Posts Tagged ‘Sundari Kraft’

Heirloom Gardens: Super Big Dig

Just a little garden.

After playing in the Ranch Community Garden on Saturday, I trotted up to Denver to spend another Sunday afternoon with Heirloom Gardens digging over a plot. It is a brand new plot and a mere 19,000 square feet. The call had gone out some time ago for everybody to show up, bring a friend, and bring extra tools. There were between 20 and 25 people, including at least a few shanghaied significant others, and the pile of available tools made it clear that I wasn’t the only one to borrow extras from friends that couldn’t be there in person. The dig was scheduled for four hours, and it took the entire time.

Our society has been industrial for a while now. Enough generations have passed that when the average person looks at a plot that is nearly half an acre in size, the assumption is that it needs to be handled with some sort of machinery. After all, we invent this stuff so that we don’t have to do physical labor, right? The newest, greatest, coolest gadget is one more labor-saving device. Maps were invented and refined so that we didn’t have to keep the geography of an area in our head and gave us the ability to share that information with others without having to actually walk through the area to learn it. Now we have GPS units that tell us where to go so we don’t even have to read the maps ourselves. I don’t own a GPS unit yet, but I will when I start getting serious about hiking. It makes sense to have one for safety. As

Tools to spare

awesome as they are, however, there is a lot of information that a GPS unit can’t give me. If I’m out hiking and I run out of water, it can’t tell me about the spring right over the next ridge. If it starts raining out of nowhere, it can’t tell me there’s shelter 100 yards off the path to my right. Someone who has the geography of the place in their head could probably tell me both of those things.

We did have a little mechanical help with this plot. One rototiller. Other than that, we had rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, and muscle. Because I, and I am sure the rest of the volunteers can say this, spent four hours digging out weeds and removing rocks to ease the way for the tiller, I know that land in a way that I could never have understood it if I had instead spent the one hour or so that it might have taken to turn the land from the seat of a tractor. I don’t know what the weed is, but there is something growing there that has a surprisingly large and tenacious root considering that the above-ground part is totally non-woody. The area had clearly been either glacial or a river at one time considering that the rocks were almost all water-rounded. The bricks we dug up may indicate that it had also been a dumping ground during a construction project. I would have seen none of this even from the height of the seat of a lawn tractor.

Less than 25 people and four hours later. Impressive, isn’t it?

I work for a company, I imagine most people do, so I am used to having someone in charge of a project and lots of other people taking care of the various steps along the way. We had someone measuring and plotting each long row. Two people were in charge of the strings between the measured stakes showing us where to weed and spread the horse manure. They had to be moved when the tiller came through and replaced to delineate the beds when they’re ready to be planted. Some people were filling wheelbarrows with the manure for others to take out to each row and still others to rake out. Most of us were tackling the weeds and rocks. What I’m not used to is that once you were assigned a job, you were allowed to do it more or less in your own way. If you saw a job that needed to be done, you could switch over to that one because, well, it needed to be done. One person was in charge of timing when the weeders needed to move to the next row, and occasionally there was a request for more people to do a particular job. Other than that, things were done as the individual assigned to the job felt it should be done.

After the workday was done, it occurred to me that my New England family ties probably stood me in good stead. There is a decidedly independent streak in the people I was working with, and a willingness to work hard to be independent. This house had chickens, while the

So that’s what you do with canning jars outside of canning season. I’m tucking that away for future reference.

neighbors had a flock of ducks. It was also not an unfamiliar concept to be pulling as many rocks out of the ground as plants. I think I understand, now, why they use rocks as mulch out here. There are enough of them.

In the end, we didn’t quite finish the entire area. There was some compromise also on leaving the paths to be weedwhacked instead of dug over as is their preference. However, by the end of the weekend, I was really, really impressed with people. Between the number of beds we set on Saturday, and the massive amount of land we cleared for a garden on Sunday, it is amazing what we are able to do when we put down our gadgets and go do it.

Heirloom Gardens Big Dig

Lots of jobs to do

Happy Earth Day! I don’t think there’s a better way to celebrate the Earth than to spend a day covered in it.

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to hang out with the Heirloom Gardens crowd. Today was a mostly physical day. We met for about three hours to do the initial prep work for a garden they have been using for several years. I am no good at eye-balling sizes, but there is a lot of room for veggies in the plot. It even has a gnarled peach tree that has set fruit to be used by the CSA. There were almost a dozen of us there, so there was lots of work to go around, but we weren’t overwhelmed by it.

It was nice to run into a couple of familiar faces, but I met some new people as well. Including a young woman who had also been raised in Pennsylvania/Maryland and was now living out here. It was really interesting to hear that someone else just didn’t feel at home until she moved out here. I had always supposed that was just me. There wasn’t

Digging in the spread manure

quite as much talking, as we were spread over a wider area, but conversations ranged from the lack of right-corners in permaculture to the fact that Barbara Kingsolver reads her more recent books for the audio-books. Again, I didn’t hear any philosophy or reality TV discussions, but there were things to talk about, and there were quiet discussions going on all over the garden as people moved around and worked near different people.

In the gardens I’ve been playing in so far, I’ve been lucky enough that I haven’t really had to deal with a winter’s worth of weeds. The first step was to dig and pull up the biggest chunks of weeds that would be likely to foul the rototiller. Once most of us had gotten a good start on that, someone was assigned to measuring and plotting the long beds. Sundari plants in beds rather than individual rows, as it is a much more efficient use of space. That meant that each section was four feet wide, with two-foot paths between them. When the garden is planted, each row will then be divvied up into sections for each type of plant that is to be grown.

The tulip and the grape hyacinth under the peach tree were to pretty to disturb.

Once each bed was measured out, the tiller was run down both the beds and the paths to loosen the dirt and dig the remaining weeds into the ground to finish killing them. Most of them, anyway. The manure, chicken and goat, was laid on each bed and dug in by hand, as it seems that tillers and straw don’t get along very well. It did give me a chance to work more closely with some of the people, as they are in the habit of each person digging in half of the bed and working in pairs down the row, and have some interesting conversations. Someone mentioned that you got used to the smell. I’m more accustomed to cow, but manure smells like spring to me. Growing up in Amish country, you knew when planting season had come if you drove anywhere with your windows down. Sure, the smell was . . . not roses, but spreading manure was part of their farming practices to use what they had for all it was worth. Unlike the almost sterile agri-business farms, there was no hiding where this fertilizer came from.

The last step was to scatter clover seeds along each path and scratch it into the soil a little bit. If you use clover as a cover-crop or on your paths, don’t expect a clover-free lawn right beside it. Apparently, along with being a nitrogen-fixer and green mulch, clover is tenacious and willing to spread.

The lilac wasn't so lucky.

I ache, my feet are killing me from jumping on the shovel to dig out weeds and dig in manure, and I’m wondering if my palms are going to actually bruise from the “T” handle on my shovel. Fortunately, the tank-top worn today helped to even out the farmer’s tan started yesterday. I doubt I’m the only gardener nursing these pains and loving the fact that they signal the beginning of another season.

P.S. It seems that the garlic we planted in March is coming up nicely. If you haven’t gotten yours in yet, it might not be too late!

What’s Old is New

I have a passing interest in history, mostly to fuel my interest in stories. I have been working on a story set in Boston in 1705. It is a part of our history that isn’t very well known, since there weren’t any major land discoveries or wars at that point. That makes it a little hard to get into the minds of the characters, since I can’t go to Gettysburg as I could for a Civil War story or Lexington, Massachusetts for a Revolutionary War story. Two major sticking points for me to really understand the main character’s life are a town house that produces much of its own food and the associated chores as being social occasions. I got to experience both this weekend with the Heirloom Gardens Meetup Group.

This Meetup Group is an extension of Sundari Kraft’s Heirloom Gardens. It is to help with those times when she needs more hands than

Garden Beds

her apprentices have. I think it’s a great idea for letting people that can’t be apprentices due to time or distance restrictions, like myself, still participate and learn. I happened to be up in Denver on Saturday for a class, so I signed up to help plant garlic. It is usually planted in the fall, but this was an experiment to see if it could be planted in the spring for those of us that didn’t manage to plant it in the fall for whatever reason.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the yard we would be working in. The houses in that part of town tend to be modestly sized, with town-sized yards. I was expecting a couple of beds, mostly. Possibly raised beds, surrounded with grass or mulch of some sort. I wasn’t expecting the miniature farm that she has. It is the most efficient use of a back yard I have ever seen. The animals, goats, chickens, and a couple of ducks, live on one side, and the other is given over to garden beds. When I think yard, and I am sure I’m not alone in this, I think grass, shrubs, maybe some flowers. However, I believe this yard is put together the way far more yards used to appear for most of civilization. In times before you could just pop down to the corner store when you needed a dozen eggs, it

made sense to keep the egg-makers in the back yard. They are also excellent non-fossil-fuel-using garbage disposals. Of course, not everyone would have every kind of animal, but when you don’t have neighbors on one side with a milk cow or goat and a neighbor on the other side raising ducks to trade with, it does help to have them all yourself.

The work itself was not hard. We had to pay attention to the spacing for the garlic bulbs and make sure we were putting them in their holes pointy-side up. That was about the extent of the mental challenge. However, it was a really nice break from my regular job in front of a computer and all the time I’ve been spending in class to sit on the ground and dig in the dirt. It also let the three of us, Sundari, a young man in college, and myself, chat. There was no deep philosophy discussed, nor did we compare which Housewiveswe thought was the best. We discussed weather and

Ooh, comfy garlic bed . . .

mountain biking along with gardening and small-business challenges. We also talked about the goats that were out and about in the yard so they didn’t feel left out. Naturally, they insisted on being in the middle of what we were doing more often than not, since that had to be the most interesting part of the garden. Once all of the cloves were planted, and the end of the bed was marked so that something else could be planted in the balance of it, all we needed to do was mulch it with straw and return the goats to their pen.

I was particularly interested in the seed-starting meetup on Sunday. This was even less physically demanding, since we spent most of the time sitting in chairs around the table. It was slightly more mentally demanding, though, as we had to make sure that we got all of the even slightly sprouted seeds off of the wet paper towels and into the seedling trays and not break any of the ones that had sprouted with abandon. The goats were out again to hang out with us. One of them determined that the freshly planted and mulched garlic bed was perfect for a nap in the sun. It was a different group dynamic, being a larger group and all women this time. I could almost see the starched collars and long skirts as

Seedlings to be covered

we sat around chatting about gardening and, there were a couple of mothers present, children, among other things. The plastic seedling trays and PVC-pipe greenhouse are modern inventions, but the conversation could have been held just as easily over quilts or shelling peas. I was the newest addition to the group, and some of them had been doing these things together for a while so they had a shared history. I am starting to see articles in various places about activities you can do for entertainment for free, since so many people are more strapped for cash than they were just a few years ago. However, chores seldom make the list. They should, though. Sundari mentioned that we probably planted about a thousand seeds. Those will become a thousand plants that will feed her CSA. All of this while trading ideas and getting to know one another in a far quieter atmosphere than a bar or a club and a far less expectant atmosphere than a networking event.

I expect community is something that I will be spending a lot of time thinking about and musing about on here. I am finding that the homesteading community

Staying warm to grow

is an interesting blend of modern techniques including blogs and meetups and good, old-fashioned chore-sharing and swapping. There are some things that just can’t be explained in a tweet or taught in a blog post. There are some experiences that still have to be, well, experienced.

Class: Getting the Most Out of Your Home Garden

I spent this afternoon at a class up at the Denver Botanic Gardens. This was the first of what I expect will be many classes up there.

The class was taught by Sundari Kraft. I haven’t had a chance to review her Web site or her book, but after the class, I’m quite sure both will prove to be fascinating. I can tell you that in person, she’s very interesting and engaging, and she’s very willing to answer questions. It’s clear that she wants to spread this information. There was a lot of information that she shared, and anyone who happens to be in the Denver area should consider signing up for one of the classes that is being offered later. The information wasn’t at all season-specific, so I can’t imagine it will change much, if at all, between this class and the ones later in the year.

Obviously, I can only share some of what she taught us, but there were a lot of interesting pieces of information that will be helpful in steering my own learning. Like, we have the same hardiness or growing zone as south-eastern Maine. Despite the differences in weather patterns, it looks like Denver and Colorado Springs share zone 5a. Our growing season, fortunately, is longer than Maine’s, with the last frosts being around the beginning of May and the first to be expected around the beginning of October, giving us about 150-160 days. It’s not a long season, but it could be shorter.

When she was discussing where to plant, obviously there are a lot of factors to consider, but two jumped out at me. You should start small and you should plant the garden where it’s both visible and convenient to you. Starting small might be hard for the ambitious beginning gardener. I know I’ve bitten off more than I could chew more than once. But she made a very good point. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not that hard to add more space later, but starting too big might overwhelm you. The other point is that it needs to be visible and convenient. At one point in time, kitchen gardens were all but actually in the kitchen of the house in question. The mother or cook had to take all of three or four steps to get to it. That makes it easy to monitor and easy to pop into to pull this weed or hill up that potato plant that you happen to see needs care. We’re busy, so making it something that we see on a regular basis will, hopefully, keep us from forgetting about it.

Sundari works in an urban setting, so small spaces are what she knows best. The class started, however, when she realized how many people had really limited space, but didn’t know how to utilize it for the most effective yields. What she finds to work is a variety of techniques. She prefers a version of companion planting rather than monocropping, beds rather than the standard rows. She also uses biointensive planting techniques to both make the most of the space and make the most of the water and natural weed control along with succession planting. One of her other gardening techniques is that instead of bare, dirt paths, she grows clover. She stressed several times that it needs to be seeded lightly, but the clover both crowds out the weeds that would grow in the path and it fixes nitrogen into the soil. The following year, the beds will be dug so that each path is now part of a bed, giving that bed nitrogen-rich soil without having to add anything.

She gave us the example of a 256 square-foot garden. That is 16X16 feet. Not small, but not outlandish by any means. Excluding the necessary paths, she had 192 square feet of growing space. That space could potentially yield: 10 tomato plants, 25 pepper plants,12 eggplants, 10 summer squash, 6 winter squash, 172 peaplants, 108 kale, 208 lettuce, 263 arugula, 526 spinach, 172 beets, 86 turnips, 490 turnip sprouts/greens, 150 carrots, 383 radishes, 483 radish sprouts, 416 scallions, and 38 perennial herbs. That is a lot of food. I know it’s going to make me re-think my little 4X8 foot bed to see how much more I can fit in.

The rest of the class discussed preparing the space, starting seeds, composting, and so on. All of which I will cover in more detail as I learn more about them. One of the last things we went over, however, were resources. She provided Web sites, books, and local resources. I was very happy to see that a book I picked up today at a book sale for all of $2 was on the list. Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. So far my reading has been eclectic as I have a lot of just the basics to really understand, so I have been picking up books almost randomly at thrift stores and book sales. However, this list will help me narrow down my selections to the more pertinent ones. I expect to be doing reviews of the ones I find the most useful in the future.