Monday was filled with projects of Transition Cheltenham’s Food Action Group. I will be linking this post to the Food Action blog where you can learn more about the group’s work. I, also, recommend checking into the Transition Cheltenham’s website to learn about the Transition Town movement and our community’s initiative.
My first stop was the LaMott Community Garden to water our garden plot. There is no access to water there excepting what falls in rain, what is brought in, or what is stored. We installed three garden beds with an intention to add three more. Our purpose is to experiment with and know, first hand, what strategies are effective in regenerating soil to grow food without heavy inputs of fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. A healthy, living soil will conserve water inputs and provide the plants what they need to grow. The soils in these gardens are, generally, over-tilled and depleted. In some areas, the dry tilled earth looks like a beach. The clay soils dry and crack. When we first dug into the ground; we found no worms, no insects, no organic material.
The first bed was dug at least a foot deep; filled with garden debris, leaves, and leaf compost; filled back in with the soil, and topped with leaf compost. We planted sweet potatoes in this bed. Sweet potatoes are a light feeder.
We, also, dug a foot down into the earth for the second bed. We filled the 3’x10′ hole by layering horse manure, green garden debris, cardboard, soil from digging the bed; and, finally, leaf compost. We planted butternut squash in this bed. We saw that the leaves are yellowing. This is a new bed with a lot of organic material in the process of composting. Beds that are, actively, composting will utilize the nitrogen and resources that the plants may need for growing. In such cases, the plants may need a nutritional supplement. Noah supplied some seaweed emulsion for our plants. An alternative strategy, requiring time and patience, would have been to let the bed mature over a couple of seasons with a cover crop or mulch before planting a heavy feeder such as butternut squash.
The soil that we dug from the second bed was piled into a third bed. We, simply, leveled it and planted cow peas. This is an experiment in growing a productive cover crop to regenerate the soil. The cow peas will fix nitrogen and add organic material to the soil. Cow peas can tolerate hot, dry conditions and poor soil. They seem to be doing well in this difficult environment.
Later, in the day; Noah and I went back to the plot to begin lowering some of the “weeds” in preparation for new beds for fall planting. We cleared around some strawberries, left from a previous gardener. We, also, cleared around some amaranth (pigweed) that Noah spotted. He enjoys amaranth leaves as a wild edible snack.
My next stop was the garden at Arcadia University. The students have created a small garden plot and have ambitious plans for expanding in the fall. The students have an active Environmental Network and are part of a wider campus initiative to make the university more environmentally responsible and sustainable. With regard to their local food production interests; they have received strong support from Tom Macchi in Arcadia’s facilities management department, who shares their environmental interests. The students have, also, welcomed hands-on gardening assistance from our Food Action group and the local community. There are some nice crops growing at Arcadia: tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, eggplant, summer squash, winter squash, basil, and red malabar spinach.
I made a third stop. The Primex cardboard recycling dumpster. Lesson 1: always be ready for a sheet mulching project near you!
My last stop was to meet with friends in planning our Food Action Group’s third Permablitz. With the working hands and celebrating hearts of our community, we will reclaim a Glenside backyard for food production on July 23rd. Our plan is to use strategies for gardening that will regenerate soil health and its water and nutrient holding capacities. We will, also, be demonstrating stormwater management strategies including rainwater catchment and landscaping. I will be sending out an invitation post very soon!
The Food Action Group’s work has become an important part of my life. I am so grateful to be a part of this group of passionate, knowledgeable, and wonderful people. I love learning and working with each and every one of them. Future posts related to our work will be posted on the Food Action Group blog. Stay tuned!