Sunday, May 31, 2009

Need more hands in your community garden? Part 2

Encouraging people to turn out for a community planting is a constant job for community garden leaders. Often, there is a substantial list of garden tasks, and too slim of hands to tackle them. Folks do want to participate, but often life is busy and there are many competing interests for our time.

This is a second in a series of posts that are focused on finding more hands for your community garden. Your efforts in planning these now will be a boon for your community garden later in the season (just when your regulars are getting tired out). Ten, one-time volunteers can take care of a task that would require 2 people to do all day. This fact makes these bigger work days more fun for your regulars as they both get to do something different and achieve sense of accomplishment feels like "Extreme Makeover". Examples of good tasks for a one-time larger group include trash pick-up, watering, mulching, deadheading, planting, edging beds, weeding fence lines, weeding out one particular weed. These are all simple, repetitive gardening techniques that you can show folks how-to do in a quick lesson.

This second tip in the "Need more hands" series suggests connecting to local colleges (and even high schools). Colleges and Universities can be bureaucratic to wade through, but there is usually multiple avenues to reach willing 15-20 year old volunteers. Many folks in the age group very much want to contribute, and a growing proportion want to learn sustainable gardening.

Here are some tricks to connecting to school crews:
  • One tricky element about this suggestion is the fact that many student volunteers are tied to the academic year only, which means their available time does not greatly an overlap to the growing season. Its still worth recruiting however, because these volunteers are energetic! Further, their available dates are often the beginning and the end of the growing season, just when there happens to be bigger tasks related to garden openings and closings. Because of the differences in calendars, you will probably have to locate a new crew for each work date you arrange.
  • You may likely need to plan these community service dates involving students well in advance, often in the previous term. This can be hard to remember in the spring rush of garden tasks that you also need to connect with your teachers for the Fall events! For example, This week, The Snelling Avenue Planter Project just made some connections for a Hamline University crew who will be performing community service, in early September. Another example in the Twin Cities is the U of MN's Welcome Week which involves their incoming freshmen in community service.
  • To find a student volunteer(s) that will be able to volunteer repeatedly, you will need to find students required to do service for class credit (like Service Learning departments, course projects, capstone projects, senior thesis, and even Eagle scout & 4H projects). This type of student volunteer can tackle other garden needs beyond hauling wood chip such as making a flier, cleaning the garden's tools, write, research, apply for grants, and more.
  • To begin tapping into to this potential source of volunteers, you need to ask amongst other organizations how they reach students, and also call around to the schools asking if their students do community service. Places to hunt on campus include service learning departments, student orientation events, student governments, student groups, restorative justice programs, resident housing, fraternities, community relations offices, alumni organizations, and of course, particular department offices (or even professors) which have majors that relate to your garden project.
  • Once you find a route to interested student volunteers, try to make these connections institutionalized. It is important to find out the permanent staff person who is ultimately in charge of the students, and even try to get a face-to-face meeting with them. Many college departments rely on student workers to pull together community service projects. So once that student worker graduates or finish working at that department, then you have lost that connection. You will gain more return on your time investment if you can come back to that department/professor year-after-year. Once the college knows about your project and that community service will be successful, then they will start calling you!

Photo Caption: A service learner from the University of Minnesota looks over one of Horton Park's serviceberry trees scouting for insects amongst the native plantings installed by the Friends of Horton Park. Sarah worked for 24 hours in the community gardens over spring 09 term.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hen Bedding

There has been recent discussion at the Twin Cities Chicken's list about bedding material for the chicken coop. Options suggested were straw, wood chips, and dry leaves.

Over here at our Midway henhouse, we are in the dried leaf camp. We use them both in the run bedding and in the henhouse. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is dried leaves are plentiful with our large shade trees. Next, manure+leaves augments our compost pile providing the necessary carbon and nitrogen. And lastly, it feels sustainable using what is here. The alternatives may require hauling them away when soiled and upon return, again transporting the fresh bedding, which we would be paying for.

On the maintenance, a few leaves will blow through the chain link on big wind days and do require a bit of tiding. I do scoop the run regularly (few times a weeks to daily) to remove visible droppings. This is a task that is difficult in long blades of straw, making leaves more manageable. I rake out the whole works once/twice a month, usually timing it to just after a wet period as leaves will get sogged out (and can begin to have odor). I find the rain soaked bedding adds useful moisture to the compost bins. I am also finding that neighbors are beginning to request this material from me for their own compost piles.

Using leaves in this manner for bedding may be a bit more demanding day-to-day than deep bedding of wood chips or straw, but of course that does not account for the time to acquire and then dispose of the bedding.

(Photo caption- chicken walking by my daughter and a friend. Not something done often!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Buzzing at the Midway Greenspirit Garden

An urban beehive has come to the Midway neighborhood, just recently installed at the Midway Greenspirit Garden. A recent Saturday, the Mighty Midway 4H group got their own tour of the bees! It was fascinating! Even the couple of kids who were truly afraid were soothed by the calmness of beekeeper Virginia and the bees themselves. We learned that these bees may go up to 5 miles away to find nectar. That means that we could see Greenspirit's bees in our backyards!

The garden was able to install this beehive with a grant from Gardening Matters. Bees are integral to pollinating crops, for veggie gardens, and in the case of Greenspirit, a future orchard! Diane, one of the beekeepers/community gardeners, had this to say about the garden's new flying friends:

"With little to no fanfare, members of the Bee Team from Midway Green Spirit Community Garden installed what may be the first legal bee colony in a community garden in the Twin Cities this afternoon.

The permitting and fence building occurred last year. The legal aspects (animal control permit and building permit for the fence) dragged on for so long in 2008 that it became too late to feasibly get the bees hived up in time so that they could build up their ranks and stores to take them into the winter (the window of opportunity to install package bees is soon coming to an end this year), so the Bee Team decided to wait until this spring.

It was a perfect day (cool and cloudy) for hiving up our two pound package of Minnesota Hygienic bees and it's proven queen and the process went off without a hitch. There is an abundance of pollen for the girls to gather, and we're feeding them sugar syrup until the nectar starts flowing.

We're mighty excited!!"

To follow the hives' progress, check out Virginia's blog. Oh yeah, the bees will make honey too.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Growing for elders: community gardens harvest for block nurse programs

Neighbors looking out for neighbors. When it works, its a direct way to gain a sustainable neighborhood via self reliance.

In SE Como, the OWLS Garden Shares community garden has been following this concept for several years. The organic produce they grow is shared with elders in the community through a collaboration with the Southeast Seniors (SES). Gardeners take a bit home and each elder on our list gets a bag of fresh picked vegetables.

The relationship between the community garden and the local neighborhood block nurse program has worked out well for all. Further, OWLS gardeners are primarily U of Mn students and their efforts are a great example of a positive impact of the off-campus student body.

This successful model is spreading to the Midway area of Saint Paul too. A group of Hamline University students have taken up the passion to grow food everywhere. They call themselves Hamline SPROUTS (Students Proposing Real Options for Underutilized Territory) and have hooked up with the greater community, include that Hamline Midway Elders, a block nurse program.

Many community gardens regularly donate produce to food shelves, Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis and Midway Greenspirit in St. Paul for example. The block nurse collaboration is actually more similar to a CSA (community supported agriculture) arrangement since the same list of individuals get a share of each harvest. As a result, more of a relationship between grower and eater is created.

I am finding that up & coming 20 year-olds have increasing interest in acquiring the know how to grow-your-own food . I find that hopeful.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tetanus booster shots- not optional

Tetanus immunizations are an over-looked gardening tool. My fellow U of Mn Master Gardeners are reminding folks to check their shot status. Those who have not had a booster within 10 years need to get this taken care of--over 40% of us are overdue. Scraps and cuts are pretty routine while working in the garden and the Tetanus bacteria can enter the bloodstream through the dirt. Its reported that nearly twenty-percent of tetanus cases result in death.

While you are planning your plant list, tool needs and compost needs, put your booster shot on there too. For more information :

Oh yeah, gloves help too.