Sunday, March 28, 2010

Extension Foiled!

So I had this big plan to extend the garden farther down the fence, towards the T.  There would be an extra 60 feet of garden on the opposite side of the fence, on top of the slope, and then an additional 70 feet, on the inside of the fence (the sidewalk side), where the fence is pretty grungy and bowed.  That extension #2 would be easy to plant, but is shaded by brush that's grown up on T land, so we'd have to cut back the scrub a little bit.

On Thursday afternoon, Nathan and I showed up to start digging a strip along the fence, knowing (from last Saturday's work day) that there were some bricks buried under there, but I thought it wouldn't be too bad.  However, the more we dug, the more it became clear that the bricks were a more serious problem than we thought.  It's not a just a few bricks in the fill, we actually discovered that there is some sort of massive brick retaining wall bracing the hill that carries the sidewalk.

What that means is that my fairly simple plan isn't going to work at all.  Other options would be to build raised beds (too complex and expensive) or to do container gardening, or perhaps use woolly pockets or some other grow bag type solution.  Containers or bags might work, but we don't have the budget for them at the moment and I'm not sure we can guarantee they wouldn't walk away.

I'm disappointed, because I'd had a grand vision for a 350 foot long stretch of green fence, as you walk up the hill from the T.  (Tracy pointed out that I'm already over committed from too many projects, so maybe a big extension wouldn't have been smart.)  But we already have quite a lot of plants going in to the regular 200 Foot Garden space, and that'll do for now.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Seed Planting was a Hit!

We had our seed planting session this morning as planned.  It was cold outside (in the 20s), but plenty warm in the sunny greenhouse (about 70).

The turnout was excellent (and enthusiastic, despite the early hour)--we had Alexis, Mike, Sandra, Allison, Tracy, Keff, Nathan, Noah, Suzie, Isobel (Noah's 4th grade classmat), and Fiona (Isobel's little sister).  In addition, two journalism students, Liz from BU and Jenn from Emerson, came to check out the project, but also ended up lending a hand and planting seeds themselves.  All those hands made the work go fast, and within an hour we'd planted and watered 18 flats (about 650 seeds).

On the night before the planting, Tracy and I spent some time going over the seed list and working up a chart that showed exactly how many of each type of seed needed to be planted and how deep.  We then attached a copy of the list to each seed packet, with the relevant information highlighted.  This made the work go much faster.  (Though next time, we need to make sure that all our wording on the sheets is super clear--we confused a few people.)

Here is Alexis planting a flat (I think it was peppers), using the sheets to her left as a guide.

We had a very nice mix of people with some experience and people who were planting seeds for the first time.  Everyone jumped right in and we all had fun--Tracy and I ended up doing more talking and answering questions and organizing than actually planting seeds ourselves.

The next big challenge will be to figure out how to manage the temperature in the greenhouse.  When I went back at 4pm today, the temp was in the 90s (it had gotten over 100), and the trays had mostly dried out already.  I had to water again and open the window and leave the door open.  We'll figure it out, but it's going to take some work (and serious planning) on our part.

Here's Nathan watering seeds with a spray bottle.  The spray bottles work great when starting out, but I discovered this afternoon, when I had to water 18 flats, that they're too slow.  I'm going to need to bring a spray attachment for the hose.

Thanks very much to everyone who helped!  We're going to have quite a bounty when summer gets here.

Here's the flats, all soaking up the sun.  We're using humidity domes to keep the soil moist.  If the greenhouse was in optimal condition, these wouldn't be necessary, but right now we're unable to control the humidity effectively, so the domes will help.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nice Pics in the Brookline TAB

The front page of the Brookline TAB featured a very nice photo of Nathan, Tracy, and Dorothy, from last weekend's workday.  There are other photos, too, on the Wicked Local Photo Gallery site.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Saturday--plant some seeds with us

Work, work, work.  That's springtime in the garden.  This Saturday morning, from 9 am to 11 am, we're going to have another workday.  This time we'll be in the greenhouse, planting seeds.  Lots and lots of seeds (about 600, if we have enough time).  If you're interested in joining us, please send me an e-mail at, so we know you're coming and can work out the details.  We'll be at 99 Kent Street, on the third floor, so if you're not there right at 9 when we get started, you'll need to give us a call so we can send someone down to let you in and bring you up to the greenhouse.

It should be a lot of fun (planting seeds in flats allows for lots of social time).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Successful Work Day--the compost is in

On Saturday we had our first work day of 2010.  From 8:30-10:30 our small crew worked hard at moving and spreading compost across the length of the garden.  Besides me, Tracy, and Noah, we also  were joined by Nathan, Dorothy, and Alexis.  Not only did we get the compost spread, but we even got it all turned into the soil.  The weather was fabulous--ideal for getting some exercise and talking with neighbors.

We still need to find some lime to spread out before getting a load of mulch put on.  We're hoping to do a little planting of seeds in the greenhouse this weekend--just confirming a few details first.

This is what it looked like before we started:

Here's Noah getting started loading the wheelbarrow, while I talk to Nathan and Dorothy about a plan.

Tracy and Dorothy worked at raking off the old mulch before we could put on the new compost.

Nathan dumps yet another wheelbarrow load of compost:

It's hard to see, but there are a few worms poking their heads up here, as we're turning over the soil.  In almost every shovel I turned over, I saw at least a worm or two.  This is a marked difference from last year--when we started the garden there were no worms--the soil seemed almost dead.  We've managed to do something right with the soil.

And finally, the compost was all turned in.  Not much to see yet, but it's clean and full of potential.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Compost is here (and so is our first work day--this Saturay, 8:30am)

So we got our load of compost today, about 3 yards of it.  It'd be nice to be able to use even more, but because the soil is so close to the level of the sidewalk, there really isn't room for more than about 2 inches of additional material.

Now that it's here, we're going to need help spreading it all out.  So if you're in Brookline, please come help out at our first work day of 2010.  We'll meet at the garden, 99 Kent Street, this Saturday (March 20), from 8:30am-10:30am.  (Rain date is Sunday at 8:30 am).  If you have a shovel and/or wheelbarrow, please bring them along.  Our goal will be to spread the compost along the entire garden and dig it in.  If we have enough hands, the work will go fast.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

lists, lists, lists

Planning a garden, especially a big one like the 200 Foot Garden, take a lot of planning.  Lots of lists and spreadsheets, so we know what to buy, what to plant, when, where, etc.  Tracy spent a couple hours on the spreadsheet last night (for all four of our family's garden projects) and I've spent a couple more today, trying to piece everything together.

I think I've got a pretty good list put together for the garden now, enough to make a shopping list for seed starting materials and seeds.  Right now it looks like we'll have at least 32 different varieties of plants at the 200 Foot Garden this year (not counting the extension blocks--I haven't done the planning for those yet).  We'll be putting in about 600 plants total, with most of them starting by seed, in the greenhouse.  We've definitely got some big work days ahead of us.

Now I'm off to order the seeds that we're still missing--I need to order two kinds of chard, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, peppers, new kinds of squash, and more pole bean seeds.  (I'll be ordering from Seeds of Change, Johnny's, and High Mowing, at the very least.)

Our load of compost is set to arrive on Wednesday.  Lots to do, but it won't be long until we've got green stuff growing, and that makes it all worthwhile.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Greenhouse intro

Allison (our new volunteer coordinator and partner in this project) and I had a good meeting Wednesday morning at the site with the property manager, Donna, and the resident services coordinator, Iris, and three residents (including one who is a serious gardener and botanist).  We'll have a lot more involvement this year from the folks in the apartment complex right next to the 200 Foot Garden, as well as additional support from the management.

And we'll get to use the greenhouse.

Yep, there's a greenhouse up on the third floor, attached to the community room.  You can see it from the park where I sometimes bring my dog and where my daughter plays soccer.  Well, now I've actually been inside.  It hasn't been used for a long time, which I  already knew, so the condition was about what I expected.  The good news is that there is water and lots of light and the heater works.  The bad news is that a few of the windows are broken and the top louver system and thermostat is all in disrepair and not fully functional.

The tricky part about greenhouses is temperature control.  Ideally, you want a system that will automatically open the top vents so the hot air can escape when the day is warm.  Otherwise you just cook the plants.  When we opened up the greenhouse, it was over 90 degrees inside (it was about 50 outside).  We turned off the heater and opened some windows, which helped a lot.

At first, I thought it meant we can't use the greenhouse this season, but I think we can make it work, with help from the residents.  We'll need to have someone check the temp a couple times a day, while we're starting seeds.  The good news is that there's tons of sun, which puts us way ahead of where we were last year, trying to start everything in our basement under a couple of grow lights.

Now that I have a sense of what's up there, I can put together a shopping list of trays, covers, seed starter mix, etc.  I already have a bunch of seeds, but we'll need to order more.

Last year was great fun, but I'm even more excited for this year and our chance to get an early start.

If I had more time on my hands, I'd take on the full restoration of the greenhouse as a project (but I don't).  It'll take many many hours (and potentially quite a few dollars, though it's hard to know), to get the greenhouse back to its original glory.  But we'll just get started with baby steps for now.

Okay, off to make that shopping list.