Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What gardeners do in winter: reflecting on what you grew, ordering seeds, planning for next year

Typically in winter gardeners reflect on what they grew the previous season...what worked, what didn't? Of course in a community garden, some variables are beyond one's control like the size and location of a garden plot and sometimes the soil conditions are less than desirable. The soil at the BC Garden is now very nutrient dense and as composting continues, will only become more fertile.  

Gardeners ask questions like: Which varieties produced well and under what conditions? Were the types of staking and plant supports adequate for the plants I grew?  How well did I keep on growing successional plants like radishes, lettuce and herbs all season long? Did I grow food crops I really like eating or was I introduced to new vegetables that I now like to eat?  Did I utilize the space I had to the utmost, or did I choose to grow too many plants for my space or too great a variety of plants for my space? Did I adequately thin plants like beets, carrots and radishes so each one had enough room to grow? How can I make better use of my limited size garden plot? Maybe I want to extend the growing season by planting early veggies like peas and onions and late crops like kale and collards?  Carrots and spinach were more challenging to grow than I had imagined, why might that be?  Maybe I could team up with a garden friend to grow tall, bushy plants like pole beans and tomatoes in one plot and root crops that have shorter growth like carrots and onions in the other...

I suggest keeping a notebook to record what you grew, what worked and what you'd like to do differently.
Here are my top three suggestions to help plan for next year:

1) Order as many garden catalogs as you can stand and fantasize about the veggies and flowers you’d like to fill your plot with. Winter is when gardeners reflect on what they planted the previous season and plan for making a better garden or focused type of garden the next year.  You can learn much by reading seed catalogs including that there are hundreds of varieties of seed for one type of vegetable that do well in different kinds of climates, under a range of conditions.  One seed catalog might sell dozens of those varieties.  Some varieties of beans need to grow over 80 days  before harvesting, while others require around 60. If you have time for the bean that takes longer to mature, fine, if not, go for the quick producer.  The broccoli variety that several of you planted (from transplant) from Silver Heights Farm was Piracicaba Broccoli, a variety that is heat tolerant, needs less space of 1 square foot (as compared with 1.5 square feet for most varieties) and produces lots of side shoots that stay sweet.  Cecile's broccoli flowered in early December and those blossoms were as sweet as can be.  

Below is a long list of seed houses, which offer online catalogs and hard copies of their catalog upon request.  Browsing with a mouse is nothing in comparison to thumbing through colorful pages of produce, so definitely order the paper version.

2) There’s some free/low cost gardening workshops to take this winter at the BBG, including these:
Letting nature do the work with Permaculture-- Free
Street Tree Care-- Free
Houseplants 101
Edibles on the Edge
Cool spring Greens

3) Snuggle up with a gardening book.  Here are a few of my favorites:
My Garden Book  -----Jamaica Kincaid
This Organic Life -----Joan Dye Gussow
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle  ------Barbara Kingsolver

Then there’s plenty of books on urban farming.  Many gardeners this year asked me about container gardening, practical for gardening in the tiniest of spaces where you can grow carrots, herbs, onions, garlic, lettuce and cherry tomatoes as well as flowers and ornamental plants:
Farm City  ----Novella Carpenter
Urban Farming: Sustainable living in…  ---- Thomas Fox
Bountiful Container   ----- McGee and Stuckey

***Whether you have or haven't take a wild food foraging tour with "Wildman" Steve Brill, I recommend downloading his app on edible wild plants.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Acceptable Materials for our Compost Bins

What can I compost here?
  •       All raw fruit and vegetable scraps, including hard pits from avocados
  •      Coffee grinds with filters
  •            Tea bags, tags are ok (please cut open fancy tea bags made of plastic mesh)
  •            Egg shells
  •            House plant trimmings (no diseases)
  •            Soiled paper towels (no oils)
  •           Weeds without seed heads

What can’t I compost here?
  •    Meat, chicken, fish scraps
  •       Spoiled dairy products,
  •    Grains, bread
  •       Leftover prepared food with oily residue
  •    Mango and peach pits (they take years to break down)
  •    Treated wood
  •    Charcoal ashes
  •   Weeds gone to seed

5 steps for adding waste to bin:
1)  Make sure your scraps are chopped into 1-2 inch pieces.  This ensures that material will break down quickly.  You don't have to be so careful chopping up soft scraps like melon rinds, apple skins and banana peels, but please be meticulous when chopping tough woody scraps like broccoli stems, carrot tops, cabbage trimmings and brussel sprout stalks.  Woody material will take much longer if not chopped up.  
2)  Add your kitchen scraps to the bin labeled, “Active Pile, add material.”
3)  Evenly spread food waste over top of pile, no mounding please!
4)  Spread an even layer of brown material over food waste, so none is exposed (this attracts flies).  We have assorted browns like leaves, wood shavings and ripped cardboard.  All are fine to use.
5)  Moisten material. Either with the hose or by filling a bucket/red watering can with water, wet down material.

Viola!! You are finished.

Freezing food waste:
Some people who can't drop off their food waste as frequently prefer to freeze it instead of storing in the refrigerator.  This frees up refrigerator space and prevents any smells from invading your kitchen!  If you choose to freeze, please chop up material before storing it in your freezer. You may notice that when you add these frozen pieces to the active bin, they spread easily across the top of the pile, like ice cubes. If you store your food waste in yogurt containers, it may become a frozen blob, difficult to spread atop the pile.  Please make sure you chop it up somehow before adding,  for example:  smashing between 2 rocks.  You could also unmold the waste, tuck it into a warm spot in the pile, do something else and return in a few minutes. This will partially melt the blob, making it easier to break up.  The reason we don't want to add a blob of food waste is if we should do that, it won't be mixed evenly with browns and may become anaerobic, starting to smell and potentially attract rodents.

  •       The other piles with labels, “Closed, Do Not Add,” are in the process of decomposing and no fresh material should be added.  It’s takes about three months for a full batch to mature into stable compost.  
  •      When adding water, you may want to fill up the red watering can or a bucket with water instead of unwinding the hose as you'll have to wind it back up. 
  •      You may add weeds to the bin, only if they have NOT gone to seed yet.  Please cut them up into 2-inch lengths with scissors or pruning shears. 
  •      If you have a lot of food waste, you may wonder, how much should I add for 1 layer?

---A grocery size bag of food waste is what householders typically add, but commercial/restaurant kitchens have more waste to handle.  For larger quantities, add 1/2 of a 5-gallon bucket for 1 layer, and then add browns. Use an empty bucket in the garden to measure.  Basically, the food material should be a 1 inch thick even layer.

If you're contributing waste to our bins or those at another drop off-site, you know the value of composting.  We currently receive food waste from several sources including our gardeners, the campus cafeteria, a nutrition science class, and occasionally from produce markets.  Once in a while manure comes our way from Kensington Stables.  

Compost is beneficial on so many levels! It reduces the overall amount of garbage sent to landfills.  Methane gas is created in landfills when food waste mixes with other trash.  Adding compost to our plots and perennial beds improves soil texture and increases organic matter and nutrients needed for growing robust plants.  Thanks for doing your part, we LOVE you!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Composting: Next step... Multi Unit Wooden Bins

Thanks to all gardeners who have consistently brought food waste to our bins, to those of you who have picked up food residuals from the campus cafeteria, to Erika and her students who bring scraps from class and to Ernest who consistently picks up materials from a local produce market and stables.  We now have a finished batch waiting to be stored and three more batches cooking away. Roughly, we compost 185 lbs. of food waste per week!

My hopes are increase our waste contributor base to include 100% of our gardeners and many more students.  In terms of bin structure, we continue to use simple plastic fencing secured with posts, certainly adaptable to our space right now but difficult to turn and not attractive either.

Last Month, I attended a compost bin build workshop at the Red Shed Community Garden in Williamsburg.  The NYC Compost Project in Brooklyn (based at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden) led the event bringing all wood, hardware cloth and required tools.  A large group of us organized by Alison Filosa of Red Shed helped drill, screw, saw and hammer it all together.  It’s a simple construction really of four walls attached to a frame to make three compartments for layering and adding waste.  This is the sort of system we’d like at BC Garden; pretty, clean cedar wood, perhaps set on paving stones.  We may build a four-bin structure to accommodate what we currently process.  We may set this structure  either between the two Hawthorne trees or perpendicular to them.  Good thing is it can be moved when empty.

Now the money part…how to finance this project?  It will cost roughly $750., For the wood and related  supplies.  We originally placed this project post on IOBY (In Our Backyards) in spring but put off advertising because we couldn’t move ahead with any building projects due to the college delay on their construction plans.  Since the Softball field is underway, we can move along with this. 

Please support this project, which we’d like to start at the beginning of December.  Donate as little as you can/as much as you want to make these bins a reality!  When our project is fully funded, IOBY will reimburse us for materials purchased.  click here to find our project and donate!

Please see the IOBY donating page for more info. on how your contribution is processed and how we receive your money.

Share our project with friends and family through email, Facebook, Twitter.  If you have any questions about how to share with friends, please contact me.  Let them know that we are already successfully composting and are ready to beautify our operation and increase participation.

Bins at Red Shed Community Garden
A new batch of compost sifted last week!
Rosita with a compost sifter made last month
In the BC Health Clinic with Launa Smith
weighing finished compost for storage
Thank You!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Directions, Useful info. When visiting BC Garden

Our Location:

We are located on the western side of the Brooklyn College Campus at Ave. H and Campus Road, just off Ocean Avenue.  If coming by subway, take the Q to Ave. H and walk six blocks east to the college entrance, this takes about 7 minutes.  Please don't take the #2 train, it's so out of the way!!

There is a security booth just outside the garden. If you have a BC student, faculty or staff ID, please show the security guard your valid ID to gain entrance. If you live in the neighborhood or from the city at large, please arrange with me prior to your visit and I will add you to the list of active gardeners maintained by campus security. When you come, show your driver's license to the guard, she/he will check your name on the list.

If you have any problems finding the garden or getting in, just call my cell :) Victoria

Preparing for garden work:

For all new volunteers and gardeners, here’s some suggestions on what to bring when coming for a workday:

  • Water: there’s a water fountain in the WEB building, make sure you fill up before entering the garden, you will get thirsty. There’s also soda, water and snack vending machines on the first and second floor of that building.
  • Snacks: if you plan to stay for more than a couple of hours, please bring something to re-fuel
  • A hat:  even when it’s cool, you may want a hat to keep sun off your face
  • Garden gloves: we have an assortment that are shared and get washed when needed.  If you feel averse to using gloves that have cradled others’ hands, please bring your own.
  • Sturdy shoes: we have mulched paths, metal tools and dirt surfaces so please wear comfortable shoes and socks that you don't mind getting dirty and will protect your toes, should a tool land on them.  No flip flops please!
  • Rain-jacket or slicker:  We work when it's overcast and drizzly but not when it's raining hard. Please bring a rain-jacket if rain is forecasted.
  • Camera: there are so many cool insects and plants... you are certain to see something unique and may want to capture!
  • Sun-block:  on sunny days, it gets very hot. You can easily develop a burn within an hour.
  • Be aware that there are mosquitos in the morning and evening, and we do have both OFF brand-bug repellant containing Deet, and a natural alternative.

Children are definitely welcome, but you’re responsible for keeping an eye on them!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Sampling of Wildlife in our Garden

I've been meaning to upload some pictures of the insects and other wildlife that make our garden their home.  So far, since April, I've personally either seen or seen the work of the following:
Leaf cutter bees, bumble bees, praying mantids, many dragonflies, earthworms, Butterflies: Black swallowtail, yellow Swallowtail,  Small cabbage white butterfly,  luna moth caterpillar (Chad found it on tree # 7), cricket and even a snake (Mike noticed it last week!).
I'm trying to identify the snake, I don't think it's a garter snake, It may be a Northern Black Racer but the white markings behind the head are throwing me off.  I'm going to ask around.
In the meantime, enjoy these and do comment with any info you have.

Luna moth caterpillar found on tree # 7
baby mantid, a few weeks later we saw several
others that had grown and changed to green

Baby snake