Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Needed a Bigger Basket

For weeks, the little basket was plenty big enough for the 1-3 pounds of produce that I brought in from the garden each day, but last week we finally reached the point of needing a larger basket.

That "I needed a bigger basket" time of year has arrived.        PHOTO/Amy W.
The zucchini are almost done, because the pickleworms have found my zucchini patch, and I pulled up the last of the raggedy cucumber vines over the weekend, but tomatoes and peppers are just now hitting their stride, okra is flowering, and the earliest butternut squashes are beginning to change color from pale green to that buff/tan that indicates ripeness. The tomatillos are producing, but in little waves, so that some days I bring in several of the green fruits and other days none are ready.

Meanwhile, I've dug up the last of the white potatoes, planted buckwheat in the empty cucumber patch, sowed some cilantro seeds, another bush-bean patch, and a few late cucumbers (an experiment...). I also planted some basil seedlings into the space where the last potatoes had been.

The popcorn has produced a few small ears on each stalk, and I noticed that something had climbed up one of the stalks and nibbled at the base of the lowest ear of corn. Luckily, the kernels had already begun to harden and be less easy to eat, so the critter gave up without doing too much damage.

I've had to put netting over the peanuts, because the neighborhood rabbits thought the plants were delicious. The daily damage was going to drastically reduce my peanut crop, but the bird netting propped over the bed seems to have stopped the ongoing damage (for now, at least).

The biggest task for August will be transitioning to fall crops. Three of the tomato plants will be done soon -- they are some of the more disease-prone of the heirlooms -- which means that space will be open, and other crops will be coming out, too. I like to have some of the fall crops in the garden beginning around August 10, so I have plenty of gardening to look forward to in the next couple of weeks.

Hope everyone else's gardens are growing well!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Community Gardening for Food and for People

At last night's meeting of the not-yet-one-year-old Cobb Community Gardens group, Bobby Wilson was the guest speaker. Mr. Wilson is past-president of the American Community Gardening Association (ACGA),current CEO of Metro Atlanta Urban Farms, and all-around long-time expert on community gardens. It was an interesting meeting, but a few things from his presentation stand out as being particularly useful.

One is that community gardens should have a two-part goal: growing food and building stronger communities. Mr. Wilson actually addressed that more specifically when he said that 10% of the effort should be about growing food and 90% of the effort about building community.

In the community garden attached to his urban farm, the community-building is partly through monthly meetings at which there are lessons in both gardening and leadership. The meetings offer an opportunity for fellowship and networking, and the meetings also are used to reach out to homeless people each month. Basically, the gardeners need a reason to come together on a consistent basis, and the monthly meetings provide that for this particular community garden.

The Atlanta Regional Commission has put together a Community Gardening Manual that explains the basics of setting up and running a community garden, and it probably is not a coincidence that the first "organizational consideration" listed on page 4 in the manual is "What is your purpose?" The purpose, to an extent, defines the group and is one motivation for the gardeners to be actively involved.

Mr. Wilson spoke briefly about food deserts, and it sounded as though providing good, nutritious food to people in food desert areas is a major motivator for many community gardens in Atlanta.

Another idea that really stood out was of the usefulness of attaching community gardens to small farms. Of course, Mr. Wilson didn't phrase it quite that way, but urban farms, unlike community gardens, are eligible for Federal funding through NRCS and the USDA for some property improvements, like water wells and high tunnels. For small, urban farms, it also was suggested that certification as Naturally Grown, a process that costs a lot less than organic certification, could be helpful in selling produce and gaining funding.

A third idea that is a project of the community garden at Mr. Wilson's urban farm was the publication each year of  a garden calendar that celebrates the group's achievements. He passed a copy of one of these calendars around, and inside there were pictures of the garden, including the year's garden King and Queen, along with a listing of milestones and accomplishments, and in the back there was a member directory/phonebook.

This was a wonderful document for the group that probably also helped promote active participation. The discussion about the calendar was part of a larger point about marketing the garden. My notes from the meeting include, in large print: "Marketing Your Program is Important!" The giant exclamation mark on my notepaper reflects the tone of voice in which this bit of advice was delivered.

Mr. Wilson brought a banner on which a pledge to work toward sustainable food production was written. He asked us all to sign it before we left. The pledge was this:
I pledge allegiance
to our environment
through sustainable
agriculture and practicing
good stewardship.
One very big announcement that Mr. Wilson made at last night's meeting is that the ACGA is planning to move headquarters from Ohio to Atlanta. We are all hoping that the move will provide access to some great training and other resources to keep our communities strong and well-fed!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thinking Forward to Fall

Has everyone else already started seeds for fall crops? Here in Cobb County, it's time! The cool-weather crops we usually set out as transplants - broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts - mostly have a long enough time-to-maturity that they are planted out to the garden in the second half of August, which means the seedlings need to be started now.

Exceptions would be for faster-maturing varieties, like Early Snowball cauliflower that is such a speed-crop (just 50 days!) that gardeners have an extra 3 or 4 weeks to get that one started.

In my garden, the space for most of those Brassica-family crops (aka: cabbage family; cole crops, Cruciferae) is still taken up by the April-planted tomatoes, but the space where I'm planning to plant carrots this year has some cucumber vines that are looking pretty ragged. I may pull those up this weekend and strew some buckwheat seeds in that space for now, to help get the soil in shape for the next crop.

When the buckwheat starts to flower (it happens fast!), that would get turned back under to add organic matter to the soil. In the meantime, the plants would have helped hold onto nutrients and encouraged some good microbial activity underground.

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