Tuesday, April 18, 2017

We Dig Ohio: 2017 Urban Agriculture & Community Gardening Summit

Welcome guest columnist Sabrina (the SACG's 2013 Volunteer of the Year) who is relating her experience from last month's conference at the Conservatory.   Sabrina applied for and received a scholarship in exchange for sharing what she learned.   However, despite my best efforts, she did not take pictures, so I'm sharing some of my photos from the event.

On March 25, 2017, the We Dig Ohio Summit took place at the beautiful Franklin Park   Lucky to receive this opportunity via scholarship, I was more than thrilled and slightly nervous, not knowing what to expect.  Upon arrival I quickly realized The Wells Barn was full of an assortment of individuals ranging from novices to experts, which was reassuring. 

The itinerary for the day was full of choices and deciding which sessions to attend was tough.  But my main goal for the day, learning as much as possible to benefit SACG, made these selections slightly easier.

 Best Practices for Safer Urban Soil
Presented by: Cheryl Rice, NRCS and Jessica Wilbarger, Lucas Co. SWCD

This session appealed not only because SACG is located in an urban environment but also because this is something I am personally interested in.  Do people starting community gardens, consider land use history, or forget about community gardens, what about families who just want to grow on their own property?  The environmental contaminants of the past, unfortunately are still a problem of today and unless someone knows otherwise, it is never given a second thought. 

To begin, what is soil?   It may seem irrelevant but the components of soil and the ratios, in which they are found, help to determine if a soil is healthy.  Ideally, it will be composed of 25 % each of air and water, 45% soil material, and 5% organic matter.  A healthy soil benefits plants by storing and cycling nutrients, which in turns make them less susceptible to uptake of pollutants. 

How do you know if your soil has a problem?  Test it!  But sending a soil sample to a lab, with no idea what your looking for, is like going to the doctor and not giving the doctor any symptoms you are experiencing.  This is where land use history research becomes important, highlighting possible contamination points on the land and specific suspected chemicals.    There are many resources available for free including:  historical photos, old city directories, Sanborn fire maps, just to name a few.

The take away is don’t just blindly plant things you or someone else is going to consume.  Get some site history, test if there is something suspicious, and maintain a healthy soil.  If there are areas of concern, put a storage shed there, make walk ways close to roads, and if all else fails raise your growing medium above the soil profile.

Plant These Too! How to Add Variety to an Edible Garden
Presented by: Pam Bennett, State Master Gardener Volunteer Program Director

The SACG plants a wide variety of vegetables and personally I will eat any vegetable, but was there something we were missing?  This session provided insight to some less common vegetable, tasty varieties, and addressed issues that curse certain families of plants. 

When I said SACG grows a wide variety, I meant it.   The one oddball, watercress, just wouldn’t survive due to thriving in wet areas.  But, there are a whole host of special varieties that I now will keep an eye out while seed shopping: Dragon Tongue Arugula, Flashy Trout Back Lettuce, and Pork Chop Tomato.

Even more helpful, many tips and tricks for growing.  Here are a few I learned.

1.)   Carrots, kohlrabi, leeks, and parsnips do better in a sandy soil.  Possible solution for clay soils, raised beds with a specialized growing medium. 

2.)   Hybrid corn is available for growing in containers; produces smaller ears, but works for limited space. 

3.)   Consecutive plantings for beans can save on the quantity coming ripe at once. 

4.)   Curly kale is more resistant to flea beetles. 

5.)   Lettuce can be grown in the shade, especially helpful during summer. 

6.)   If your not a fan of okra, try it pickled. 

7.)   Brussels sprout, kale, broccoli and other Brassica family members are susceptible to White Moths, which have 3 life cycles in a year.  Use row covers.

 The main point of this presentation was don’t be afraid to try new things.  If you find something you like great, write it down, and grow it again.  If not, chalk it up as an experience. 

Garden Gurus: Fun and Simple Gardening Activities for Kids
Presented by: Hannah Halfhill, Youth Educator with Toledo Botanical Garden

The choice to attend this session was an easy one to make.  SACG has a great number of children who participate every year.  It never fails at the beginning of the year everyone is eager to plant.  But as the sun gets hotter and the chores more mundane, interest can be quickly lost.  What better way than to have a bit of fun during those days to keep them coming back.  So, the participants rolled up their sleeves and got to experience some fun activities to keep children engaged.

Creating a worm bin is a great way to get children to keep coming back to the garden.  They can participate in creating the bin, maintaining it, bring kitchen scrapes from home, playing with the worms, and using the compost.  The possibilities for scientific explanations are endless and it is an ongoing fun activity to participate in throughout the summer.

Another simple but effective way to engage children at the garden is to germinate seeds in a bag, glove, or something else.  This is a great opportunity to see on a small scale the method of seeds sprouting, plant parts, greenhouses, etc.  Plus it gives the children something to take home and possibly continue to spark their curiosity.

Soil makes it all possible, right?  Why not educate children on the components of soil through relating it to food.  Plus who doesn’t like a sweet snack?  Two buckets: first filled with just sand, silt, and clay (the primary components of soil) the second with sugar, flour, and salt (the primary components for cookies).  Two more buckets: one with actual soil (sand, silt, and clay, plus water, bugs, rocks, leaves, air) the second with actual cookie dough (sugar, flour, and salt plus water, oil, vanilla, chocolate chips, brown sugar, and of course gummy worms).

We all want to be engaged and have fun, but even more so with children.  If you take just a small bit of time and dedicate it to educating youth on all the wonders of gardening, imagine what legacy we can leave to our future generations.  So take a deep breathe, get creative, and have a little fun.

 Wildlife Fencing
Presented by: Peter Huttinger, Community Garden Program Director of Turner Farm and Joshua Jones, Community Garden Manager of Turner Farm

Every year, it never seems to fail, that a groundhog finds its way into the SACG.  We pay the price with our produce.  This session was a must if we want to keep critters from taking our prized tomatoes or mowing sweet potato leaves.  The method presented is a DIY step-by-step, tried and true fence for preventing deer, groundhogs, and many other critters from coming in. 

The cost is proportional to the size of the area needing fenced, but yet still more cost effective that conventional fencing and durable.  Materials needed are readily available at home improvement stores.  In addition, the sample fence can be customized to suit the areas specific needs.  For an example, at SACG we do not have deer and therefore do not need conduit or galvanized fence wire.

How it works: the corner wooden posts are configured as a 3 corner with braces, the use of triangles gives the structure stability.  These post also need to be set in concrete, below the frost line with gravel at the base for support as the soil shifts.  Then T-Post are set every 10 feet till half the length of the fence is meet. At this mid-point, another wooden post is set below the frost line with a gravel base in concrete.  Once again, the T-Post continue every 10 feet till desired length, where another corner brace will be formed.  This pattern is continued till the garden is not outlined.

To encompass the area with 200,000 PSI tensile wire are few tools to ease the job are necessary: Jenny Fence Wire De-Reeler, wire cutters, crimping tool/bolt cutters, aluminum chain link fence ties, ratchet style tensioner with handle, and galvanized barbed staples.   Use the staples to fasten the wire to the wood post, set a gap approximately 8 inches between wires, tighten with tensioner till a slight twang is reached, and then use chain link fence ties to fasten wire to T-Posts. 

 The last important step to ensuring those burrowing critters stay out is using 48 inch tall vinyl coated chicken wire.  A trench along the outside of the fence is dug approximately 18 inches deep and the chicken wire is buried facing outwards.  The remaining top 30 inches is adhered to the tensile wire with hog ring fasteners.  This keeps critters from digging their way in.

Finishing touches include adding gates, which can be purchased or created.  To ensure it is also a preventive measure from critters coming in, chicken wire can be used to secure gaps.  This method is super customizable by using materials you may have on hand or adapting the framework to meet your garden needs.  And nothing can beat fencing with a long life and stability.   

 In conclusion, the summit was well organized and kept the participants engaged the entire time.  By the end of the day, I was fulfilled with new ideas and good conversations.  One improvement point I would like to see in the future is to have access to the information presented in the other sessions.  It was truly difficult to choose which ones to attend and access to information covered in other sessions would have been much appreciated.

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