the past. After two seasons of Big Rains, this should not be a surprise, but it kind of was. We do try to maintain soil fertility, but we didn't manage it as well as usual last year.

Another topic was weeds. Last year, someone tilled the garden for us in early spring, which was very kind (it is not a fun or easy job) but then it rained and rained and rained, so we didn't get the garden planted and mulched in time to stay ahead of the weeds. It felt as though we spent half our time trying to slice/chop/pull out the weeds. This year, we are thinking about not tilling.

We already have spread a thick layer of leaves over about half of the garden and will spread leaves on the other half soon. We are thinking that we might just pull back leaves from the spaces we intend to plant, on the actual planting day, and loosen, fertilize, and plant at that time, working on one section of garden at a time.

The garden is fairly large, maybe 4,500 square feet, and is a traditional row-type garden rather than raised beds, so we are not sure how this will work, but we really do not want to spend another whole summer weeding. We think this strategy of keeping the garden thickly mulched might help.

What we expect to grow:
Marketmore 76 cucumbers
White Mountain half runner beans
Sugar Nut hybrid melon
Clemson Spineless okra
Assorted tomatoes, as disease resistant as possible (these are started from seed by the same gardener who starts our peppers)
Assorted peppers (the gardener who starts these for us chooses, and she does a great job of providing a wide selection of delicious peppers.)
Beauregard sweet potatoes
Kennebec potatoes
Bush beans (I don't remember the variety name)
Seminole pumpkin squash
Trombocino squash
Yellow straight-neck squash
Carrots, variety unknown right now because we haven't grown them before in this garden

Our goal is to produce as much usable food as we can from our space. We don't plant a fall, winter, or spring (other than the potatoes) garden, so everything we grow needs to work in a traditional summer garden. The food we grow has to be familiar enough that the people who receive it can easily use it in meals, and the food pantry can't accept greens, because it doesn't have enough cool storage space to keep leafy veggies in good condition. These factors limit our choices of what to grow, but also help us choose wisely.


  1. What a good cause! You all will help so many folks in these lean times!

  2. I was able to donate produce to our local food bank this past year...finally! They used to say "no homegrown produce"... last year was the first year they started to accept it. Things go very slowly here, they still won't allow chickens, either. That may be a good thing about no tilling, studies have shown tilling actually does more harm than good.

  3. Melodie and Erin,

    Here in Georgia, the unemployment situation just keeps getting worse, so it is really great that projects like this exist. I am fortunate that this project is near home and has a place for me. I love growing food, and I like to know that what we grow goes to people who need it.

    I think more and more food pantries are starting to accept homegrown food. It is possible that part of the problem has been a lack of cold storage, but it turns out that not everything has to be refrigerated.

    My volunteering at the PAR garden is also a little selfish, though, because I get to hang out with other people who like to grow food.

    I will be posting about the success (or lack there-of) of our no-till year. Let's all hope it works!

    -Amy NW of Atlanta

  4. I'll be interested to hear how the no-till goes. Given that this is only our second year gardening this space, I know we need to dig it all up again and add more compost. We're also expanding our space some more.

    We had great success with not weeding once we put down a thick layer of grass clippings. We will be doing that again this year.

  5. Hi Owlfan! Hope your little family is doing well. I have enjoyed reading your boy scout posts; they remind me of when my youngest son was still scouting (he earned his Eagle and is in college now).

    At the PAR garden, we always put down a thick mulch of newspaper and leaves AFTER planting, but last year, with the heavy spring rains, planting was delayed. There were so many weeds to remove before we could plant each section that it was pretty discouraging, and we never really got the edges weed-free. We want to never have a spring like that again.

    I will be posting about the PAR garden's progress, so everyone will know how it goes.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    -Amy, NW of Atlanta


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