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Archive for January 2013

Winter is Coming!: Overwintering a raised bed

By lawrence.

Well, it’s mid-December and the freezes have been getting harder and harder (it might even snow tomorrow!). My yard-sharing buddy and I overwintered our raised bed a few weeks ago and I figured I’d just write up a little summary of what we did.

My friend, Travis, and I are both transplants to the Northeast (haha, transplants, get it? Man, agriculture puns just never get old!) and neither of us have ever had to worry about “overwintering” anything. In fact, neither of us really knew what that word even meant! Given our lack of knowledge, I took it upon myself to do a little digging (so punny). The most popular search result was this one: How I Prepare My Raised Beds for Winter. The blog author gives a good bit of information of exactly what he does and why.

1502743 10201571553146508 652279982 OThe suggestions included therein are really good, but Travis and I were on a limited budget and timescale so we took a slightly different approach. I remembered that I had some chaff from Barismo leftover from our End-of-Season Potluck and I grabbed my handout from our buddy and teacher of sustainable agriculture, Jon Orren (link!). Travis and I set out to pulling up all the plants and their stakes and seeing what was still edible. About 20 minutes, several of our housemates joined us to pull up the carrots and chit chat while we worked.

After we pulled up everything (except for the rosemary, swiss chard, and some parsley we might get to use before it freezes), I started dumping the chaff and Travis worked it into the soil and that was pretty much it! At some point before the first snow I’m going to work in some compost from our pile and cover the bed with a layer of leaves, but that’s as much as we’re going to do. 1493444 10201571555626570 183949476 O

Oh, yea! And I heard about putting garlic in the ground to overwinter during early November so we did some of that, too; more info about that here.

So that’s that. Hopefully all the things we did this year will help our our little plot do even better next year!

Sustainable Specialty Agriculture: Its Role in Communities

By alex.

When we first approached the concept of yard - sharing, it had actually came from two distinct separate ideas and teams, of which we recognized the power of combining and making this concept bigger.

 By the USDA, specialty agriculture is a term used that indicates "the herbs, vegetables, fruits and plants we grow that are intensely cultivated for consumption and use by people." 

 In the beginning we had just found out that there were several models that had been tested in communities but without any serious rate of adoption or usage. So we decided to seek out what worked and didn't work in other countries as well as in the United States. A series of meetings with individuals sparked off our idea and that this could be an initiative that forward and progressive thinking communities would really use. So we said, ' the heck with it' and then combined a trendy group of folks who thought we could make this work. We've yet to see what will happen in the next season and hope that those of you reading, will be interested in turning this small project into what it can be. 

We hope you recognize the impact of 'yard sharing' on communities and its role.  =)

1. Sustainable Consumption 

I'd like to think of it as minimalistic utilization of all things related to eating. That being said, yard sharing affects the total carbon dioxide footprint in the world by effectively allowing people to consume at minimal negative impact to the environment.

2. "The New Economy" at MIT

The economic infrastructure at innovator and early adopter communities tend to be critical to supporting both each other as well as the entire concept of sustainable consumption. We are part of a larger ecosystem driving the behaviors that if became a big hit, could have exponential effect in the environment. Think like hotdog stands, they tend to stay close to each other on the boardwalk because then visitors will remember that area for hotdogs. 

3. Food Security 

Growing herbs, plants, fruits and vegetables can really have an affect on our reliance to use money to gain access to nutrition. With this type of growing, we make access to foods much easier. We also tend to grow in excess, so it can be given at large should we see fit.

4. Educational Impact

Teaching others the multiple aspects and variables considered when it comes to growing food, gives them the skill set to understand how to take care of nature. It reminds us of how delicate yet beautiful natural agriculture can be. If we are able to grow crops, then we are able to recognize the importance or properly taking care of the environment and understand the minute details that affect it.

yard sharing is what you want it to be

By jess.

I was initially drawn to yard sharing out of frustration at seeing unused yards in Cambridge, a city that both loves local food and has epically long waiting lists for community garden space. Therefore while beginning to develop My City Gardens (MCGs), I figured yard sharing would largely be gardening enthusiasts working the spaces of time strapped or agriculturally indifferent homeowners. I never imagined all the different, equally awesome yard sharing arrangements people would be pursue.

For example, last week I had the opportunity to meet Sue and Matt. Sue is an experienced gardener who enjoys cultivating her yard outside her home near Central Sq. Matt is busy graduate student who lives in a yard-less apartment nearby.  Last year Matt decided he wanted to start growing a few veggies but had no space and considered himself a novice. He met Sue through MCGs. Now when he has spare time he pops over to give Sue a hand. In exchange, Sue has been teaching Matt a bit about gardening and often sends Matt home with some veggies. Win win for all!

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Companion Planting for Organic Gardens

By jess.

This is a guest post by Liz Nelson from WhiteFence.com. She is a freelance writer and blogger from Houston. Questions and comments can be sent to: liznelson17@gmail.com.

When you start an organic garden you may think that you have no choice but to live with pests and small harvests. However that is simply not true. There are many companion plants that offer benefits such as warding off bugs and increasing the vitality of your soil. Here are some companion plants to consider:

1. Marigolds – These flowers are wonderful to plant throughout your garden as they help to ward off all kinds of pests. Insects can’t stand these flowers and they can repel them from nearby plants as well. You can also use the leaves to make an all-natural pesticide spray for other areas of your garden and home.

2. Sweet Alyssum – This tiny white flower has a sweet smell that not only adds to your garden’s fragrance but also draws in natural predators for the bugs that like to chew on your plant’s leaves. Additionally Alyssum is edible and has a horseradish type flavor. It is part of the mustard family.

3. Garlic – Garlic is a well-known pest repellent and is tasty in many dishes. One bulb can have over a dozen cloves, and each clove can grow a beautiful garlic plant.

4. Rosemary – Not only is this a great herb to cook with but it also wards of cabbage moth, carrot flies and bean beetle, making it a great companion for those three plants in your garden.

5. Yarrow – This tall flower attracts natural predators like ladybugs and also kills off nematodes in your soil. Additionally if it is planted near herbs it increases their potency and helps almost all plants to form stronger root systems.

6. Corn and beans – If you are growing corn why not make the most of the natural height and plant beans alongside? The beans can grow up the corn stalks, making the most of your garden space. Additionally beans help to ward off common corn predators and help to keep the corn healthy and strong.

These are just a few of the companion plants that can help your organic garden to stay pest free and healthy. Do some research before you plant and make the most of your garden space.

Slugs verse Container Garden

By jess.

Quick tip: I discovered last year that elevating my container garden by slipping a few bricks under each container substantially cuts down on slug attacks.

I'm not entirely sure why this works, but my guess is that the extra distance, including some inverted slimming created by the bricks deters the slug from making the journey to your veggies. Regardless, I'm happy to no longer be messing with beer slug traps.

Have your own tips to share? Email them to us and we'll post them to the blog.

Awesome guest post: the ultimate solution to apartment composting

By admin.

Home Vermicomposting 101

Like many a landlord, the owner of the house we rent in the Ball Square area of Somerville did not take kindly to our grand schemes of uprooting his patch of grass and replacing it with unruly, delicious plants. We envisioned a lush urban oasis of edibles; he saw lawsuits and vermin. His explicit yet absolutely reasonable rules broke our neophyte city gardener hearts: No Gardening, No Planting, No Pruning, No Compost. And so, we loaded our south facing windows with kindly houseplants, thanked the benevolent gods of Renting in Somerville for our washer and dryer, and said goodbye to our dreams of urban homesteading.

Until we got worms.

A worm bin with Eisenia fetida, that is. More commonly known as red wigglers, these worms allow us to compost the copious amounts of food scraps generated by two plant-based adults. We started with 20 worms, composting 2 quarts of scraps a week. Not pounds, not even ounces, just 20 little red worms that reproduce prolifically. We purchased them from GroundWork Somerville during last year’s ArtBeat Festival in Davis Square. From our interest in local food and sustainability we had vaguely heard of vermicomposting, but did not give it serious thought until we stumbled upon the GroundWork table at the festival. We biked home to grab cash for the worms, starter soil, and informational booklet, still in disbelief that all we needed was about $10 worth of materials that we fortuitously already had. Ever since, we have been vermicomposting and sharing our knowledge, worms, and compost with others in the community via Craiglist and word of mouth. And devouring information about vermicomposting only slightly faster than our worms munch away at our kale stems and toilet paper rolls (actually, they are interested in the microorganisms that break down the stems and rolls, but that’s for vermicomposting 201).

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to turn your food scraps and benign paper waste into dense, dark, rich compost. The process is quicker than traditional composting because the worms do all of the work, and the worm castings (poop/compost) they generate outperform typical compost in nutrient content, bioavailability to plants, and microorganism content. We keep a “worm bin” in our home, filled with worms and paper waste. Once or twice a week, we dump food scraps into the bin. Within a few months, the worms generate beautiful, heady compost that we feed to our houseplants and 5-gallon bucket garden (yes, we got around the No Gardening rules).

At this point, you may be thinking of The Top Five Reasons Misconceptions About Why I Can’t Vermicompost.

1. I can’t afford the worm bin.
On the contrary, all you need is that old blue recycling bin that the city replaced with giant garbage cans, or a 10-ish gallon Rubbermaid, plus an old cookie sheet, some wood blocks or bricks, and access to a drill. No need for the multi-tiered, pricey composting systems. Buying new materials should cost you less than $10, or you can improvise as we did.

2. It smells.
One of our favorite party tricks is having guests sniff out the worm bin… just kidding. It’s odorless! A worm bin should be virtually smell-free, as long as you are taking care of it properly. Proper care means checking on it about once a week, mixing things around if you notice a slight earthy odor, and feeding the worms the right amount and type of food scraps.

3. It attracts pests.
The worm bin is a living ecosystem, and as such there is a lot happening inside. But it should not attract pests if it is taken care of properly. Rather than attract bugs, you might end up with a few fruit flies that hatched from eggs that were already on the produce you threw into the bin. They are easy to get rid of – open your bin next to an open window and they fly right out, or set up a fruit fly trap with wine, beer, juice, or banana peel. As long as the bin does not smell, you will not attract pests.

4. I don’t have anywhere to put it.
Our bin sits in our office under a window that we can open when we want to get rid of a few fruit flies. We have friends that keep a bin in their basement. You can keep it in a closet, in the kitchen, anywhere that has some airflow and stays between 40-80 degrees. Our worm bin looks just like any other storage container, and no one notices it until we point it out.

5. My wife/husband/roommate/housemate/other would never go for it.
Share the above with them! Because the bin does not attract pests or smell under the extremely-easy-to-achieve-right-conditions, it should not be a problem with a landlord, either. But we wouldn’t necessarily mention it…

Aside from reducing the amount of our waste that ends up in a landfill while providing nutrient-rich fertilizer for our houseplants and container garden, our worm bin has allowed us to donate worms to local schools for classroom composting and hands-on activities to further children’s understanding of climate change, sustainability, and ecological awareness. We have given a talk about vermicomposting to Boston University’s Organic Gardening Club, have sold worms and compost to fellow composters and gardeners, and have met inspiring members of the community. Vermicomposting has furthered our connection with food, with the magical, invisible world of bugs and bacteria, and with our community.

Our worms have also connected us with My City Gardens, and we hope to bring vermicomposting to more urban gardeners throughout Somerville, Cambridge, and the Greater Boston area. For more information, complete instructions on building a $10 worm bin, worms, trades, barters, fermentation cultures, or conversation, email us at somervilleworms@gmail.com, or visit us at our website, somervilleworms.com (still in the works, stay tuned).

Happy Spring,
Carlyn Friedberg and Aaron Darrell

Worm Bin Harvest Compost Time

Get Growing Fest on April 6

By howie.

Come say hi to us at the Cambridge Winter Farmers Market Get Growing Fest!
http://www.cambridgewinterfarmersmarket.com/
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Announcing the 2013 raised bed spree!

By jess.

After launching last spring we noticed that one of the largest barriers to yard sharing and urban gardening in general is creating a gardening space.  On April 6th, we're teaming up with the landscaping company Growing for Good, to get as many beds built as possible, at a low price.

For more info, pricing and to sign up go here.

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Food Price Panic and Garden Therapy

By cass.

I hate all these headlines about food prices going up. If you don't know what I'm talking about, and feel like stressing yourself out google ''food prices 2013".

With last summer's drought, this winter's deep freezes shifting wildly all over the place and many other factors including expanding markets abroad, inflation and the costs of fuel and water, where is the hope for anything beyond acceptance of the fact that it's going to cost more to eat? Obviously, it's a complex equation projecting a moving target.

For a person as practical as I am, breaking my head trying to understand it all or scaring myself with individual case scenarios is simply too subjective. Without being able to take some action, it just adds up to a sense of helplessness. There are probably a lot of things a person could do to address this. One obvious and excellent way is to start a garden and plant a few specimens of things you like to eat — tend it, watch it grow, and enjoy both the labor itself and its fruits in season, impeccably fresh, and you didn't even have to go to the market.

But economics is just the beginning of the reasons for gardening. Cultivating a few of your favorite foods leads to even more good things. It truly enters the realm of profound appreciation of life, an opinion shared by some of the great intellects, like Benjamin Franklin, who considered agriculture the most noble of professions (1), and George Washington who said "I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world (2)." Considering the many pursuits and incredible accomplishments of these mean, that's saying a lot.

But from a humbler person's point of view, through the cycle of planting, germination, foliation, flowering, fruiting and harvesting I realized how reassuring and, well, grounding it can be. To the uninitiated somehow it's also truly surprising. Despite all the world's notorious vicissitudes, given a few simple conditions, anyone can experience through their garden a world that is beautiful, amazingly generous and a source of deep connection to life at its most magical — in a word, glorious!

It just takes a little bit of earth, water and sunlight — plus a few seeds or seedlings, a little healthy sweat and some fun and interesting mucking about. It's primordial, really, and actually fascinating and reassuring when you begin to feel the forces fundamental to keeping body and soul together because of you're own participation with them.

And then you get to eat the fresh and tasty things that you've brought forth with your own hands. That is a really good thing.

So what if you were to take action toward growing some food this season? Think of the possibilities! Here at MyCityGardens.com, we're make it easier to get started by making more ground available for more people through enabling yard sharing.

1) http://www.pbs.org/benfranklin/l3_world_agriculture.html

2) http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2011/02/20/133499991/sing-out-mr-president-george-washington-down-on-the-farm