Spring 2018 has brought continuous showers here at Rural Resources! Typically we welcome needed spring showers, however, this has been quite the wet spring so far! Perhaps we will become jealous of the rainy weather during the summer. Every dry day has been swept away by a feverish swarm of tilling, bed preparation, and planting. Instead of planting around mid-February we finally planted our first seeds on March 23rd! Jumping at any opportunity to get plants in the ground, we are happy to currently have kale, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage, onions, and lots of root crops growing in our pizza garden right now.
Our garden group is off to an exciting start this year. Previously we have reviewed different types of gardening and inoculated mushroom logs. During this activity, they learned about growing strawberries in buckets! We are always looking for creative ways to engage materials that youth can find around their own homes. Growing in 5 gallon buckets is a standard among many backyard, patio, and porch gardeners. Not everyone can have a raised or in-ground bed but almost everyone can have a couple 5 gallon planters at their home. Many people find it easier when renting a house or apartment to easily move their buckets right along with their other belongings. This month we had an extended four hour class with our new garden group. We had lots to do during such a long class so we started with cleaning up a few of our raised beds that surrounds our pizza garden. Several of them used hand tools to clear out weeds and when I asked them if they could tell me the names, many admitted they did not know. We did a brief lesson on their names, various uses, and how to properly use them in the garden. After we cleared out the weeds, we added a mix of soil/compost and planted strawberries. Then, we reviewed how to plant and care for strawberries so they produce well throughout the spring and early summer.
Leading up to this activity we collected several 5 gallon buckets to plant strawberries for each teen to take home. We made holes for the strawberries then allowed time for the teens to decorate and paint their buckets. It was a really beautiful day so we chose to absorb our vitamin D and stay outside the whole time. After our teens finished decorating their buckets, we demonstrated how to layer the soil and strawberries in the bucket. As strawberries grow, we instructed them about how they will send out new shoots. Those shoots can then be made into new plants. We are excited to see how many strawberries they harvest from them in the next several weeks!
Spring Work, not Spring Break!
Last month we also enjoyed Spring Break in Greeneville which served as a great time to install our teen’s home gardens. This year we wanted to start with our older teens that have completed at least one year in our program and have consistently maintained a garden before. These teens have all grown a successful garden, however, because of moving or other challenges a few of them needed brand new raised beds. Other teens were able to add soil or compost onto their established gardens. I (Kathleen, Garden Manager) instructed the teens they needed to figure out garden placement, orientation, spring planting, etc. Families and I met together on the Monday of their spring break and figured out a garden plan for each teen. The next day we rolled up our sleeves and got to w work! With some guidance, the teens constructed their own raised beds. While we worked together on how to safely use the drill and screws, my sidekick for the day loaded up a trailer with top soil and compost. First, we laid down a couple layers of landscape fabric to help suppress weeds and create a working barrier. After he arrived with top soil and compost, we filled the bottom portion of the beds with leaves and added a combination of top soil and compost.
Afterwards the teens selected plants and planted lettuce, cabbage, kale, and other veggies right away! While some teens started completely new beds, others either revived beds that were overrun with weeds or chose to take a different approach. One sibling group decided to container garden this year due to the shade that prevented plant growth in their raised bed located around their house. Following a long week with lots of dirt, sweat, plants, and lumber there were lots of smiling faces as teens saw the finished product of their home gardens.
One of my favorite questions I received over and over was, “Wait, what is kohlrabi?” Kohlrabi is one of my favorite vegetables. Every season I try and find another way to cook it, eat it raw, or put it in a delicious soup. I always say it has the firmness of an apple with the flavor of broccoli. My favorite way to eat it is raw and dipped in hummus. I kept challenging teens and their families “to just try one and see how you like it!” I am hoping to work with our chef to help teens create their own recipes for their families. Sometimes those unfamiliar vegetables like kohlrabi, Malabar spinach, winged beans, and fennel can feel intimidating. This is one of the many reasons we fill our garden with lots of interesting plants. I did not know I enjoyed eating roselle leaves until I tried them.
Finally, our own pizza garden is coming together this spring as we planted lettuce mix, broccoli, onions, and more this past week. We are excited to start giving produce to the teens both to take home for meals and to experiment with on pizzas. Meanwhile our peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, flowers, and lots of fun summer crops are getting stronger in the greenhouse ready to be planted and eaten up!