Touring California Community Gardens: Fun, Sun and Lots of Ideas

Here are three highlights of my recent adventures in California visiting community gardens from Sacramento to the Bay area:

LaybugSacramento: There are waiting lists four and five years long to get into some of the gardens and if you visit, you’ll see why.  The pride and care that goes into the city’s Parks and Recreation community gardens is evident in the upkeep, the design and the spirited innovation.

There are fruit trees growing, individual gardener plots, even a small vineyard (It is California after all!) and artful ways of conserving water and engaging gardeners. For example, a sculpted cistern shaped like a ladybug collects water from giant metal flower basins.  This is just one of many artful touches.

BayerSanta Rosa:  A bilingual garden at the Bayer Community Farm with signage in Spanish and English. This is a welcoming space with garden plots, a large area with a dozen colorful picnic tables, a labyrinth and a teepee trellis house for children.  The garden space accommodates young and older with raised beds designed for people with disabilities.  One of the nicest aspects of the garden is that it is adjacent to a recreational space that was buzzing with activity as neighbors played sports, skated and rode bikes.

PotHill copySan Francisco:  In most gardens your attention is drawn down to ground level where the vegetables, flowers and herbs grow. In Portero Hill Community Garden, located at the edge of a ridge, your eyes look up and out to see a breathtaking city scape. Perched on land that was once the abode of the goat lady of San Francisco, this is a striking garden and so well tended.  The gardeners here love their spaces and it shows.

More to come….

BTW- Sacramento is agricultural zone 9. They plant tomatoes in March!

 

 

 

 

Lovely Afternoon at Pitney Meadows Community Gardens

Cafe Lena photoIt was wonderful to see some of you at the Cafe Lena concert at Pitney Meadows Community Gardens this afternoon.

Community Gardeners: What a treat to have live music while you work in your gardens, refreshments available and the fun of watching young children enjoy themselves in the sandbox.

This is the good life.

 

Garden Trends: School Community Orchards

 

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 2.50.15 PM.png In recent years, more and more schools are planting orchards and creating outdoor classrooms. Pictured above is music teacher Albie Pickens who started a community orchard at his elementary school in Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo: Natalie Walsh

By Natalie Walsh

Albie Pickens, a fifth grade teacher music teacher at Geyser Road School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., planted an apple and pear orchard with grant and community funding and created an outdoor classroom available to the entire elementary school.

His goal was to connect students with the natural world, a connection that was fostered in him as a child growing up in his father’s garden and that has stayed with him as an adult.

It’s important for students to understand where their food comes from, how much effort goes into a good crop, and the myriad things that can go wrong, he said.

From the beginning three years ago, his local and school community embraced the idea and funded the trees, picnic tables, mulch, deer fencing and other supplies that made it possible.

And if they didn’t give money, they gave of themselves. “We saved $8,000 by having volunteer labor,” Pickens said, adding that at least 200 people volunteered.

As a classroom, the orchard is one educational opportunity after another, Pickens said noting that he is a self-taught orchardist.

Students learn about insect pests, organic controls, grafting, pruning, harvesting and that growing food may not be simple but it is gratifying.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be a learning opportunity,” he said, adding that sometimes more is learned when things don’t go right.  You can solve one problem only to have another show up.

It’s real life, he continued.  Students learn what is takes to grow fruit, the damage insects can cause, the joy of eating a apple off the tree and connect with their world in the process.

And the orchard has been fruitful. At the Orchard Fest held in the fall, cider pressed from their apples is served.

To maintain the orchard of 20 trees, Pickens has organized an Orchard Team of teachers who are able to use the orchard in their curriculum and a Grow Club before school program for students.

He does most of the maintenance himself. “You can’t give a third grader a sharp clippers.”

Instead, he teaches why fruit trees need pruning, and hands out an illustration of an unpruned fruit tree. Students mark which branches they believe should be eliminated. Adults do the pruning.

In the future, he hopes to bring an arborist to the school who can hold a workshop so more people can learn about pruning fruit trees and help in the orchard.

His students have learned about different fruit varieties, grafting and root stocks and Pickens has some fresh grafted pear trees in a nursery for future planting.

“We have plenty of space,” he said, adding “The community orchard will only get better with time.”

Natalie Walsh, a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, is a master gardener and horticulturist who travels across North America writing articles about community gardening and orchards.  You can reach her at natalie.walsh@communitygarden.org

 

Made Wassail and the House Smells of Apples, Cinnamon, Cloves and Cider

It’s a rainy day here in the Northeast. The chilly sort of weather that makes spending time in the kitchen a delight.

I finished preparations for my soon-to-arrive house guests early, so I thought I’d try a new wassail recipe for a project I’m working on. This evening, my guests will be my taste testers.

Wassail is an ancient spiced cider based beverage and associated with traditions of good health and camaraderie. 

I researched dozens of recipes, read up on the lore and began preparing my own version a few hours ago. It starts with baking apples in the oven, then simmering cider, citrus and spices on the stove. The last step is combining everything and letting the flavors meld. It smells wonderful. 

It is the perfect drink for a chilly day.

Wish you were here. I’d pour you a cup.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Early Signs of Spring in a Community Garden

strawberriesWho doesn’t love this time of year?

Everything is fresh and new and there is so much promise everywhere you look.

Even weeding feels good after a long winter away from the garden.

But don’t be tempted to plant tomatoes and peppers just yet in you live in a cold climate. It’s just too soon.  Wait a few more weeks until frost is no longer a danger. But you can plant lettuces, peas, spinach and other cold tolerant plants.

And if you just can’t wait, remember what Thomas Jefferson said: If you don’t lose a few plants each Spring, you planted too late.

He was motivated. Jefferson and his neighbors used to have a contest to see who could get fresh peas to the table first.  The winner held dinner and served, you guessed right, the early spring peas.