Hey internet weblog! Long time, no see! Some of you, numbered-but-dauntless readers, may be surprised to see my scribbles, knowing my aversion to weblogging. However, the record must be kept and achievements noted. I’m a 2011 AMS fellow in my Phase 2, working back home in DC, city of low skylines and lovely diversities. People are friendly and there’s ample unused land, so it’s ripe for community gardening and farming. I work for the people of Beet Street Gardens, which designs and builds gardens in partnership with organizations that have long-standing relationships in communities facing significant barriers to safe, peaceful outdoor space, and healthy, affordable food. That means we become a sort of garden arm of a school or a youth drop-in center or an HIV-prevention clinic, and work with the people there to cultivate what they want. My goals for the year:
- design and build an educational food forest with the residents of Richardson Dwellings
- train garden stewards of all ages at six of our gardens
- help construct an outdoor kitchen/classroom at Sasha Bruce House shelter
- research best practices and record-keep (COUNT IT)
- hone organizational infrastructure and contribute to strategic planning
Easy-peasy. So what’ve I done so far? A pile of stuff – I’ll tell you later. What did I do this month? Segue!
At Richardson Dwellings, we continued the planting and soil development of the community orchard. Our major assets were the children and youth of the Richardson Youth Center who planted with us, plus the Center staff who gave us access to water and storage space. Mr. Holmes is as good-hearted and down-to-earth as they come, and his Jag’s not bad either. We’re also now working with Terri, a renaissance woman and budding gardener, who was delighted to learn that it was indeed possible to grow a bounty of food on the neighborhood soil, even though it looks lackluster. Recruiting more adults to positions of stewardship continues to be a slow process, but with an annual block party approaching next month, we’ll be able to keep meeting people. With the kids, we planted half of our large berry patch, featuring blueberries, strawberries, and all the usual brambles. Plus, the apple of my eye, partial polycultures at the bases of the now-settled orchard trees. Included are pollinator-attractors like bee balm and anise hyssop, mulch plants like comfrey and lovage, and pest-repellent garlic chives. Forest garden teacher Lincoln Smith came out and suggested some more nitrogen fixers, then helped us plot hugelkultur berms to trap and spread water along the orchard slope. It’s shaping up!
Around the corner, we’ve had several great garden club meetings with elementary students at Arts & Technology Academy. We built additional beds, planted them out, maintained the school’s new orchard (that’s two!), and learned the basics of all maintenance tasks. We even ate a salad with only ingredients from the garden, except the dressing we made, which apparently can never ever be salty enough. (Baby steps.) We also completed a fence to protect our coming beehives. Around the other corner, we also have regular garden time with the very youngsters of the Ossay, which is somewhat of a struggle in terms of meeting educational goals, but is nevertheless productive of spring crops. Befriending the adjacent neighbor, via their son, made watering a lot easier. We plan to limit the number of students and institute an incentive structure for behavior (three good days gets you your own straw hat!) to smooth things out and be able to better teach and learn.
At Bruce House, we’re eating strawberries galore with Kid Power after school students from down the street, but saving enough to share with the residents of the House. We’re just missing okra and sweet potatoes in terms of the menu of what’s planted, and the herb border planted last year is doing well to encourage health and balance in the garden’s ecosystems. We’ve been discussing this with YouthLed, another Sasha Bruce program that meets us at BH, and developing workshops for them to teach to other youth during the upcoming summer camps. We also worked with them and residents to manage the compost (which we’ve determined needs an aeration overhaul – forced air and “bulking agents” coming soon), sheet-mulch a spot for polyculture beneath some pawpaws (more trees!), and clear some new land on the property’s front hill for a terraced garden we’ll plant with pumpkins for now. We put asparagus in already, on the top shelf. Unfortunately, there has been no movement on the outdoor kitchen due to funding hold-ups, but we are partway through the construction of an awesome, needed ramp to the garden for people and things with wheels!
HIPS clinic/Brookland Manor garden club continues to be a highlight of Beet Street’s work and of my week. Kirk, Jackie, Juice, and Simon have been critical to upkeep of the small, original garden, and to the digging into existence of the new big space. Melons, muscadines, and mesclun mix are in, to name a very few, and we’ve been able to work successfully with excited young people of the neighboring afterschool center. Sharon and Ms. Winfield also pitch in for planning meetings, where we’re trying to define roles for non-gardeners to be in the club and recruit new members. We also learned how to make organic insecticidal/fungicidal soap with garlic and baking soda, and treated some early pest and disease woes.
This month’s major event was a “blitz build” day at (yet) another Sasha Bruce site, facilitated by some do-gooder architects-convention-goers, which knocked a big chunk out of the revamping of an abandoned house. Later this summer, it will become a youth shelter, so Beet Street helped put in a small garden in the front yard replete with our usual delicious and medicinal perennials. It was a hoopla, and we met the Mayor! We need to secure water access on the site, but for now it’s workable with a well-situated cistern.
What’s next? I’m looking forward to incorporating more mycelia into the plantings everywhere, especially those berms at RD and terraces and woodchip walkways at BH, whether the fungi be for soil structure or fine eating. Incidentally, I’m glad to read that our inoculated logs from last year fruited at AMS! We’ll also get the bees at ATA, and plant a native perennial nectary border along their fence. Camps will begin with Sasha Bruce, the Ossay, and at Brookland Manor, so we’ll be busy planning programs for what’s surely going to be a mild, moist summer. (Right?) Come see us one