4.2018

Zion Nat'l Park, Columbine

Greenhouse Blog

Neighbors and organic greenhouse farming

Finally! We gathered in the greenhouse to officially launch this organic neighborhood suburban glassed-in farm on Saturday 1.30.15. Three families from the neighborhood with a combination of 5 children and one family friend from down the road with two more children all squeezed into the greenhouse, excitedly. Their ages ranged from 6 – 11 years old.

Getting Started

I began by explaining why I started a greenhouse — that I am concerned by the use of chemicals in the growing of our food, and that I choose to eat organically cultivated foods. Touching on not only our own personal health benefits from eating cleanly grown food but also the benefits to the water, air and soil when we grow food without chemicals, the youngest of the children piped up with, “Is what we are doing going to save the world?” I was both touched and amused by her innocent question. My answer, “yes, everything we do in this greenhouse is making the world a better place” was heartfelt and sincere.

We talked about the organic soil, which I had purchased at Worm’s Way in Bloomington, the cloth growing sacks that I had chosen for the plants to grow in, the growing pellets that were being used to start some of the seeds in their germination, and the compost tea that was dripping out of my compost barrel! As well, we talked about how the greenhouse heater worked and the hydraulic windows that opened and closed based on the greenhouse temperature.

We can have a giant neighborhood salad party!

In the weeks prior to this first neighborhood gathering, I had already planted many herbs, cherry tomatoes, okra, artichoke, cucumbers, broccoli and brussel spouts into the growing pellets and many were ready to be transplanted. As I showed the children what was already growing, and as we decided together what seeds to plant today, they became so excited! They tasted nibbles of parsley and rubbed the leaves of sage, oregano, and thyme for their heavenly smell, and that same sweet 6-year old child excitedly exclaimed, “We can have a giant neighborhood salad party!” Gotta love that youthful exuberance!

I gently split the larger veggies starts from their pellets, pointing out the root systems–cukes, artichokes, broccoli–and they took turns transplanting them into the growing sacks. Young hands tend to make broad strokes, a fact which lent itself to discussion about fragility and being gentle with tools and fingers.

Demo roots

 

 

The next step was placing new seeds into the new growing pellets; if you haven’t used them before, check it out here; they work well and are fun to monitor. The pellets had been soaking in water overnight and the children clambered to have their turn at “planting food”. We planted the seeds of peppers (which have not done well at my previous attempt a few weeks prior), cukes, broccoli, okra and beans and radish. Then it came time to water; of course they all wanted to use the hose; I could see immediately that my ability to finesse the hose nozzle to produce a gentle bath was not a skill set that these young hands possessed. After adjusting the hose bib and many reminders, they each were able to water some of the plants.

Eww! What’s that?

Onto the compost tea!

Initially, those kids were a bit grossed out by the drippings in the pan under the compost barrel. But when I opened the barrel in which lay many veggie scraps, and they could look inside to see that it wasn’t gross, it was just decomposing and actually smelled good–in an earthy way–they thought the idea of decomposing was very cool! Using a drippings baster, I spritzed each of the seedlings as well as the already established small plants with a bit of that hearty tea.

Worms!

One of them quickly surmised that worms would also help the soil, so off they ran on a worm hunt. Sure enough, 3 return trips yielded 5 worms, which the two youngest gently placed in separate growing sacks. We misted them with water and wished them well. Later that afternoon, those worms were nowhere to be found, leading me to believe that they are happily burrowed into the soil.

Worm1

Stay tuned for an update soon!

Greenhouse Update #1, 1.22.15

Oh my, I feel like a new parent! Having just returned last eve from a 5-day trip to Florida for a family visit, I didn’t know what I’d find in the greenhouse. SO much has happened! I am giddy with joy! The seedlings in the grow pellets went from This:

Seedlings 1.11.15

 

 

 

 

To this:

seedlings2 seedlings1

 

 

 

 

The Meyer lemon is in a full revival mode, after a near-death experience, from being inside the house for 5 weeks in it’s shipping wrapper, while the greenhouse was being built (don’t ask…!); truth be told, the Meyer lemon is my favorite plant in the greenhouse, but don’t tell the other plants…

Meyer lemon

 

 

 

 

The seeds I sowed directly into the soil have begun to sprout! Here’s fennel, dill, and cherry tomatoes (you’ve got to really look for them):

dill

 

 

 

 

cherry tomatoes

 

 

 

 

The rhubarb is going strong,

rhubarb

 

 

 

 

and the celery heart that I’ve placed in water is beginning to re-grow–eventually, I’ll put it in the soil also.

celery

 

 

 

 

And finally, after taking these “before” photos, I transplanted to broccoli, beans, Brussel sprouts and artichokes:

broccoli

 

 

 

 

radish.brussel sprout

 

 

 

 

 

 

My GreenHouse: growing organic food in the cold of winter, in the Midwest…

Green House 11 Jan 2015-1-2As I endeavor to share my experiences of (attempting to) grow my own food–in the midst of the cold Midwest winter–I marvel at the journey that has brought me to this unexpected life opportunity.

We moved from Northern California to Evansville, Indiana a little over a year ago for a job offer that we couldn’t resist. (you can read about that here, if you’d like). We had never even heard of Evansville, Indiana prior to the job offer and when we came to visit that first time in June of 2013, we had no idea what to expect.

Yep, I’d read online about the Midwest growing a mega-ton of corn and soy, I’d read about the humidity and rain, and I also read about a couple of small-farm farmers who had embraced “near-organic” growing standards in the area, and who offered a coveted CSA (Community Supported Agriculture, read more here). I was happy to read that EVV had a natural food Co-op food market, River City Food Co-op as well as another natural food market, Elbert’s. I reached out to one of the farmers (Yay Gwen, from Off the Fence Farms!) and was somewhat soothed to know that there was some cleanly-grown food available in the EVV area–not at all like what I had become accustomed to in NorCal–but perhaps it’d be enough to sustain us…

Exploration

On that first weekend’s visit, we went to the SouthWest Indian Master Garden Association, primarily because John had read about the lovely flower garden that attracted a plethora of colorful birds. Much to my surprise also growing there was a huge vegetable garden. I was touched by the signage stating that the garden had grown several tons of produce in the previous summer that had been donated to the Food Bank, and that this garden was managed by volunteer Master Gardeners. To my delight, a mature couple complete with their MG vests and name tags were working in the garden that morning.

As John photographed the birds and flowers, I engaged them in conversation. Tactfully, I steered the dialogue towards the organic gardening techniques with which I was familiar from my growing experiences in NorCal, and they told me that this MG garden project did not use chemicals on the plants. My heart soared! I was jubilant! They went on to tell me about how I could become a Master Gardener, which was required for me to do prior to being able to volunteer to work in the garden. Wow! I had found a beautifully productive garden, for which I could eventually volunteer to grow, weed, cultivate and share the bounty with the community.

Decision-time!

When we made the decision that Yes! we’d move to the Midwest, the thought of becoming a Master Gardener was enticing. I signed up for the semester-long, once-a-year class online, after an email exchange with the instructor acknowledging that I would still be in California when class commenced, and that I’d miss the first three classes which meant that I’d use up all of the allowed absences before even sitting in the classroom! The instructor tried to persuade me to wait but I couldn’t imagine waiting until 2014 to take the class–I wanted to become a MG and volunteer in that lovely and productive garden! To be honest, I barely skimmed the requisite materials in those first three weeks, being busy closing our medical practice and packing up the house, but I showed up enthusiastically on time for the fourth lecture, on October 2, 2013.

Uh-Oh…

Immediately, I experienced a gut-wrenching insight: that sweet, mature couple who implied that the MG produce garden did not use chemicals were not correct. And it’s entirely possible that I misheard or misinterpreted what they said. Nonetheless, that very first day in the MG program, I learned that MG’s embrace chemicals. They strive for perfection and ease within their produce and flower gardens and will happily spray chemicals to achieve that perfection. To say I was disheartened would be too gentle, I was all that, but I was also flabbergasted and a wee bit outraged. I won’t say more about the MG approach to growing food and flowers, but suffice it to say that I have had many animated conversations with the instructor over the course of the semester and that several of my fellow students approached me during class breaks to articulate their shared concerns and voice their affinity for cleanly-grown food.

When it came time to put in my MG volunteer hours–a prerequisite for progressing through the program–I found myself to be hesitant to participate in a garden project. I did volunteer with some teaching modules as well as some judging of 4-H gardens for the annual county fair. I considered dropping out of MG, as I saw a fairly large disparity between what I value in terms of growing techniques for food and ornamentals as compared to what is embraced by SWIMGA. Disclaimer: I am not criticizing members of SWIMGA and I am not wishing to sound righteous; I do however feel that SWIMGA members have a rich opportunity to expand their gardening techniques by embracing non-chemical methods of cultivation. My philosophy to those MG’s willing to listen is: “what right does one person have to dump toxic chemicals onto the land, into the water and air, primarily to grow unblemished produce and flowers?” It turned out that the MG instructor is also the coordinator of interns and he encouraged me to not leave the group–although he and I do not hold the same opinions about chemicals in the food chain, he saw that I am passionate about cleanly-grown food, and as a health educator, he encouraged me to find a project that would allow me to teach while promoting organic growing of food.

A Greenhouse Urban Farming experience comes to life!

And THAT is how I came to have a greenhouse…that, and the desire to feed myself and my husband some of the foods that I dearly miss from my NorCal days: artichokes, Brussel sprouts, Meyer lemons, figs, and year-round herbs to name a few, and all grown cleanly, without chemicals.  Not that I’d ever grown those plants previously, but they had always been readily available seasonally where I shopped. I’d only ever grown tomatoes, cukes, peppers, zuchs, and some herbs previously, all from starts that I’d happily purchased at the local organic nursery.  To qualify as a MG project, I have invited neighbors with children and non-neighbor friends with children to participate. I have the honor of sharing my passion for cleanly-grown food, and why it’s important in terms of personal health as well as for the health of the planet. I have zero greenhouse experience, so this is truly a learning project for all of us involved.

I bought the greenhouse online–perhaps some other time I’ll share with you the nightmarish logistics that arose from my lack of understanding of what occurs with construction–but eventually it was installed at the end of our driveway. It’s quite a lovely structure and 7 weeks into it, there are all sorts of foodstuffs growing in there. The herb beds contain parsley, tarragon, sage, oregano, scallions, rosemary, and thyme; I’ve got the Meyer lemon and fig trees in the soil; and have recently started from seed, cherry tomatoes, 2 types of okra, 2 types of beans, tomatillos, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, cucumber and sweet peppers. Seedlings 1.11.15We are off to a grand start! What we’ve/I’ve learned thus far:

  • 1. The pellets in which seeds are placed to facilitate their sprouting prior to being put into the soil require more water than you’d think! I lost most of the sprouts in the first 2 dozen pellets…

2. While the heater will keep the inside temperature at a lovely 60 degrees, the outside temperature will freeze the hose and water nozzle, rendering the watering process to become quite an act of creativity. Eventually, I figured out  to get a 3-gallon BPA-free container that will stay inside the greenhouse, to hold water for the days when the temps are below freezing. In the Midwest, there are plenty of those days.

3. Talking to plants helps them to grow strong and happily. I truly believe this.

4. The porous cement floor is absorbing some of the heat being cranked out by the heater, as observed by a friend who grew up on a farm. Per her suggestion, I am going to find some non-treated wood chips to put on the cement floor to provide a heat-retaining shield. This should diminish some of the Oy Vey! from the utility bill.

Stay tuned for progress and learning reports. Onward!

 

 

Green House 11 Jan 2015-1

 

 

"After thirty years of eating healthy foods and participating in regular, vigorous exercise, I was astounded to discover I have Coronary Artery Disease. In March of 2010, I had two stents placed in my Left Anterior Descending Artery- this was big. I consulted Robin Mallery, RN, knowing she is a local expert on Cardiac Rehabilitation. I especially respected her lifestyle of nutrition and physical fitness. Robin’s reassurance that I was doing many things correctly, and her instructions on how to fine-tune my program to deal with this life-threatening disease, was invaluable. Robin’s exquisite grasp of balancing traditional medicine with diet, exercise, relaxation and fun has helped me through this medical crisis". --Maiya Gralia, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and cross-country ski instructor and coach

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