If you are starting out in backyard gardening like I am, you may find it difficult to figure out what kinds of materials you need and where to get them. I know I have.
To this point, all of my raised bed gardens have been bare dirt. I know this isn’t optimal; I have read up on all the garden blogs that say you desperately need to mulch your gardens for the following reasons:
Mulch keeps the soil temperature more even (warmer in winter months and cooler in summer months)
Mulch helps retain moisture in the soil
Mulch keeps weeds from being able to germinate
Mulch adds nutrients back into the soil as it decomposes
But I was faced with the challenge of what to use for mulch. All of the mulch I see in stores is meant to put around landscaping, not raised vegetable beds. A search online yielded tons of blog posts singing the praises of grass clippings and dried leaves. But you see, I live in an area that is going through a severe drought. I don’t have a lawn to be able to use grass clippings. I don’t have that many trees to be able to use dead leaves. The trees I do have are Eucalyptus and Peppercorn, neither of which would be good for use in a garden. So it seems my best, most responsible option is to use straw.
Learn how to build a garden or rooftop farm with Annie Novak’s book, “The Rooftop Growing Guide.” (Credit: Annie Novak)
Annie Novak, author of ‘The Rooftop Growing Guide,’ on urban gardening and rooftop farming
By Meredith Deliso
Chatting with the author of ‘The Rooftop Growing Guide’
Tips on how to get your own green space started
If you’ve ever wanted to turn your barren backyard or empty rooftop into a green space for fresh veggies, herbs and flowers, Annie Novak has you covered.
The co-founder of the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint and manager of the Edible Academy at the New York Botanical Garden is also behind the new book, “The Rooftop Growing Guide” ($23, Ten Speed Press), a how-to in green roofs, container gardening, crop planning, pest management, harvesting and more.
“I remember thinking when I was asked to help start the Eagle Street Rooftop Farm that there was a book missing,” Novak says, who had to navigate legal and safety issues to implement her farming knowledge on a rooftop. “If you want to see a good idea spread, you have to teach people how to do it. My hope with this book was that everyone who has a question mark gets to a place where they have an exclamation point. They can get excited about what they want to do.”
Curious? Novak shares her tips for getting started:
Get permission first
“Permission is the first thing, and often the step that’s skipped,” Novak says. “If you’re going to invest the time and money in a space, you need to make sure it’s all right.”
Now is a good time to plant baby lettuce, spinach and micro-greens for early Fall harvest. You do not need a deep container to grow salad greens and you can grow the greens from seed. Covering the potted seeds with loose plastic wrap holds the moisture and heat and encourages sprouting.
Growing Container Salad Greens: “You will be able to harvest your first crop in just a few short weeks, using the small tender leaves that are often not available to buy. These micro-greens are the mix of choice for gourmet salads. Leafy greens also make a flavorful addition to sandwiches or wraps.”
Radishes also mature quickly. Use radish greens instead of basil in your pesto recipe.
Pupils at Wairakei School in Taupo tend the veges growing in their aquaponics system
How a Taupo primary school pool became a vegetable garden
by CHRISTINE RUSH
What do you get when you cross a former swimming pool, some keen pupils and a whole heap of goldfish? A highly productive aquaponics system.
Wairakei Primary School in Taupo has what is thought to be the only school aquaponics unit in New Zealand. Officially opened in May, it is the culmination of three years planning and fundraising, says teacher aide and Enviroschools leader Diana Fitzsimmons.
The school used to have outdoor gardens but due to the chilly climate and light pumice soil, nothing grew.
“Adding compost and nutrients didn’t help and they were costing a fortune,” says Diana.
At the same time the swimming pool was decommissioned. The pupils came up with ideas for the space: a skateboard park, flying fox, spongeball pit, trampoline or garden.
“They went through pros and cons and how they would run them, and came up with one with the most benefit for school and community: an aquaponics unit.”
Local businesses and tradesmen helped supply and fit the plumbing, equipment and electrics. The pool area is covered with a FlexiTunnel and needs little maintenance.
The Youth Garden Project serves about 870 students from their community through their field trips and after-school activities.
Youth Garden Project
Raising Excitement at the Youth Garden Project
The Youth Garden Project (YGP) covers one and a half acres leased from Grand County High School in Moab, Utah and offers hands-on learning opportunities for youth and community members. YGP advocates for more local and organically grown food as well as community involvement, beginning with the children. Additionally, YGP provides the local high school with fresh food for school lunches. By teaching students how to grow their own vegetables and fruits, YGP is cultivating excitement about food.
Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Delite Primus, Executive Director at The Youth Garden Project.
Food Tank (FT): How do you contribute to creating a better food system?
Delite Primus (DP): The Youth Garden Project sees education as a vital part of creating a better food system. We use our garden as an educational platform to teach others how to grow food using organic growing techniques. We also engage kids in the process of growing food which often leads to our youth trying new fruits and vegetables and becoming excited about what they are eating!
FT: What is a project, program, or result you are most proud of?
DP: In 2014, we began to work with the local high school to provide fresh salad greens for the school lunch salad bar. This connects students with the food being grown right next to their school, and often times middle school and high school students are themselves involved in growing the salad greens that they are later eating. We’ve begun to offer other vegetables, as they are available, and beginning in the Fall of 2015 hope to begin educating students about their food during the lunch period. This project is something we are proud of because it includes many aspects of our mission and is the start of changing food options for our local students.
A slugs and snails hotel, a ladybird wheelbarrow and a bug house were among the entries by local children to Merryhatton Garden Centre’s school gardening competition.
The competition, designed to encourage youngsters to try their hand at gardening, gave primary pupils the challenge of creating a miniature wildlife garden. Entrants were able to use any kind of container they liked, and could choose to use plants and garden materials, or to make their garden from craft supplies.
Open to all primary schools across East Lothian, entries came in from Musselburgh to Dunbar and from P1 to P7.
Merryhatton owner Helen MacDonald said: “We were amazed at the creativity displayed in every single entry we received. So much thought and attention to detail had clearly gone into every entry. Judging was an extremely difficult job. So much so, that as well as the three main prize winners, we’ve offered all entrants a voucher for a free ice cream sundae in our cafe in recognition of all their efforts!”
The first prize was awarded to Amber Duncan in P1 at Athelstaneford Primary School for her wildlife garden party. The judges were very impressed by her colourful garden and her attention to detail, particularly in view of her age. Amber won a £20 Merryhatton voucher for herself and a £100 voucher for her school to spend on gardening supplies.
Straw bales. Pallets. Raised beds. When it comes to creating an alternative garden — ones grown above ground — options abound.
Some save money while others allow gardeners to accommodate different mobility needs or improve the health of the soil.
Regardless, more people are gardening these days than ever before, and experts say alternative gardens go a long way toward providing accessibility for people who may not want to or can’t have a traditional garden in the ground.
Ellen Gibson is an avid gardener and AgrAbility specialist with Maine AgrAbility, a nonprofit collaboration of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Goodwill Industries Northern New England and Alpha One. The organization works to help farmers, farm workers, fishermen and others who have chronic health issues or disabilities.
For her, “accessibility,” with respect to growing food and flowers, means designing gardens as places for everyone, regardless of ability. It may mean creating spaces designed to accommodate people who can’t walk, are blind or are cognitively impaired.
They may have wider walkways, raised beds or feature flowers and plants with different textures and fragrances to increase the enjoyability for someone with a visual impairment. Features such as circular paths or fenced-in areas also can help people with memory loss or dementia.
“I think of it similarly to the concepts of universal design in architecture, designing gardens for everyone, regardless of age or ability,” Gibson said.
Leilani Carlson, a project coordinator with MaineAgrAbility, added alternative gardens are great for able-bodied people, as well, and can go a long way to making use of different growing spaces.
“Alternative garden designs [are] really a nice concept to consider for all ages, lifestyles and garden settings, for example, [in] schools, suburban or city settings, apartment living or retirement complexes,” she said.
Types and purposes
Container gardens: According to Carlson, container gardening provides an alternative to raised beds and is great for growing food, herbs or flowers. Because container gardens are mobile, she said they provide some flexibility for gardeners who can move them if the weather turns inclement. Types of container gardens include window boxes; hanging baskets; repurposed containers, such as washing machine tubs or horse troughs; and planting directly in bags of soil.
Smaller containers can also be kept high on a table for people who want to stand and garden or are in wheelchairs. Horticulturist Kate Garland said one thing to keep in mind, however, is that containers — especially shallow ones, such as window boxes or bags of soil — dry quickly and need daily watering.
It really is incredible how things burst into life when we get a bit of warmth and sunshine, my little plot is suddenly a very different different place. It was such a nice day yesterday that we took the camera and wandered round the garden while doing a few jobs here and there. I include the photos below with a few (hopefully) helpful tips.
The big success for me has been my square foot garden which you will have seen us build if you watched our new video. It is right outside the back door and is just the handiest thing for picking the bits and pieces we use every day.
The sheltered spot is also proving to be a bonus with crops being significantly further ahead than the main garden. For those of you with urban gardens I think this shows that if you get a good position a city plot can be a wonderfully productive oasis and in no way a poor cousin to larger rural gardens.
I have done zero maintenance on it since we planted up and it is already providing salad, spring onions and radishes with peas, beans and broccoli well on the way. Also, while my main garden has become hugely popular with slimy diners from miles around my kitchen beds with gravel surrounds remain pretty much weed and slug free.
See how the kids grow as they ‘work’ in the family garden
By Lauren Knight
Gardening is a lot of work — it’s muddy and messy, and sometimes pests or weather can destroy best laid plans. So why bother? The benefits of gardening for children are many. Children learn responsibility, cause-and-effect, and a greater understanding and appreciation for nature and its workings.
A child who gardens has a better understanding of where her food comes from and an appreciation of the process and work that goes into producing healthy food. A seed patiently nurtured and protected will grow and produce and give back, and all that hard work can boost a child’s confidence. Plus, gardening is excellent physical activity: There’s tilling the soil, carting fresh compost by wheelbarrow, seed-planting, then weeding and watering and maintenance of the garden.
Another benefit to gardening is obvious: nutrition. Our boys are hesitant to eat many vegetables placed on their plates at dinner time, but they willingly and happily munch on fresh cucumbers, berries, snap peas, peppers, mint, basil, and even raw kale leaves they have plucked from the garden themselves. Sun-warmed cherry tomatoes are sweet as candy; sugar snap peas split open to reveal tender peas within.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the discovery that our children would seek out the garden just to spend time there. There is so much life to explore! Crouched amid kale plants 3 feet high, they pick caterpillars off the leaves and collect them in small buckets. They gently scoop up ladybugs and earthworms to examine them. The occasional praying mantis brings shrieks of glee.