Friday, May 28, 2010

Foreseeable Problems

One thing that excited me most about doing this organic garden was the fact that we would be using fresh, new Nursery Mix from Bricko farms.  I knew this would be rich with nutrients and devoid of pests.  What I didn't know (but have learned since) is that this high-nitrogen mix would make our plants explode with growth so quickly that the plants prone to blossom-end rot disease would likely get it.

Blossom-end rot disease is due to a calcium deficiency in the plant.  The great Nursery Mix has plenty of calcium but I know from my glaze-mixing for pottery (see my Forrest Pottery Blog) that calcium carbonate is not very available because it is not water soluble.  Now this is great for glazes, but not for plants.  So plants that grow very quickly don't have time to absorb the calcium from the soil and will eventually fall prey to the dreaded disease.

In the past this has stopped me from growing squash and zucchini but thanks to Brian and Kate Gandy of Garden City Organics I now know that my second planting of these in this rich soil will likely not suffer from the same problem.  And I hasten to add that we have gotten armloads of zucchini already and more are successfully growing.  Still, it's nice to know that while this is likely to happen, it isn't a deal-killer and I can simply replant!

Another problem  that I looked for and didn't see was the boring pest that feasts on the same crop.  I looked too high up on the stalks.  Brian advised me to simply mound up the dirt around the infected bases.  There is no substitute for first-hand knowledge!  And all of us at Hope House are so grateful to Brian and Kate for their generous spirit and expert advice.

Just so you believe me when I say that in spite of these minor problems we have a good crop, here's a picture of a beauty!  Also, some tomatoes-in-waiting.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wide-eyed wonder

This morning I let the children each pull up one radish from their garden.  Their eyes were bigger than the substantial globes they pulled!  The nice thing about radishes and kids is that they don't take so long to grow.  The kids can actually remember putting those tiny seeds in the ground.  So for them it is like magic.  They were going on a nature hunt so I also cut them some of the tiny, daisy-like chamomile flowers from their other bed.

I tossed a handful of the radishes into a bowl with the first little pickle cukes and the snow peas I picked this morning.  All will help make the salad the ladies have planned for lunch just a little bit more interesting.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Harvest I - Zucchini

This morning I had to give in and pick the zucchini that has been begging to be harvested.  I had such an armload I had to put them in our garden cart and go get a bag to take them down to the kitchen!  I also found a few yellow crookneck squash to pick and tomorrow the snow peas get their turn.  They will star in a fresh salad the ladies here are planning for tomorrow along with some tender young zucchini that escape the pot tonight. 

In addition to fresh vegetables, our garden is growing new partnerships.  Today Brian and Kate Gandy of Garden City Organics, a terrific little shop in downtown Augusta, visited and gave us the benefit of their education and knowledge. We hope to see much more of them as time allows. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Excitement is growing!

There's something magical about a garden.  You plant a tiny seed, or even a little seedling, and the next thing you know you have squash all sleek and shiny, tomatoes heavy enough to require bracing the plant and herbs so fragrant a myriad of lovely dragonflies decorate the leaves. It is a kind of magic, or alchemy, I think, that we can transform dirt and water and sunlight into edible delights.

Doing a garden organically is new to me.  In the past, at the first sign of insects I would get out the spray and have at 'em.  This presents new challenges to me but I can see they are not insurmountable.  Yes, we lost the collards to what I believe are cabbage loopers.  But I understand that I planted a little late in the season and I think next year we'll have better luck with this.  I haven't seen too many other pests: one nasty baby grasshopper (don't get me started on grasshoppers!) and a few other insects that don't seem to be feeding on the produce.  I also saw a ladybug, a known garden friend. 

This morning I replanted the globe basil into the herb bed.  I had put them in one of the vegetable beds and they were doing fine but the zucchini are going great guns in that bed so I didn't want the basil shaded by the giant leaves. And I do mean giant!  It's like I planted elephant-ear zucchini!  Next week the residents will be dining on zucchini and  maybe some yellow squash.  The cukes are just tiny babies right now, or still in flower but I predict fresh pickles by the end of June.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Growing I/Changing habits

One of the more rewarding aspects of doing this garden is how it is changing the habits - not just of the residents here - but also the staff.  Nearly every Monday staffers bring me compostables from their kitchen.  It was hard at first to get across the idea that I wanted only raw vegetable matter, not meat, sweets, or even cooked stuff as it was often seasoned with salt and fat.  But change happens.

Today I fed our Mantis composter with good, clean grass clippings.  It gets plenty of coffee grounds, tea bags and old stuff from our various refrigerators.  Just last week I closed the first section of the composter and have begun to add stuff to the second compartment.  I selected this particular composter as it is big, has the twin compartments and seems sturdy and easy to use.  I have only one complaint so far: the clips are very stiff (you better wear gloves when opening or closing!) and after a while they work free, requiring a minor repair.

So, as our garden grows, we grow, too, seeing in our trash another small way to do some good.  This has led to yet another, non-gardening related change: now we are recycling cans as well.  The local fire department collects them and uses the proceeds to help families burned out of their homes.  A win-win for all.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reaping Hope

In addition to being a potter, I am also the grants coordinator at Hope House, Inc., a long-term residential treatment facility in Augusta, Georgia for women (and their children) who face challenges stemming from homelessness, substance abuse and disabilities. This is a terrific organization and does a lot of good. One new project I want to share with everyone is our new organic vegetable garden.

The Women in Philanthropy gave us a generous grant this spring to put in an organic garden and use it as a training tool for our residents. It's also been a source of education for me! I know just enough to get into trouble in a garden but in overseeing this project I've learned a thing or two which I'd really love to share with anyone interested in gardening, herbs, food, or just in helping people.

I decided that we would do raised-bed gardening as our soil here is rock hard. I first heard of this a few years ago in the book, Lasagna Gardening but there are other good books out there as well. We got really neat, easy-to-install raised ceder beds from Earth Easy. I filled the beds with a rich, organic soil from a local company, Bricko, producers of Kricket Krap. Further reading on the topic led me to believe square-foot gardening (see the book) would give us the biggest bang for our buck so I sectioned each of our 5 beds.

I've gotten lots of comments about how closely-spaced our plants are and I can't argue with that. But we've had almost no problem with weeds or pests and have the biggest plants I've ever seen. It remains to be seen if this spacing is crowding out any of the plants. So far we've harvested lettuce and some herbs and the tomatoes are setting fruit.

I find this entire project very exciting and I know our residents do, too. The children, especially, love to visit the garden (though they have a little one of their own, which is another post entirely) and give the plants water. Last week we picked Stevia, an herb known for its sweet leaves, and it was fun to see their faces light up when they tasted it.

We call the project, Reaping Hope, because from it we believe our residents will get far more than just vegetables. We believe they will get skills, enjoyment, knowledge and yes, hope.