Creating an Engaging Space for Gardeners at a home for High Risk Youth

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Yesterday I visited a residential home for at-risk youth 14 to 21 years of age in the New York’s Capital Region.

This is the garden’s third year and there is a lot of interest in growing food and flowers and in improving the soils.

Last year, a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers and herbs was popular. This year, residents will be choosing what they want to grow from a list that includes everything from carrots to strawberries.

Expansion Plans

At least four more raised beds measuring 4×8 will be added to the gardens which already have a total of 14 raised beds. The garden is in an urban area but backs up on a wild space where groundhogs, rabbits and squirrels make their homes. Unfortunately, they have found the garden.

At our meeting, the project’s overseers had questions.  Here’s what they asked, my answers and if you have any suggestions, please add your comments.

Groundhog

Location is everything. And, a very smart groundhog has taken up residence under the garden shed.  Literally, the groundhog lives a stone’s throw from the vegetable beds.

The best way to deal with wildlife is a good fence. I recommended a wire fence to keep groundhogs and rabbits out of the garden. Along the outside of the fence, plant garlic and onions to deter pests.

But it that fails and an animal is a nuisance causing damage, contact your local DEC office to see what can be done. Some animals can be relocated without a permit, others can not.   www.dec.ny.gov/about/558.html 

Adding Interest

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Echinacea is a good choice for a garden to attract bees and butterflies. It’s taproot, which means in can withstand drought and survive in hard, clay soils.

Right now, the garden only has raised beds, but there is space, potential and a strong desire to make it more engaging for the resident gardeners.

 

Here are a few ideas.

1 – A garden border that would attract butterflies and beneficial insects.  Milkweed, Echinacea and Rubeckia seeds were recommended because they are tough, spread easily and in the case of Echinacea and Rubeckia, drought tolerant. In other words, once established, this garden should need little care.

You could take it a step further, add more butterfly attracting plants and establish the garden as a monarch waystation.  For more information: https://www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/

2 – A bird bath with a solar sprinkler to add to the delight of the garden, attract birds and add sound. The solar sprinklers are available online and cost under $20.

3 – Provide a shade retreat for residents and a comfortable place to hang out. Right now, the garden patio is concrete and in full sun most of the day, which means it is often too hot to enjoy.  A triangle sun shade sail would provide shade space to sit and relax and enjoy the garden. You can shop online and find several sizes and configurations.  They cost under $50.

Two corners of the triangle could be attached to the building. The third corner would need to be secured to a pole, which is an additional cost.

4 – A final possibility is a hummingbird feeder. I didn’t suggest a bird feeder because of the wildlife already visiting the garden. But a hummingbird feeder located outside a window might draw tiny visitors to the garden, and curious residents out to see them.

Any other ideas? Add them to the comments below.

 

 

 

 

Growing Buckwheat to Improve Soils

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This is the second crop of buckwheat growing in the area where we will likely add new garden plots next season.  Soon, this field will be blooming in white and buzzing with honeybees.

Gardeners have asked what does buckwheat do for us?

It improves it by providing quick cover and suppressing weeds, it attracts good insects,  and it makes otherwise unavailable phosphorus available.

“The roots of the plants produce mild acids that release nutrients from the soil. These acids also activate slow-releasing, organic fertilizers, such as rock phosphate. Buckwheat’s dense, fibrous roots cluster in the top 10 inches of soil, providing a large root surface area for nutrient uptake,” a publication of the Cooperative Extension system. Complete article: https://articles.extension.org/pages/18572/buckwheat-for-cover-cropping-in-organic-farming

We will be tilling the buckwheat into our soil to add organic matter. The nutrients will enrich and enhance what we have. In the meantime, honeybees and other beneficial insects  such as hover flies, predatory wasps, lady beetles visit the buckwheat and help maintain the garden’s health.

We are in the News Today

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Children in the Saturday morning Sunflower Hour program made worm farms with master gardener Jay Ephraim last weekend.

Check out this article about the growth of Pitney Meadows Community Gardens in Saratoga Today by Marissa Gonzalez.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the last year, the community’s beloved Pitney Meadows Community Farm has made a lot of changes.

Since this time last July, the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens have become an official Monarch way station, created a large “Grandparent’s Garden,” started a reading and gardening Saturday program for children, increased the number of plots and now has more than 70 gardeners growing fresh healthy food in their gardens.

“It’s truly amazing. People who visit the gardens can’t believe it is only one year old,” said garden director Natalie Walsh, crediting the community of gardeners that has made the difference.

“They aren’t just tending their plots, but also are interested in learning organic gardening techniques, engaging children in the gardens, and extending a hand to each other and to the Saratoga community at large. It truly is a community in the gardens,” she added.

Last year the Community Gardens had 50 spaces available. This year, there are 72 beds.

“We are working to respond to what the community wants. When gardeners asked for bigger spaces, we offered them,” Walsh said.

Gardeners pay to lease the space for the season and the costs vary according to plot size.

In addition, Walsh added flowerbeds to draw pollinators such as butterflies, bees and beneficial insects. Of particular interest was offering habitat to Monarch butterflies whose populations have been in decline across the United States.

In the community gardens, a large garden was installed and planted with butterfly plants that have different bloom periods and provide nectar throughout the summer and into the fall. The milkweed provides the Monarch caterpillar with its only food source.

Engaging the community is a goal for Walsh, who traveled over 13,000 miles last winter talking to community gardeners across the country.

 

This year, the gardens offer programs for adults as well as children. “We were fortunate to have two community gardeners interested in working with children. One is Faye Mihuta, a reading teacher, and the other is Jess Clauser, an artist. Together they designed a reading program that meets once a week and is followed by an art or garden project,” Walsh said.

The reading program is free. The art or garden project costs $5 per child and includes activities including learning how to make jam, making art and learning how to plant and care for seeds. The program, which is held every Saturday morning starting at 9:30 a.m., has been very well-received as have the adult programs on topics such as growing tomatoes.

Also on Saturday mornings, Walsh will lead a gardening class for participants to walk around the gardens and discuss any issues, problems and receive tips from Walsh, who is a master gardener and holds a horticulture degree from SUNY Cobleskill.

The garden also saw the construction of a beautiful cedar pergola that was donated in memory of the late Charlotte Justin by her family and built by local craftsman Rich Torkelson and his son Arik.

The grandmother’s gardens were funded with a grant from the Soroptimists and multiple private donors who also purchased furniture for the space. In addition, the popular sunflower house has also been expanded. A sunflower house is an enclosed space that has “walls” of sunflowers.

Other organizations include the Waldorf school that illustrated signs for the butterfly garden, Saratoga Bridges who care for their own plot and help water others, Franklin Community Center, the Saratoga Senior Center, Saratoga Transitional Services, Saratoga Catholic Central, the Girl Scouts and the high school.

(Note: Sunflower measuring day and the Fall Fairy Gathering will be September 22 at 1 p.m. – this was left out of the article. Rain date September 23.)

That will also be the day the sunflowers in the annual sunflower contest will be measured for height and size of bloom. The biggest in each category will receive a prize. Last year, 26 people entered, this year there are 60 participants.

“There no doubt the garden is growing,” she added. “If you haven’t visited, come by on a Thursday or Saturday morning and I’ll show you around and tell you what we have planned for next year,” Walsh said.

 

https://www.saratogatodaynewspaper.com/home/item/8744-pitney-meadows-community-farm-continues-to-flourish

We have done so much in one year!

 

What’s the Buzz?

Why it’s the bees of course.

Take a look at the bees and butterflies enjoying our pollinator plants.  Next year, we will create four pollinator beds filled with plants the bees, butterflies and birds find appealing.

If you want to be part of the buzz, let me know. We will need help planning, purchasing and planting seeds and transplants that have been donated.  If you have plants that are suitable for this endeavor, let me know.

We have two holding beds in the gardens with perennials that will be planted for the pollinators next Spring. But, we could use liatris, butterfly weed and echinacea to name a few.  Can you help?