Archive for ‘Community Garden’

August 3, 2013


Despite getting a little bit of a later start, my tomatoes are doing really well this year. Almost too well – some of the plants are taller than me and I’m having a hard time keeping them anchored to their stakes.

They’re all heirlooms, all started from seed by me. I’ve noticed very few diseases or problems. I’m pretty proud of this!

Based off of the green tomatoes I’m seeing, we’re going to have a bumper crop this year. Lots of salsa, tomato preserves, and dried tomatoes. I just wish they would hurry up and ripen! I’m craving some garden fresh maters.

April 24, 2013

Make flowers, not war!

Happy Administrative Professionals Day! By day, we all know I’m a paper pusher at a suburban Catholic church. My co-workers are absolutely wonderful; they always give me flowers and throw a little celebration for me.

Speaking of paper-pushing, last night, I had another meeting with the folks at Agape regarding the community garden. It was still an exciting meeting, but now the hard work begins of organizing a gardener’s event, typing up agendas and flyers,  talking to area businesses about donations, and making phone calls :). I’ve worked on enough community projects to understand that there inevitably is work involved that isn’t exactly glamorous or fun, and I’m fine with that. It helps me to think of building a foundation – all of the behind the scenes or administrative work is what you stand on when the actual project comes together. I remember reading a chapter out of this book about the secretaries who worked with Martin Luther King, and how they would run off copies for hours on end some days. Their hard work was part of what allowed people to get the word out about the Civil Rights Movement.

Anyway, that is neither here nor there. What I REALLY wanted to tell you about is guerrilla gardening. You’ve probably heard of yarn-bombing, birdhouse-bombing, and a few of the more well-known forms of street art. For a long time, I’ve tried to think of ways to do street art in the form of gardening. I’ve thought about planting tomatoes or lettuce in abandoned lots and leaving them to survive on their own, but the more I read about the levels of contamination in our city soils the less of a good idea that sounded like. I wouldn’t want someone eating a tomato or picking lettuce and getting sick.

However, last night one of the Agape folks told me about seed-bombing with wildflower seeds. She first heard about it in Riverwest, my old stomping grounds. Apparently, during the Riverwest 24 one of the activities involves chucking seed bombs down an alley with a lot of green space. I love it. It’s such a Riverwest-esque thing to do!

I did some research on Pinterest today, and it seems there are two main methods for making seed bombs. One involves shredding old newspapers in a blender with water and adding seeds (sort of like paper mache) and the other involves mixing dried clay (the cosmetic stuff you get at a heath food store) with worm castings and adding seeds. Both sound amazingly messy and awesome :). I’m going to try both methods; my thought is that the clay/worm castings will germinate better because it’s getting more nutrients, but who knows?

The whole reason the topic came up is because they recently tore down a condemned building next to the community garden. As you can imagine, the lot is in pretty sad shape right now. If there’s interest, we would like to try to lease or even purchase the lot from the owner and expand the garden. However, in the meantime, we’re thinking about getting permission from the owner to seed-bomb it! We’d like to do wildflower seeds, with a focus on flowers that attract pollinators. I’m thinking it would be an awesome project to do for a Kids Day event in the garden.

Want to know more about seed bombs? Here are tutorials for the two methods I mentioned:

Dried Clay Method

Shredded Paper Method

Now get on out there and make your neighborhood beautiful!

April 20, 2013

Hipster Homesteading

Warning: there is talk about poop in this post.

Being that I was so inspired by attending the MUG workshop this past Saturday (you can read about it here), I decided to do something I’ve never done before: put poop on my garden. Horse poop, to be specific. This time of year, there are lots of horse ranches cleaning out their barns and offering free manure for the hauling. One happened to be a few miles from our house, in a northern suburb. After the workshop, I called them up and asked if I could come and get a few buckets.  That was fine with the farmer, so I moved on to the next obstacle: hauling the stuff in our tiny Honda Civic hybrid.

When we haul wood chips, we just lay a sheet down in the trunk and fill it up. However, manure was a whole different thing. I had two five-gallon pails and a 17-gallon tote, none of which fit into our tiny trunk. So I finally decided to lay down a plastic tarp in the backseat and set the buckets on top.

I arrived at the ranch and was escorted through a mucky pasture (good thing I remembered to wear my rubber rain boots!) to a pile of wet horse manure.

“This,” I thought to myself, “Is the real thing.”

The farmer fed his horses “so they would leave me alone” (were they planning on harassing me for stealing their old poop?) while I filled the two buckets. Jason was busy that day, so I couldn’t fill the tote the whole way or it would have been too heavy for my chicken arms. The farmer did help me lift the buckets into my car, remarking that it would make it smell really good in there. He also mentioned, with some sense of puzzlement, that he’d had many people like me stop out with their cars and haul the stuff in buckets. I pictured tons of hipster homesteaders from the city showing up in their fancy clothes and hybrid cars to get free poop for their organic gardens. Like something out of “Portlandia”.

I thanked him for his help, and he told me I was welcome to come by anytime to get more. Maybe I’ll take him up on that offer. You know, if we ever get a decent vehicle for hauling…

Anyway, I set off on my merry way back to north Milwaukee, with the windows down and a scarf over my face. I kept hoping that I wouldn’t have to brake suddenly or get into a car accident because, well, that would have been crappy. Pun intended.

The irony of the whole thing was not lost on me. Because, honestly, it’s funny that I hauled horse poop in buckets in my backseat with my clothing-swap scarf over my nose. I never want to take myself too seriously! Stuff like this keeps me grounded.

Because I didn’t haul much, I only put a thin layer down in the garden. Which is fine – it will help it compost easier. The bed that got the poop treatment is the one I dug last September – it will be where I plant warm weather veggies like eggplants and tomatoes so it still has a good two months to break down into the soil.

For the record, I left the car windows open for a few hours and then took it to the corner gas station to vacuum it out. I’m happy to report that no traces of manure smell remained. AND – I dragged the big tote out of the backseat and into the backyard all on my own! When Jason came out to take a look later, he looked down at the garden bed and exclaimed, “Poop!” Well, he used another word but I’m trying to keep this blog somewhat PG ;). He was amazed at my manure-hauling feat. Naturally.

April 19, 2013

Back to the land?

I’ll try to limit my whining here, but allow me one little rant.

I get pretty peeved when wanna-be homesteaders start preaching about the beauty of “leaving the city behind” and moving to some remote area where they can isolate themselves and practice survivalist techniques.

Well, I mean, I guess that in and of itself doesn’t make me mad. I know that city life is not for everyone, and that’s OK. To each their own.

I think what hacks me off is the perception that the only way to be a sustainable, satisfied gardener is to leave the city behind. That packing up and “getting away from it all” is the ultimate destination of every homesteader.

I beg to differ.

I’ll be the first to say that there are difficult challenges to overcome when you choose to have a city homestead: contaminated soils, lack of gardening resources (ever tried shopping for soil amendments at Home Depot? Yeah, you know what I mean…), and a general lack of space. No, we can’t raise sheep or goats or cows in our backyards. Some of us don’t even have backyards.

But for me, what I get out of choosing to stay in the city far outweighs the challenges. I get to interact with my neighbors when I’m out in my yard. I get access to dozens of awesome farmers markets. I get to engage in conversations about how empowering it is to grow your own food in an area where the nearest grocery store charges $5 for a box of processed cereal and probably doesn’t even have the equipment set up to sell fresh produce. I get so many opportunities to learn. To share.

There’s a part of me that feels like the most beautiful flower is the one that chooses to grow in a concrete jungle. We need urban gardeners. We need people willing to step to the challenges involved and to change the landscape (literally!) of our cities.

Again, I want to stress that I’m not trying to diss anyone who chooses to live a more rural life – that’s their preference and choice and we definitely need people who DO have the space to raise cows and sheep and goats – I enjoy a good wool sweater and a slice of cheese as much as the next person. But I think there should be a mutual respect and understanding between the two lifestyles, not competition or superior remarks about “my way is the only way” to do this.

This past Saturday, I attended a workshop sponsored by Milwaukee Urban Gardens that was focused on how to start a community garden. Obviously, the community garden I’ll be managing is already established, but I got SO MUCH inspiration and knowledge from being there. What was really, really beautiful to me was the sentiment expressed by many future garden managers: there is something forgotten or abandoned in our neighborhood; a vacant lot, an old playground, an overgrown yard. We want to make that thing beautiful – and we want to do it as a community. We want to unite neighbors and bring about change. We want a beautiful place to grow food and flowers, a place that we can sit in and enjoy and where our kids can play.

Stuff like that gives me the chills, it’s so darn awesome.

I was so thankful that I was able to attend the workshop. I got to meet a few of the staff members from MUG and find out more about the resources available for community gardens.  The whole thing was so empowering for me that I didn’t even care that my first duty as a community garden manager was to spend 2 hours cleaning up discarded bottles and Cheetos bags from the garden later that afternoon :). When I started to feel discouraged, I would starting dreaming about how the garden will look in August, when everything is growing and people are spending time there getting to know each other. Totally worth it!

April 9, 2013

In which I believe that gardening can save the world

…and I finally decide to act on it.

Several months ago, I met with the neighborhood coordinator of Agape Community Center – a non profit that operates out of a nearby neighborhood but also provides services to our area. They run a community garden not too far from the organization, about a half mile from our little house. Currently, it’s managed by a volunteer who is going to be moving out of the area and was looking to pass to torch along, so to speak.

I initially thought of it as too much of a time commitment – after all, I am growing on more space than I’ve ever worked before, I do have a full-time job, and I would like to be able to take a few short vacations throughout the summer. I also have my hesitations about my know-how. Yes, I’ve played in the dirt all my life and I have lots of knowledge and research under my belt. But did I really have enough practical experience to offer? I wasn’t sure.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an e-mail from the neighborhood coordinator again, mentioning that they were still looking for someone to help manage the community garden. There was another resident who was interested, so it would technically be “co-managing”. Again, I sort of brushed it off. I mentioned it to Boo and he gently asked why I was holding back on this – after all, I think that community gardening can make a huge impact on a neighborhood in so many ways. He even offered to lend his manly muscles as time permits!

I gave myself a week to think through the idea, and eventually I realized that I would be CRAZY to not take this opportunity. I’ve done community gardening before, in Riverwest, and couldn’t say enough about how wonderful it was. This is one of my dreams jobs – even if it’s just a volunteer position. It’s a merging of so many of my passions – healthy food, gardening, empowering communities towards sustainability, building good relationships, eliminating the disconnect between goods we consume and where those goods come from…

In essence, I kind of think that gardening can save the world.

So, I said yes 🙂

This past Saturday, I met with the previous coordinator soon, as well as the other resident who will be managing. The time commitment required for co-managing the garden is perfect for me – a total of one to two hours per week. At the very least, the position is completely doable. I have a billion fun ideas that may or may not happen as well! Compost bins, a rainwater system, kid-themed garden beds, a communication board…but, if all I end up having time for is meeting other gardeners, picking up trash, and putting together a watering schedule, I’m content :). I’ll also be attending a workshop on community garden management this weekend.

I meant to spend some time at the garden on Sunday but somehow in my busyness I completely forgot! Maybe I can stop by for a little while on Thursday or Friday.

Another positive thing is that, in doing more research and coming up with creative solutions to problems in the community garden, I’ll have more ideas to apply to my own backyard!

I’m nervous – with any volunteer position, there is the possibility that I could burn myself out. But I’m choosing to trust that God will give me the wisdom I need to manage my time well, to know my limits and to be able to give freely out of my abundance.

Here’s to a new adventure!