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Urban Gardening - Workshop at the Uphams Corner Library - Very Informative

Urban Gardening: Types, Tips, & Techniques with Dan Chamberlain
Uphams Corner Library - Urban Gardening
The Uphams Corner Library sponsored a well appreciated community workshop for anyone interested in 'Growing your Own,' especially food.
Presented by Dan Chamberlain, the workshop was perfect for a small but very dedicated set of residents and librarians.

Topics included what to plant, networking, sustainability, container gardening, gardening maintenance and closing down after the season.

Attendees had a chance to ask questions and get excellent recommendations from a young urban, sustainability oriented youth, who models the next generation of concerned urban citizens.

For more information about Dan Chamberlain, read the Event Announcement.

Dan began with a question: "Did you know there are over 150 community gardens in the City of Boston?" We were all quite amazed. He then talked about the extensive network of urban growing organizations in the Boston area - from those that support spreading knowledge on how to garden, especially in the inner city, to those that support and manage much larger inner city farms.

These include both nonprofits and for-profits:

Non-Profit Urban Farming / Gardening
For Profit Urban Farming / Gardening

How to Setup an Urban Garden

Dan emphasized that because much of the soil in the urban environment is contaminated with heavy metals and toxic waste, the regular small gardener and home owner should consider a raised bed garden. The Food Project and other organizations (search the web) offer help in setting up a raised bed garden (for a small fee) or you can build your own using basic ingredients from Home Depot and Lowes though this is the more expensive route.

Alternatively, if your experimentation has led to a deep commitment to extensive gardening and growing, then having your soil tested for contaminants and quality through the University of Massachusetts Extension (other groups also test soil) will help you determine what remedial steps are necessary to do in ground gardening.

The Soil is the Key and Garden Maintenance

Dan placed heavy importance on the soil. "Without quality soil," he said, "your gardening efforts are doomed to lower quality and often failure. Soil testing, composting, mulching and pulling weeds are part of the gardening commitment."

Composting your own is a good - no GREAT - idea. The food scraps we well-to-do residents of this planet toss into landfills is a "crime" against the planet. Soil was created over thousands of years and what we take from the soil (growing) needs also to be replenished. Composting "the gold" is a big step forward in keeping food out of the land fills and also putting it back into the soil.

Garden maintenance consists of adequate watering, how to water (soaking the soil slowly, for example), mulching to prevent moisture from evaporating in the heat and to suppress weeds, fertilizing, weeding, pest and disease control (organically), harvesting, trimming and deadheading and pruning.

Powissette Farm in Dover, MA has created a list of "Common Boston-Area Vegetable Garden Pests" - good to know in advance to anticipate and be able to quickly identify what might be going wrong (if anything). (see link above)

Sound complicated?  Some of us are very adept at the details and particulars of gardening and have NO IDEA how to play video games.  So there! (hah hah)

When to Plant

Every section of the country has recommendations on when to plant and what to plant by date and by type - seed or seedling. Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN) can provide you with a handy reference called "Begetable Planting Dates for Boston."

Another great reference from BNAN is called the "Companion Plant List,"  or "How to keep your plants happy."  At least that is what we are calling it.  The Companion Plant List provides the "friend" plants and "foe" plants for each variety in the table.  Plan to take advantage of what nature already provides.  For example, tomatoes protect asparagus against asparagus  beetles with a substance called "solanine."  By planting tomatoes on ither side of asparagus rows, it will benefit both crops.

Quality of Organically Grown Food

The group discussed recent studies that suggested that organically grown produce is "no better" than commercial produce. The group agreed that the holistic view and understanding of gardening, growing food and sustainability went well beyond a technical (and limited) comparison of produce. Growing community, networking, supporting local efforts, educating youth and lots more are benefits that you cannot get by going to the grocery store and buying produce shipped from California, for example. Not to put down such produce, but rather to PUT UP local produce.

Square Foot Gardening

It turns out that visualizing a raised bed garden or in ground garden as a set of square foot blocks is a great way to plan where to place the seedlings.  Often the casual gardener places seedlings so close together, the plants don't have an opportunity to each individually benefit from the sun.  Several sites provide spacing recommendations based on the "Square Foot Gardening" approach including BNAN.  Check their website (or seach on square food gardening) to get the right information.

Container Gardening

Growing rapidaly in popularity is container gardening - growing produce or herbs such as tomato or pepper or your other favorite in a large pot - on your porch, your roof or even at your window sill.

Dan brought with him a large metal salad bowl that was exceptionally beautiful and aesthetic. He had at least 12 different varieties arugula, lettuce, thyme, dill, dark kale and many other edible plants and herbs. "Not difficult," he said. "The right soil, moisture and light."

The goal with container gardening is to save money hile producing healthy food, so be creative but DO NOT use any container that previously contained a toxic chemical such as a cleaning fluid.  The soil should be light weight - capable of holding the nutients and moisture yet providing rapid drainage as well.  Recipes for making your own soil can be found on the web.

Almost any begetable can be grown in cootainers but varieties of "miniature" or "bush" type are best suited for container gardening.  Also vegetables that produce throughtout the growing season are most cost effective - start with tomatoes, peppers, summer squash and bush typ cucumbers.

How to use a burlap bag as a container, in particular, how to grow potatoes in a burlap bag - fascinating.
  • Start out with a potato that is already growing eyes.
  • Roll down the burlap bag so that it is about 6 inches tall and fill it with soil
  • Bury the potato in the soil, water it and place it accessible to sunlight (outside)
  • When the potato has grown tall enough, add more soil without covering up the green potato plant
  • The potato plant will continue to grow upwards but will also send out roots into the soil that create more and more potatoes
  • At the end of the growing season, you will have an entire burlap bag full of potatoes.
  • Set up a receiving site - large flat plastic container or something as simple as a tarp.
  • Dump out the contents of the burlap bag and out come the potatoes

Even More to Learn

Also included in the workshop were the following: cover crops, where to locate your garden, general gardening tips and tricks, container gardening basics and upcoming events.


Posted: September 24, 2012 Nancy J Conrad

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