Tag Archives | urban agriculture

Pallet project

palletprojectprogress

This past weekend I got into a project I’d been scheming on since the start of spring. My landlady generously offered me a bit of space to grow some food in by the cement wall/iron fence that surrounds her backyard garden. The sunny spot is located in the small driveway off the alley by which I access my apartment. Two cars fit snuggly in the lot so building anything with substantial depth would have blocked vehicles from pulling in and out. Inspired by readings and projects from the Urban Agriculture class I took at Brown this semester, I decided to try my hand at some vertical gardening. I had seen DIY pallet garden projects in books and online and thought that might be a good place to start. I figured it would be economical too. A couple weeks ago I picked through some discarded samples behind a paper supplier in Pawtucket and found a few good specimens that I could pull apart and rebuild into a Franken-pallet. Gorgeous weather, a visit from my enormously talented woodworker/furniture maker friend, and the day off from work on Monday gave way to a perfect opportunity to finally get busy.

We started with a sturdy 3′ x 4′ pallet that boasted tightly fitted boards on one side. This would serve as the retaining wall on the back of the planter. Then we framed the sides and bottom of the planter with wood from the other dismantled pallets and some leftover scraps that were available from an ongoing home repair project (a new floor being laid in the laundry room/entrance to my apartment). Next, we mapped out the spacing of the boards that would enclose the front of the box. I decided to leave 2.5″ gaps between the boards to plant in. It seemed like a good amount of room for my herbs to grow but not so much space that the soil would forever be spilling out.

palletprojectdetail

After lifting the basic frame into the right location/position and wiring it to the iron fence posts, we built the garden layers from the bottom up. We filled the pallet with soil, laid and watered each plant, then one by one we nailed each board to the frame. We collected sticks from the property (last summer’s cuttings from my landlady’s hedges) and pressed them in between the plants to try to create a webbing to help retain the soil until the vegetation fills in. To give the plants a good  start, we mixed in worm castings as we worked our way up.

palletprojectdone

Above is the finished garden. Eight rows (including the row planted in the open top) currently hold twelve different edible plants. I’m growing rosemary, oregano, sage, two different kinds of marigolds, dill, cilantro (coriander), three different kinds of basil, tarragon and nasturtium. Marigolds, rosemary, cilantro, and basil are all pest repellent crops. The plants were grown from seed in my windowsill and purchased at the Southside Community Land Trust plant sale. I’m pleased with the look of the garden and I think its’s a great use of the very narrow space. I’m not sure how well everything will grow in this planter. I wonder if there will be enough soil for all the root systems that will be vying for water and nutrients. And properly saturating each layer with water may prove to be a bit tricky. There’s already been talk of a piped in irrigation system for the next pallet project. For now, I’m very happy about what we were able to create with the resources around us. The garden is an experiment and I’m excited to see how well it works over the course of the growing season.

memorialdaypicnic

To reward ourselves for a day of work in the sun, we bought some take-away and headed to the coast for a sunset feast on the beach. With a bunch of stainless steel containers in tow, we hit-up East Side Pockets and the grocery store salad bar for some good eats. We also packed some water, fruit, and trail mix to snack on.  My trusty 17-year-old Block Island beach blanket served as both a nearly sand-free surface to sit ourselves and our delicious meal upon, and later as a much appreciated wrap to keep warm with after sundown.

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Outdoor classroom

cityfarmbabies

This week marks a significant anniversary for me. It’s been exactly two years since I started my No Trash Project. I’ve been reflecting on the milestone as I engage in activities aimed at advancing my Zero Waste practices. This evening, my Master Composter Training class met at City Farm to learn about the different composting systems in place on the 3/4 acre Southside plot. The farm produces 2 tons of food (over 70 different crops) per season. It was warm and sunny in Providence today—a stark contrast to yesterday’s frigid, rainy weather, so I was excited to be outside. City farmer Rich Pederson gave us a tour of the several composting sites on the property and spoke about the practices and holding bins that have worked best for the farmers. It was really valuable to hear about his experiences with the varied setups, especially since his perspective is that of someone who is composting in an urban environment, which requires slightly different considerations than rural compost operations, namely rodents and potentially concerned neighbors. Rich described himself as a “lazy composter” and said he chooses a “lasagna” layering approach with his carbonaceous and nitrogenous materials . To aerate the compost, he plunges a digging bar into the pile to agitate the material and allow oxygen to enter, but he doesn’t “churn” up the pile with a pitchfork or shovel. I like his approach. It’s a lot more manageable for spaghetti armed folks such as myself. Rich also talked about their tumbler composter, which he especially likes to use during the winter months. I’ve always wondered how well they work as they seem like a good option for urban composters who need to completely seal off their compost from opportunistic city dwelling pests.

Before leaving the farm I snapped this photo of some baby salad greens and herbs. I can’t wait for the Annual Rare and Unusual Plant Sale in May!

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Happy Earth Day

earthday2013

Love your mother.

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Vernal equinox

sprouts

Here in the northern hemisphere, spring has officially sprung! And so have my chamomile sprouts. Today, the Earth’s axis tilts neither toward nor away from the sun, resulting in equal parts day and night across the globe. In my biology class I’m learning about photoperiodismthe physiological response of an organism to changes in the photoperiod. The photoperiod is the relative length of day (light) and night (dark) periods in a 24-hour cycle. Flowering plants like chamomile use a photoreceptor protein to sense these changes and signal the buds to bloom. Some plants require longer night periods to bloom, while others require shorter night periods. My chamomile plants will open their potent flowers when the days are long and the nights are short. Well, first they have to survive the nursery period. Here’s hoping I can prove to be a proficient caregiver!

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Spring things

botanicalgarden

I feel as though too much time has gone by since my last post. I have so many things I want to write about, photos loaded, and drafts saved. I had trouble choosing a topic tonight. So bear with me as I gush about some things that have me excited these days.

This past weekend was lovely. It began with a small test of will power when I signed off, shut down, and unplugged my computer, phone, and lights on Friday night in participation of the 4th annual National Day of Unplugging. The respite officially took place from sunset Friday, March 1st to sunset Saturday, March 2nd. I was a little late to the party because I had to work Friday evening, but I did manage to hold out for 24 hours. Well, almost. The digital detox is meant be a break from laptops, iphones, and tablets. I decided to try to go without using any electricity (save my refrigerator). I ended up turning on some lights and my electric stovetop to cook dinner late Saturday, about 20 hours into my power-free period. On Saturday I rode out to the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center for the Urban Agricultural Spring Kickoff hosted by Southside Community Land Trust. Demonstration and information tables on seed starting, urban chicken keeping, rain barrels, bee keeping, and maple sugaring were set up along the pathways of the indoor gardens. I talked with some friendly folks, gathered some resources, and got the inspiration (kick in the pants) I needed to start my seeds.

botanicalgarden2

As the event was winding down, I took some time to peruse the gardens. The botanical center boasts of nearly 12,000 square feet of plantings. The air inside the building was warm, humid, and fragrant. A stark contrast to the chilly, windy, and grey weather outside. As I moved rather languidly from room to room, species to species, I lost track of the time. Actually my sense of time was pretty well off throughout the entire day as my phone, which normally acts as my time piece, was powered down. I suddenly realized I was the last person (besides a couple botanical center employees) in the place. So I bundled up in my enduring wool outerwear and hit the road back to the east side. Time to get busy.

seeds2

I’m sitting in on two classes at Brown this semester and I’m IN LOVE WITH THEM. One is an Urban Agriculture course in the Environmental Studies department and the other is a Biology course called Plants, Food, and People. There’s been some wonderful overlap between the two, and both seem to be mirroring my life and personal projects in uncanny ways. Or maybe it’s the other way around. At any rate, I’m so excited for the growing season. We’ve been learning about vertical farming in my Urban Ag class. Innovative systems like the Sky Greens vertical farms, and the Plantagon are taking shape around the world. One of the primary problems of growing food indoors is how to maximize sunlight. In my apartment, I have just one window that faces south. It overlooks the tenant garden below my kitchen and receives the most uninterrupted light of all my windows, the rest of which are moderately shaded by trees. It’s the best spot I’ve got to start seeds so I’ve been experimenting with ways of using the light efficiently.

seeds1

With hemp twine, I strung up some Burpee seed starting cells (a 100% biodegradable product made from plant fibers) that I picked up from the hardware store. I wanted some lightweight vessels that I could fill with soil  and easily string together. It occurred to me after I purchased them that I might have been able to make my own from folded recycled paper, but I wonder if I could come up with something that won’t drop out the bottom when saturated with water. I’ll have to do some tests. Meanwhile I feel good about using this particular product. The only packaging is a paper sleeve. I marked the cells with a wax pencil to keep track of what I’ve planted.

seeds3

I also planted seeds in some small glass Weck jars that I normally use for spices or hygiene goods. I’m hoping the glass lids will help trap humidity while the seeds germinate. Mini greenhouses. I placed some paper labels on the lids, but I may tape them to the sides of the jars with acid-free paper tape to allow more light to fall on the seeds. In my biology class, we’re learning about the factors that affect germination, including lightness and darkness, water, oxygen (I sometimes forget that plants actually respire!), and temperature. I’m also gaining a basic understanding of what occurs on a cellular level as a seed grows from an embryonic state into an adult plant. This new information and vocabulary gives me a new perpective, and I imagine it’s going to provide a whole new level of enjoyment in growing my own food this season. So the seeds are in the dirt, they have plenty of moisture, but not so much that they can’t breath. They have as much light as I can offer, and hopefully they won’t get too cold by the window. Now for the waiting game. Waiting, wishing… and singing to them. Okay, okay I know how woo-woo that sounds but I can’t help it. Growing things engages both my scientific and nurturing (dorky) self.

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Sugar snap peas

From City Farm.

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Pea greens

From the City Farm stand at the farmer’s market.

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City Farm

Today I visited the Southside Community Land Trust City Farm (at the corner of West Clifford and Dudley Street) for their anual plant sale. I had never been there before and I was absolutely amazed to see how much is growing on the city block plot. The sale was from 10:00am to 2:00pm today and for those of you who live near by but weren’t able to drop in, you’ll have another chance tomorrow (Sunday) when the sale happens again at the same time.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the farm was buzzing with people of all ages. Volunteers were always nearby to answer questions about the plants for sale and how to care for them.  Annuals, perennials, medicinal and culinary herbs, fruits and vegetables were spread out all over the grounds.

Something is growing out of every nook and cranny of the farm. These starter greenhouse boxes are pretty great.

Live music played while shoppers picked and mingled.

The farm welcomes returned pots and they will happily reuse them. Everything was well labeled with popsicle stick tags and color-coded plastic tags that indicate the price of each plant. When customers check out, the plastic tags are collected in separate bins to be reused again and again. When I payed for my plants I ended up becoming a member to support the cause and enjoy growers benefits like free compost! This event is very special. It’s exciting to see so many people supporting urban agriculture in this town. Check out a complete list of the SCLT 2012 events here.

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Peppers

Started some jalapeño peppers in a pot in the garden below my kitchen. My landlady left a few containers for me to grow things in. I noticed that she doesn’t use organic potting soil so I tried to top my designated pots off with as much organic soil and compost as possible.

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