- They come in a lot of lovely colors and sometimes have variegated leaves
- They’re totally edible (flowers, seeds and leaves)
- You can make interesting things with the seeds (nasturtium bud capers anyone?)
- They’re a trap crop (meaning, nasties prefer to eat them vs. other crops – three years ago they distracted a black aphid infestation from our tomatoes)
- They’re easy to plant (great for kids!)
- They reseed themselves and pop up in unexpected places (always a nice surprise!)
- They’re a good cover for corners and bare spots
- They grow in bad soil
- They thrive on neglect
- They make me happy
What an honor to be included in the roster of garden bloggers at this year’s Garden2Blog event hosted by P. Allen Smith!
[And, yes, before you read further please note that this was a professional trip and expenses were paid for us - to read the fancy disclaimer language about an event like this, see the end of the post.]
At first I was a bit nervous. Landscape gardeners en masse sometimes scare me with their botanical Latin showdowns and pronunciation arguments. (Thanks to Teresa from Seasonal Wisdom, I just recently learned that “officinalis” is botanical Latin for “medicinal” and was very proud of myself). Being a lowly veggie gardener I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.
First off, the hotel we stayed in was haunted. I know this because I had a long, movie-like dream the first night about a ghost named Vera (she was very convivial). The next morning, when I asked Bruce from Heavy Petal Nursery if the hotel was haunted, he said “Only room 450.” Vera must have been branching out because I was in room 449.
On the topic of spectral visits, Day One started with an event of such historic resonance that I felt like I should be seeing ghosts! Our visit to Marlsgate Plantation was something I will never forget. The family “farm” had been run down to the point that the plantation house was used as a barn for accommodating hay bales and visiting pigeons. The current owner was bequeathed the property by his grandmother and set off on a labor of love to restore it to its former antebellum glory. After three years, and many millions of dollars, the pigeons were evicted and the family heirlooms were dusted off and moved back to the ancestral home. To sum it up – I now fully understand the saying “living in high cotton” and plan to re-watch Gone with the Wind as soon as I can.
If you can believe it, even more amazing than the house – THE GARDENS! (Gasp) “Ferns & Urns” would be a great motto for the grounds (designed by a fledgling P. Allen Smith as one of his first landscape design projects).
After a lovely morning – and refreshed by our host’s Southern Baptist “medicinal” punch (I had a headache so I drank two glasses) – we ventured back to Little Rock to the original Garden Home for an afternoon of demonstrations, contests and fun.
You can imagine I was quite excited to see Mr. Smith’s vegetable garden. I quickly fell in love with the potting bench. And how everything, although stylish, was also well used. I also enjoyed the sense of humor displayed around the property in various ways. Here you see old bowling balls converted to ladybug sculpture! I will forever see ladybugs every time I go bowling now.
One of the activities was planting a salsa garden – one without organic fertilizer, one with – so we could see the growth differences over the season. My team included the awesome Garden Rockstar, Michael, Carrie from Between the Limes and Shirley of the Garden World Report. These were all people I was familiar with before this trip but hadn’t had a chance to interact with. They sure are a fun and knowledgeable bunch!
I wasn’t sure how Day Two could get any better but as we piled out of the bus after an hour drive to the new Garden Home I quickly realized they’d saved the best for last.
Moss Mountain Farm overlooks the Arkansas River and its classic style reminds one a little bit of Monticello. Once you step over the threshold and discover the historical influences that have guided Mr. Smith’s taste over the years you realize that, yes, this is a house and life deeply inspired by Thomas Jefferson. And, being a history geek, this discovery made me very, very happy.
After a tour of the house, we visited the rose gardens where I discovered I knew more about roses than I thought thanks to a lecture and quiz by Conrad-Pyle roses. (If you’re not a rose person, at least check out the Peace rose. It has a great story.)
That was followed by a visit to the MONSTER vegetable garden and a talk on GrowBoxes followed by more fun with Bonnie Plants. I didn’t realize they have converted most of their packaging to biodegradable pots AND they have a program nationwide to turn third graders on to food gardening- these things also made me happy.
The chickens really live in style at Moss Mountain. (I covet chickens as you may know from reading this blog and my Facebook page.) First, we saw the “chicken temple” and then we were lead to the “chicken trailer park” for the full show. Partnering with Purina, P. Allen Smith has formed the Heritage Poultry Conservancy which strives to reintroduce and support endangered heritage breeds. The ten or so chicken (and turkey!) varieties live in segregated runs that use old cotton wagons for the coops. As we approached, I’m not sure who was more excited – us or the chickens. They all came running down to check out the visitors (or maybe it was because there was food involved). In any case, we learned a lot about heritage breeds, which just made me even more jealous that I couldn’t have some chickens who’s lineage dates back to Roman times.
There were several other fun activities by Laguna Ponds and Berry Nurseries. However, by this time of the day I was a bit wilted. Despite the exhaustion, Robin from Urban Gardens and I did manage to win 2nd prize for this classy display made with found objects and succulent plants. What can I say – maybe it was heat stroke.
The evening ended with our final fabulous meal (where can I get cheese grits like that in Chicago? PLEASE TELL ME!) We were all happily shocked when Le Creuset told us all we could pick any item out of their catalog (I picked THIS) and then we had a lovely adieu to “I’ll Fly Away” played by the house band.
We went back to the busses humming, happy, informed and impressed by our two days together with promises to stay in touch and, hopefully, come back again next year.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Attendees at Garden2Blog 2012, including myself, received transportation, accommodations and meals during the event. Event sponsors provided samples and product giveaways at no cost or obligation. All opinions are my own.
There’s been a lot to report over the past few months. The Peterson Garden Project is truly becoming a project vs. just a single garden which we’re all very excited about.
2012 is the 70th anniversary of the first year of WW2 and the first historic Victory Garden summer. Since The Peterson Garden Project had brought awareness to the story of Chicago’s role in the Victory Garden movement, at least in our little corner of the city, we thought it might be interesting to honor the memory of those first Victory Gardens with a full-on revival.
Before the Occupy Wall Street movement happened we were calling our idea “One Percent For Victory” and, clearly, that won’t work now. But the concept was that we wanted to do one percent of what Chicagoan’s did in 1942…
- In 1942 Chicagoans put in 500 community gardens – we want to put in five
- In 1942, 75,000 people started home gardens – we want to help 7,500 people learn to grow food
- In 1942, 55% of the fresh produce in Chicago was home grown – we want to donate 5% of what we grow in 2012 to food and nutrition programs
We still haven’t thought of a good name for this program but we’re doing it anyway! We’ve already scoped out and gotten agreement from private property owners and the city to put in five big gardens (really big gardens) in four Chicago wards. [If the retro map above isn't good enough, here's a Google map.] And lots of interest from community groups, chambers of commerce, other non-profits, aldermen… people really like the idea.
The concept is simple – we have a lot of empty lots in Chicago. With the economic downturn, especially for private lots, they’re going to be unused for awhile. Let’s use that property to allow people to learn how to grow their own food. We don’t want to turn them into long-term gardens or parks. We just want to use them – short term – for people to work together as a community to do something good… and tasty. Just like a WW2 Victory Garden! We call them Pop-up Victory Gardens. This video by Food Patriots (Groundswell Educational Films) says it best!
If you want to track the progress of our Pop-up Victory Gardens over the summer, we’re starting a new blog called We Can Grow It! and you can find We Can Grow It on Facebook too. We really hope to chronicle not only what our community is doing in 2012 but honor what was done in 1942 as well. If you have any photos of a family member in their Victory Garden, a grandparent who has a story to tell or ideas of your own related to Victory Gardens, please share them!
And if I am delinquent with post to The Yarden this summer, you’ll know why! You can always find updates on Facebook. And, as always, I love your comments, ideas and fun stuff! Keep sharing!
It is ironic that having grown up near Portland, Oregon and spending over 70% of my time commuting to Seattle for work over the last two years this was my first NWFGS. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip – I was in town to do my “Chicago Victory Gardens: Yesterday and Tomorrow” lecture for the P-Patch Organization and to have some meetings with Seattle Tilth. It was great timing that I could also spend a few days at the show.
Full disclosure – you know me! – I was in it for the edible/urban element. I wasn’t expecting much as flower and garden shows are usually landscape gardening focused. Was I wrong! As a matter of fact, the ten experiences I’m mentioning below changed my opinions in many, many ways. It is always great to learn, question your own assumptions and be inspired. The NWFGS did this for me and I believe The Yarden will be more interesting this year because of it. So here we go…
A few years ago I picked up Rosalind Creasy’s Cooking from the Garden at a garage sale benefiting Chicago’s Les Dames d’Escoffier. Not only was it an original edition but it had been owned by the revered Abby Mandel of Chicago Green Market fame. I have it on my nightstand and leaf through it often. I consider it a good luck omen and reminder of the great work people have done to encourage edible gardening, small farmers and a healthier local food system. And how there is so much more work to do…
Listening to Rosalind Creasy’s lecture Edible Landscaping: The New American Garden Grow Your Own Bountiful & Beautiful Garden was like a gardener’s version of visiting Mecca. Rosalind, literally, wrote the book on edible landscaping and we’re just reading it … her journey started 30 years ago traveling with her husband for work and observing how the rest of the world incorporates food gardening into all aspects of their lives. The result of her lifelong passion is a number of books that have lead the way for the rest of us to understand the value and beauty of growing our own food.
Diane Ott Whealy has always been a (s)hero of mine. Since The Yarden is focused on open pollinated, heirloom vegetables, Seed Saver’s Exchange has provided a lot of seeds and inspiration over the years. What you might not know is that in the late 80’s/early 90’s when I was going to college at the University of Oregon I volunteered for a (now defunct) environmental publication called Talking Leaves. Aside from influencing my passion for gardening, environment and community, my three years at TL also introduced me to Seed Saver’s Exchange. One day our editor brought me the yearbook – at that time a skinny, mimeographed document. I was hooked from that moment on. Today SSE has 13,000 members and the catalog is two inches thick. My how times change!
Since my own parents are such an inspiration to me, I loved how Diane’s lecture Demystifying Heirloom Gardening Designing with Heirloom Flowers, Vegetables & Herbs (based on her new book Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver) started with the memories of her grandparents who were the inspiration for Seed Saver’s Exchange. She went on to describe how her life’s work has been driven by passion for gardening and a burning drive to save our cultural seed heritage. Maybe most applicable to The Yarden … Diane’s examples of integrating edibles and flowers has changed my mind about my 100% edible mantra. Don’t pass out, but this year I’ll be incorporating more flowers. It will be weird, but I’m going to do it! I’m particularly interested in Bee’s Friend. [You all can keep me honest on the flower incorporation as the season progresses.]
I first became aware of Teresa from her work co-authoring Grocery Gardening. You can read more about my thoughts on that great book here. She also has a charming blog Seasonal Wisdom that I like very much.
In her lecture The Allure of Edible Flowers How to Grow, Harvest, Cook & Enjoy Edible Flowers I was again pleasantly occupied with a history-rich talk about not only edible flowers but how they’ve played a major role in culinary and medicinal life through, well, all of recorded history. I learned that the term “officinalis” is the Latin designation of a plant that was used for medicinal purposes. Bottom line – any lecture that uses the term “binomial nomenclature” and talks about Carl Linneae is ok by me. Super +++ geek points on this one!
Willi Evans Galloway has written a lovely book on edible gardening. Her lecture of the same name, Grow. Cook. Eat. Gourmet Vegetable Gardening Made Easy surprised and delighted me in many ways. The major takeaway from this – other than how amazing the photography in her book is – was how she encouraged us to use the whole plant whenever possible. Her thoughts on growing peas just for the shoots, eating broccoli rabe after it has flowered and consuming more of the entire plant were really interesting. I think I’ll be cooking in a different way this summer thanks to this great talk.
Now I’ll be less verbose and let the photos speak a thousand words…
As I mentioned before, the emphasis on edibles was refreshing. I got a lot of interesting ideas and got to talk to some great vendors including my favorite seed potato vendor Irish Eyes. Well, there was a bit more than talking. I got so excited about seeing all their stock in person I bought so many seed potatoes I had to also buy a cheap suitcase to get them home. I’m not proud.
CHICKENS & COOPS
My husband, Peter, stands strong on his no-chicken rule so I take extra joy in getting to see how people are building interesting and attractive coops. Hope springs eternal, right? Someday he’ll give in… (evil grin).
The reuse ideas at the show were surprisingly elegant and fun. I think 2012 is the “Year of the Pallet” and the NWFGS proved that. Being a Portland Saturday Market fan, I was happy to see Experienced Materials oil-drums-as-lighting at the show. I’ve been trying to think of a reason to buy one (or more) of these for years… It will come to me eventually. Some of our fantastic volunteers at The Peterson Garden Project did something similar to decorate our stage last year…
I love the ideas! Bottom line – reuse ideas = beautiful and useful. Time to go scrounging around so I can incorporate some of these concepts in The Yarden!
Here’s the best of both worlds – chickens and reuse! Some clever souls came up with a combo garden shed/chicken coop using an old VW bus. I had that line from the song Convoy stuck in my head the entire show “11 long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse micro bus” – and, yes, I am dating myself.
I guess every hobby needs a trend (or two)– terrariums and fairy gardens have been all the rage lately. I wasn’t too keen on either idea since I’m an (unintentional) houseplant killer, but these maritime themed terrariums were really lovely.
One of the best things about the show was the greenhouse vendors. I’ve wanted a greenhouse my entire adult life – and have been lobbying HARD with the hubby since we put The Yarden in 2007. It was incredible to be able to go into all the greenhouses and get the vibe. I’m not sure how anyone could order something like this online without experiencing it first. I really liked the Sunshine Gardenhouse and am happy to announce that, being the saavy negotiator that he is, Peter has agreed that we NEED ONE. [I know this is a ploy to get me off the chicken bandwagon but, hey, I’ll take it.]
So there you have it! A great few days that will influence me moving forward and hopefully some of these ideas will find a home in your garden as well.
Thanks to a recent Chicago Tribune article about our award from the Mondavi Growing Through Giving Campaign a lot of would-be community organizers have germinated (sorry, couldn’t resist the gardening pun). Within the first three days after the article went online I had five emails from Chicagoans who had been eyeballing empty lots and imagining what they would be like as overflowing community gardens.
This is such exciting news for me and the core team of volunteers that manage The Peterson Garden Project! We had so much fun building our garden and sharing it with over 800 people over the last two growing seasons we want to do whatever we can to help others experience the transformational power of community gardening.
So to get those groups started, here’s some philosophical musings that are best done in the dark of winter when it will be fun to get together with your new garden co-conspirators and dream of the wonderful summer you’ll have in 2012.
Ask yourself these important questions…
Who are the people that will make up your community?
Why do they want to garden?
What form will the garden take to accomplish this goal?
Bobby Wilson, President of The American Community Gardening Association, likes to say that community gardens are “10% garden and 90% community.” This is an eloquent way of saying that while the growth and beauty are the easy things to recognize about a garden, the people behind the effort are the real wonder. Plus, any garden started by a single individual – without a core of garden believers – won’t last long. Gardens, like life, take a lot of friends to be successful.
Ask yourself and your team… Who will be the community in this garden? If you’re a school or a house of worship, you may have a built in community and the answer is simple. If you’re a block club, community organization, chamber of commerce (or crazy neighbor with a wild idea) your options may be a bit more open as to who participates within your garden.
With The Peterson Garden Project our mission (see WHY below) and the size of the garden determined who we would include… since it is such a large space (almost 12,000 square feet with 157 4×6” raised beds) we knew that we needed to be open to whomever was interested to make sure the garden was fully used. Plus we figured it would be more fun that way… and we were right!
It is important to understand peoples’ motivations for being part of a community garden and make sure everyone has a shared goal… There’s an old proverb that I love that states “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” It is a bit draconian, admittedly, but I think it sums up how powerful a shared goal is. This is a cornerstone to effective project management (my career background) and it is just as critical to have a vision for your garden – maybe more so because your gardeners and volunteers are there because they want to be there, not because it is their job.
You need to determine why your garden exists… here’s some examples in Chicago
Some gardens want to grow food to donate to the hungry like the 3 Brothers Garden in Chicago’s West Walker neighborhood.
The Ruby Garden was started to improve Schreiber Park in the 40th Ward of Chicago and ended up being a place for many refugee groups to garden together, celebrate and maintain their traditional communities through gardening, food and culture.
With The Peterson Garden Project you’ll notice the word “PROJECT” tacked on to the name of the garden. Turning a huge empty lot into a community garden was inspired by my interest in WW2 Victory Gardens and research about Chicago’s leading role in the movement (and the fact that I’m a sucker for a task that seems like it can’t be done). The lot that became the garden was a Victory Garden during WW2 (many continued thanks to Asian Human Services for letting us use the land!) I wanted to try that WW2 model to see if neighbors would rally around a central cause (growing food) as they had in WW2. Luckily a lot of other people thought it would be a fun idea as well and a core team of amazing volunteers quickly coalesced and made the vision a shared one – as I said, it takes a lot of friends to make a community garden sustainable.
Another motivation was the desire to teach people how to grow their own food. During WW2, 90% of the Victory Gardeners in Chicago had never gardened before so I was curious how using the same methods that made that campaign so successful (albeit tweaked for a new generation) would work. This had a big impact on the WHAT of the garden (see below).
Ultimately we decided that our mission was:
To recruit, educate and inspire a new generation of gardeners who want to gain control of their food supply, grow their own produce organically, and make urban gardening the norm—not the exception.
These are just a few examples of the dozens of food-based gardening projects in Chicago that illustrate the great motivations to grow food collectively. They’re all worthy and useful in their own ways.
Determine what your community wants, verbalize it and share it often and with anyone who will listen.
Your WHY will indicate what your garden is philosophically but also WHAT it becomes physically.
Now here’s where words are not our friend… there are a lot of terms floating around right now about growing food in cities: urban agriculture, urban farming, community gardens, allotment gardens, etc. Let me break it down for you – as I see it.
Community Garden: A generic term where people work together (minimally or symbiotically) to garden… this can include a garden where everyone collectively decides on what is grown and gardens together or it can mean an allotment garden (see below).
Also, this does not always mean food production although, for the purpose of this blog, I do mean food production. Come on, if you’re going to put in all that effort and can’t eat what you grow what is the point!?
Allotment Garden: An allotment garden is a British term for a piece of land that is divided up for individual use. This is essentially how The Peterson Garden Project is set up with 150 individual raised beds that are gardened by single families who eat the food they produce and 7 beds that are grown for donation to two food-based organizations in the 40th ward.
On a curious note, even though only seven beds are dedicated to donation purposes, a full 25% of our garden serves as scholarship beds (for those who can’t afford membership dues), donation to food pantries, use by social service groups vs. individual families or teaching beds. Supporting our mandate to educate a new generation of gardeners, all of our classes are free to anyone.
Urban Farm: An urban farm often has a job creation or economic impact component and is a few- to-many proposition in which a few people garden and provide produce (usually in exchange for money, barter or some other transaction) to many others. A great example of an urban farm in Chicago is the City Lights Urban Farm on Chicago Avenue.
While these terms are often used interchangeably – I like to call them “exactly the same but different” – they do have an impact on how you set up your community garden physically but also philosophically. It is important that your gardeners understand the game plan for the garden and what’s in a name does matter.
Next… Using the WHO, WHAT and WHY to imagine and build your garden…
We’re a good 15 days past our average first frost date (which proves the point that the frost date is, indeed, average). This past weekend was glorious and we got (maybe our last) intense dose of Vitamin D in addition to getting much of The Yarden taken care of for the winter… in the process I was thinking of the types of hints I would share with you all if you were my neighbors (and if you asked but, since you’re reading this I’m assuming you kind of are asking!)
[Despite our modern lives, gardening is still best learned from neighbors and books - and now blogs. Cicero had it right so many centuries ago when he said "If you have a garden and a library you have everything you need." I wonder what that famous quote would have been like if he'd had a MacBook Air?]
The first tip we were calling “The Maribeth Method” because it was introduced to us by our friend Maribeth who is a relatively new gardener that I met through The Peterson Garden Project. Last year was her first year growing vegetables. In her passion to learn (and share) as much as she can about her new love she passed this tip on to us (I’m beginning to see a “neighbors & books” theme developing here…) My first thought after hearing this handy hint was “duh” and, the second thought, “I wish I would have thought of that.”
Instead of pulling your spent plants (especially the big, woody ones), cut them off at the base and let the root ball compost over the winter. The nutrients will return to the soil – the stalk will desiccate and be a cinch to pull out in the spring. (This is also a good excuse to use any monster pruners you may have won in a contest and didn’t exactly know what to do with until now.)
This is a variation on The Maribeth Method for plants with vegetables that still need to be harvested. Cut them at the base per the method above and harvest the fruit after. You can take all the plants and place them on a table so you can harvest without bending over. Very convenient when there’s a big crop to pick.
You probably know from reading this blog that the shrub rake is one of my favorite tools for small space gardening. It is particularly helpful when harvesting tomatillos and ground cherries as they fall to the ground when they’re fully ripe. Instead of lots of bending to get them one by one, I use the shrub rake to gently pull them into a pile and grab large handfuls all at once.
Man, I’m sounding lazy in this post! Well, I am turning 44 in a few days so perhaps it is my age showing.
Simple Seed Saving
I save the “easy” seeds – beans, okra, etc. Essentially anything that can dry out in the garage for a few months and be processed in the winter when I’m desperate for any garden related activity. “Easy” seeds include garlic chives (which are wonderful if you haven’t tried them). My easy trick for garlic chives and other “easy” seeds is to use paper lunch bags for collection. The flat base of the bag keeps them from tipping over while you’re filling them and they allow a lot of air circulation. With the garlic chives, the blossoms can sit in the bag for a few months then I’ll shake the dried flowers to collect all the seeds. The bag is then easily identified with a Sharpie, rolled up and saved for spring seed swaps! I take all the variously labeled bags and put them in a ziplock to keep them in one place.
While the first frost has yet to hit, it is clear there are way too many tomatoes that will never make it to full ripeness. Aside from coming up with all sorts of innovative green tomato recipes (Green Tomato Lasagna anyone?) it is also easy to ripen green tomatoes to enjoy later in the fall/winter. WARNING: They won’t taste as great as those from earlier in the summer! But you put all this effort in to your tomatoes – might as well get the most out of them. All you have to do is wrap the tomatoes in old newspaper and put them in a dark place. If you place them in a box, make sure they aren’t too deep (two layers is good). Check them frequently and enjoy. But DO check them often or it could get gross.
Gardening should be your happy place! To me that means a guilt free place. During clean up it is easy to think about the things you should have done differently… the “flaws” are obvious this time of year. However, after years and years of gardening I’ve realized the garden is the ultimate “no control” zone in many ways (see “Top 5 Dumb Mistakes” to learn about our lessons from 2010) and it is good to adopt an attitude of wonder and thankfulness. With increasingly busy lives, I refuse to feel badly if something in the garden doesn’t go according to “my” plan. Take my scallop squashe this year… I had to travel quite a bit for work and kept missing the window when they were tiny and delicious. Instead of feeling bad I just let them grow and decided to call them “pumpkins” and use for fall decorating. Problem solved!
This isn’t really about clean up but more about “spruce” up. Right now it is MUM season. I don’t think anyone (except my mother) really likes mums per se but we do what we must when we’re all desperate to hang on to whatever last vestiges of color we can. If you do buy mums, it is easy to cover the plastic pots with a cut up paper bag from the grocery store. Tie the bag with some raffia or rustic cord and instant cute container! [My friend Mark gets the credit for this one. He could rummage through someone's garage and cute up their entire existence with whatever he found.]
Recently I had the pleasure of hosting an Expert Panel for The American Community Gardening Association, of which I am a board member. The topic was “Putting the Community in Your Community Garden” and was attended by 50 or so community gardening organizers and volunteers from around the country.
Here are the suggestions and ideas shared:
Urban life is busy so if you want people to be actively involved in a community garden, it needs to be simple for them to participate. We did this by making the beds small (4×6’) and individual (no need to discuss or compromise on what is to be grown). We also suggested the garden was organic and all edible. For the 50% of our gardeners the first year who had never gardened before, we used the Square Foot Gardening method to teach them.
Communicate Everything… Often
Building our garden was an exercise in gumption. We had a history edible garden building but no experience taking on a project of that size. Furthermore, what can you do when Mother Nature rains on all your scheduled volunteer days? To make sure everyone felt invested in the process – the good and the bad – we shared every up and down with our community. While they were frustrated about delays too, not just the weather, it helped us all feel like we were in it together.
The transparency about events, details, delays, etc. went hand-in-hand with listening to what the gardeners wanted. Within five days of announcing the garden, we had over 50 community members gathered for a meeting. We talked about the garden plan and we listened to their ideas and questions. At the end of the season we did a survey to find out what the gardeners thought of their experience in 2010. We put many of those good suggestions into practice for 2011.
Let Volunteers Be Good At What They’re Good At
Find that match and let them run with a project! They’ll have a sense of purpose and accomplishment. When you have hundreds of people feeling good about their contributions it makes for a great garden community.
Give the Kids a Job
We found that the kids were as eager as the adults to participate but often were too tiny for the hard labor. To put them to work – and give them a sense of purpose- we taught all the kids how to water properly. It was really charming to see an eight year old go up to some adult they didn’t know and coach them on how to water! (At the roots!) They did a great job, everyone learned from them and we had a healthier garden to show for it.
Encourage Group Education
Provide opportunities for the enthusiastic and/or experienced gardeners to teach others. We provided classes in the garden and noticed a pattern – the same people showed up every time. And those people then taught others. When we had our seed swap this past March, last years’ gardeners were teaching new gardeners (and people who just showed up) what to do. The knowledge collected quickly and people wanted to share it.
Celebrate large and small victories. We had several events throughout the summer in the garden. The first was a garden re-dedication on 4th of July weekend. It made sense considering our garden was a WWII Victory Garden. We also had a harvest fest, a wine tasting, a fashion show… some of these were to raise funds but we always said our events needs to raise “Friends” first.
For the small victories, recognize the accomplishments of the gardeners. Everyone likes to hear they’re doing a good job. Join in the joy of the first tomato! Have fun with weird things growing in the garden… it gives a chance to talk about other cuisines or cultural backgrounds. For new gardeners the growth process is a mystery. Celebrate their induction into the gardening world!
Gardens are magical places – especially in an urban setting. We made our garden available to anyone who wanted to come see it… schools, church groups, garden tours. It gave our gardeners a sense of pride and the visitors a sense of inspiration.
Reach out to others in your community to find out if they’d like to view your slice of urban paradise.
Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude
A recent study found that community gardeners ate better and were healthier than most other people. Last year at our garden, one man told us that in 2009 he hadn’t left his house all summer. In 2010 he was at the garden every day… Gardens are wonderful, healing places. Enjoy yours, spread the world, help form new gardens… and maybe community gardening can be a Victory for our generation too.
To learn more success strategies for your community garden, consider attending The American Community Garden Conference August 18-21 at Columbia College in NYC!
This post first appeared in April of last year. We were just starting plans for The Peterson Garden Project which became the largest edible, organic community garden in Chicago.
As much of a novelty as our garden was last year – developing almost overnight on private land – I have heard of numerous other “pop-up” gardens happening on private land throughout the city for 2011. Much like WW2, land owners, neighbors and businesses are banding together to make food production possible for urban gardeners.
This new activity is in addition to the ongoing good work done by city organizations such as Neighborspace, the Chicago Park District and others who advocate for, manage and create new community gardens for Chicago residents all the time, albeit on city-owned lots or park property.
[One new edible garden on park land is the Merchant Park Community Garden. They've taken an unused triangle of land and turned it into an edible garden for their neighbors in the Irving Park community.]
There’s a saying “the only thing we learn from history is we learn nothing from history” (Friedrich Hegel) but I think when it comes to WW2 Victory Gardens inspiring a whole new generation of gardeners this old adage might prove wrong.
If you’re interested in starting a community garden in Chicago, or anywhere, we’re happy to help. Send a note to email@example.com. Or become a member of the American Community Gardening Association to learn how you can participate in your community.
Chicago Victory Gardens 101
The year – 1943 – was a banner growing season for Chicago Victory Gardens. As the war was in its second year, Chicagoans rallied community-by-community to do all they could for the effort and to alleviate the shortages caused by the largest international conflict of all time.
As transportation resources were diverted to moving troops and munitions, shipping fresh produce to market fell low on the priority list. In addition, the glut of low-wage workers from the Great Depression were finding jobs in military-related industries so farms were short-staffed and unable to meet the food demands of the nation. To complicate matters, materials previously used for canning food were now needed for weapons.
Simply put: there was not a lot of food available to buy.
In response to this crisis, massive coordinated efforts across Chicago – by hundreds of thousands of average citizens – created four gardening seasons (1942-1945) the likes of which have not been seen since…
Here’s some of the surprising facts of the “army of gardeners” in 1943 who fed Chicago, kept up morale and did their part for Victory:
- 90% of the people who grew Victory Gardens had never gardened before
- 14,000 plots were gardened by children on Chicago Park District land
- The largest Victory Garden in the country was in Chicago’s North Park neighborhood
- 800 families farmed this gigantic garden
- Victory Gardens produced 55,000 pounds of food during the summer of 1943
- Chicago-based companies such as Marshall Fields and International Harvester donated seeds and garden equipment
- A city ordinance prevented theft from Victory Gardens with fines of $600-$2,400 in today’s currency
- An estimated 172,000 Victory Gardens sprang up in Chicago in 1943
- 908 acres of which were on private/city lots or park property
- Communities held dozens of “harvest festivals” in the fall of 1943 including a city-wide festival at Soldier Field attended by thousands of Chicagoans
Fast forward to 2011… while not embroiled in the largest international conflict of all time, we do face food-related concerns and a new trend toward growing one’s own food is again sweeping the country:
- In 2011, for the first time since the OPEC oil crisis in the 1970s, garden seeds were rumored to be in short supply
- Sales for home canning supplies have increased 40% since 2009
- According to a recent Garden Writers Association poll, 65% of the American public has a lawn or garden and approximately 53% of the American public is now growing vegetables
It is important to remember that today’s challenges aren’t that different from those almost 70 years ago – our food supply is in jeopardy. It doesn’t matter the cause – we are feeling similar concerns. And, like those Chicagoans who had never gardened before, we can raise our own food on our backyards and neighborhood plots.
Chicago’s Victory Garden efforts were so coordinated and successful that our plan was sent out by the US Government to other major urban areas as a blueprint for success.
Perhaps, once again, we can rally and provide an example for our country in urban food production… who’s in?
There’s an old saying “No matter how things change, they stay the same.” This is particularly true for gardening… no matter how much we’re influenced by TV, internet and social media people still learn to garden from other gardeners… Surprisingly, this holds true for the under 40 crowd as well who report that 82% of their gardening info comes from neighbors and friends.
The wisdom and information we receive from other gardeners is a heritage to be treasured.
My father, Ken, learned to vegetable garden starting in 1946 when he and my mother moved from California to Oregon to be near my great grandparents. Father was just out of serving in the Occupied Forces of WW2 and they thought it would be a good time to move north and make a fresh, post-war start. He’d had lots of farming experience on his parents’ ranch in Cucamonga, California. They grew citrus and raised a few chickens and hogs but he had never learned about vegetables.
My great grandfather in Oregon was a chicken farmer and used the manure to great effect in his massive vegetable garden. My dad helped great grandfather with his garden every year until he passed away in the 1960′s. When our family moved to a large parcel in rural Oregon in 1972 my dad started his own garden and that’s where I learned.
Looking at that garden now it doesn’t seem as gigantic as it did when I was a child. The rhubarb we planted in 1973 is still going strong. Mother makes compote and jam from it every year and, in the fall, my dad mows it down with the lawnmower… When this garden started almost 40 years ago there weren’t as many trees so it was a lot sunnier.
I can’t say I “loved” my gardening education. Back then growing food is just what people did – it wasn’t trendy or seen as a (potential) survival skill. And, like many kids, I got stuck with chores I did not like – mainly weeding.
At the time I didn’t realize that the yearly tasks for putting the garden in and the tricks I learned from my dad would be the basis of something that would give me so much joy.
Did you know…
- If you soak most larger, hard seeds before you plant them they germinate faster? This is really true with corn and nasturtiums.
- If you put powdered milk in the hole when you’re planting tomatoes you’re less likely to get blossom end rot (it occurs because of a lack of calcium)?
- Black trash bags make a great mulch for melons by warming the soil and keeping the fruit clean?
- Slugs like beer and will drown in a bowl of it sunk into the dirt? (REALLY good advice in Oregon! Slug capital of the universe.)
These are a few (of many) tid bits of advice that I can now draw on when I garden thanks to my dad.
I went to college at 17 and ended up at the University of Oregon. U of O, like Berkley, Reed and Evergreen was a “hippie” school at the time – very liberal, left wing with hold-out 60′s flair. My parents were a bit terrified when I was there. Luckily they had raised me well so nothing too drastic happened. The most memorable thing from my college years in Eugene was working on an environmental newspaper and re-learning how to garden from a friend that was one of the original employees at Smith and Hawken.
It is kind of an irony that it wasn’t my social mores or religious beliefs that were challenged at U of O but my gardening skills! My new “hippie” gardening friends were into raised beds – not the straight rows I was used to! Vertical gardening, companion planting, heirloom vegetables and more… it was during this time that I really fell in love with gardening and, along with the basics from my dad, have used these skills ever since.
Did you know…
- planting when the moon is in a water sign encourages growth and pulling weeds during a fire sign prevents them from growing back?
- planting nasturtiums with veggies works as a trap crop (insects like the nasturtiums better so leave other things alone)?
- painting a milk jug black, filling it with water and putting it beside tender plants works as a passive solar heater and raises the temperature a few degrees at night? Add a cold frame structure and you have your own mini-solar powered greenhouse?
- making a necklace or crown of rosemary keeps mosquitos away from your face?
If you didn’t have the chance to grow up with a garden or learn from highly qualified hippies don’t panic! What actually prompted me to start this post was a book I read. I know I said most of us learn from other gardeners, but books are usually second on the list of information sources – although, in 2009, technology did briefly bump books as the #2 resource.
There are a ton of books on gardening and the “new” trend of urban homesteading (should I put a TM after that?) but, IMHO, Your Farm in the City is one of the best gardening books I’ve read. Period. (And I must add here that there are livestock chapters which just made me miserable that Peter refuses to allow chickens in The Yarden.)
Started in the 1970′s, Seattle Tilth’s mission “Learn. Grow. Eat.” is about as clear as it can be and they’ve been teaching people to do just that for over 30 years. This legacy of curriculum and education is executed remarkably in this new book…
- the information is written in an approachable manner
- the book is well designed so the key points are delivered in small bites with appropriate graphics
- the artwork is lovely
- it is written in a great, first person Pacific NW “gardening forever” voice
- the “voice” has a great sense of humor
“There is an old saying… you should never plant more than your partner can weed or water.”
It is never too late to be a life-long gardener… Your friends and neighbors will certainly help you! But if you haven’t met them yet… Your Farm in the City by Lisa Taylor will be your BFF.
Even though the calendar says spring, the weather says winter. Struggling through the loooonnnngggg “spring” in Chicago’s Zone 5 can be a chore. Especially when I really, REALLY want to be out there digging and planting. It would all be much easier if Peter would just give in and get me the greenhouse I’ve been wanting – we don’t need that last chunk of lawn anyway!
It hasn’t all been miserable whining about wanting a greenhouse (an annual event) and bemoaning the cold, we did get some of the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and basil started in the garage so that’s a plus. But after that ball gets rolling it is still too cold to do much else…
Really, I’m an optimist! Soon enough we’ll be basking in actual spring-like weather and planting away. It’s just that I’ve been missing sharing my gardening thoughts with all eleven of my readers (love you!) so I wanted to forget the nasty weather and jumpstart the garden talk by discussing tools. Yes TOOLS – the last desperate act of a Zone 5 garden writer in the final stretch… here goes.
First, I’d like to say that good gardening isn’t about shiny toys or the best gadgets. Most of us like to think of gardening as an opportunity to recycle household stuff to prevent it from going to the landfill. However, a few well-selected tools, well cared for, can make your gardening life easier and last for many years if you take care of them properly.
DISCLAIMER: Nobody paid me to say nice things about their products. These really are my favorite garden tools. What are yours?
My heart used to belong to the Ho-Mi Korean Garden Plow (long name) until I met the Cobrahead. In all truthfulness, four years ago at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show Peter bought the Cobrahead and I bought the Ho-Mi. I’ve been stealing the Cobrahead from him ever since. Sometimes he insists that he gets to use it and I go back to the Ho-Mi – which is a very nice tool… but it is no Cobrahead.
We have the long-handled Cobrahead and it does everything I need it to do. With some leverage it can pull out a deeply rooted plant, scratch compost into the soil, weed. It really is versatile and amazing. Since we plant so intensely, the tool’s small size can get in tight spaces and it is light and easy to manage. We’re buying a bunch of these this year at The Peterson Garden Project because they’re so versatile.
My next favorite tool was found through a lot of trial and error. Having a good garden snip is important. I have tiny hands so I like these pointy, skinny bladed snips by Fiskars. Their fancy name is “Softtouch (r) Micro Tip (r) Pruning Snip” (at least it rhymes.) They’re spring loaded so they work with you (some aren’t believe it or not) and they don’t have any loops in the handle to create blisters (don’t laugh – it happens!) They are also very affordable which is good because I am often misplacing mine and have several pairs (I found one in the car the other day). I use them for almost everything from deadheading to harvesting herbs.
Ironically, the only other cutting tool I like to use – which has none of the soft-grip-spring-loaded-loop-free attributes of the fancy-named Fiskars I was just extolling – is these Bonsai Scissors. They’re old school and beautiful. Peter tends to gravitate toward using these. We keep them in a vase by the door so if we’re going to the garden they’re in easy reach. If you were laughing before about the pruning blisters, stop right here. That’s the only drawback – if one is obsessive compulsive about training tomatoes and needs to cut a lot of garden twine then there’s a chance a blister might develop.
As I mentioned, we plant intensely so smaller scale tools are in order… for instance, I bought a shrub rake (which is the same as a regular rake except fewer tines) a few years back at a yard sale and it is now my favorite clean-up tool. I do get annoyed when the tines hook on a garden staple holding down the drip irrigation but have learned to live with it.
Everyone needs a trowel for hand digging… I’ve tried many of them. [People seem to want to give them to me as gifts including a metal one my mother tole painted for me. It also had a big bow on it.] None have caused blisters but I have gotten a thumb cramp now and again with those that have no contour in the handle. My new favorite is this ergonomic-a-liscious version from Corona Tools. It is design specifically to fit the hand and it really does prevent muscle strain/cramps. If you’re still laughing, consider how much time it takes to plant 90 tomatoes… you might understand the value of an ergonomic trowel!
I have a lot of those Fiskars snippers because I misplace them frequently. Once I got this garden tool belt from Garden Things the problem went away. [How brilliant is this that you can put the twine in the pouch and not have to go searching for it?!] This handy – and perhaps geeky – garden belt has made my garden time more productive – more digging, less looking for my gear.
Finally, I know I said that gardening is about reusing stuff – which we do all the time – but year one in The Yarden we made an investment in these faux bamboo garden stakes/connectors from Gardeners.com and we’re glad we did. Some of us with engineering degrees (you may guess who that is) like them more than others as they’re kind of a garden erector set. They’re durable, flexible and show no sign of needing to be replaced in this lifetime. These are another great lifesaver in an intensively grown garden where we need to go up – up – up for all sorts of crops.
So those are the go-to tools for us in The Yarden. I can’t wait to start using them instead of talking about them!
PS Full disclosure #2: I have one more favorite garden tool but the photos are too embarrassing to show (even for me). It is a bicyclist flashlight that attaches to your head with a velcro strap. Sometimes I get home very late from work and I need to inspect things no matter what the cost. Peter laughs at me the minute I put it on but it is very effective!