Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Healthy Community Garden Requires Healthy Soil

In a 3 part Blog post one of our community gardeners presents their thoughts on what makes up "Healthy Soil".

I.                 Physical Makeup of Healthy Soil

There is never a bad time to increase the health of your community garden soil. Healthy gardening begins by ensuring that the soil in your garden receives a fresh set of the basics every year at a minimum.  Getting the soil right, in most cases, allows you to avoid many of the common plant diseases and pests that prevent most gardeners from having a productive and nutritious harvest.

Soil is physically composed of weathered rock, organic matter, water and air. But the hidden "magic" in a healthy soil are the small biologic creatures, such as; worms, insects and microbes. Biologic creatures flourish when the soil elements and physical matter are in balance with each other.  Soil is primarily comprised of the following matter:

  • Mineral Matter which comprise approximately 50% of the physical area for a healthy garden soil, minerals typically consist of small pieces of earthen rock that has been broken down over time by natural forces such as wind and rain; 
  • Organic Matter which comprises approximately 10%  of the physical area for a healthy garden soil, organics typically consist of decomposed remains of soil organisms and plant life including lichens and mosses, grasses and leaves, trees, and all other kinds of vegetative matter; 
  • Air which should comprise approximately 25% of the physical area for a healthy garden soil Plant roots, insects, microbes, earthworms and other soil life require this much air to live. The air in soil is also an important source of the atmospheric nitrogen that is utilized by plants; 
  • Water which should comprise approximately 15% of the physical area for a healthy garden soil. 
Understanding the texture of the soil in your garden can help you to select the kinds of plants that will thrive in that soil, and also give you an idea of what kind of supplements and soil amendments you need to add or delete to get to the soil you will need to grow a specific kind of plant.  Square foot gardeners and Community Gardeners with mature garden plots probably understand this better than any others.  Raised beds allow the square foot and community gardeners to have different soil texture characteristics and pH values.  Soil textures can be best defined as: 
  • Sands; with subcategories of sand, loamy sand and clayey sand;
  • Clays; with subcategories of sandy clay, light clay, medium clay and heavy clay;
  • Loams; with subcategories of sandy loam, fine sandy loam, loam, silty loam, sandy clay loam and clay loam.
Soil water retention is essential to life. It provides an ongoing supply of water to plants between periods of replenishment. However, remember, plant roots require adequate access to gaps and space in soil to be able to bring in oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide necessary for proper growth and maturation.  Other plants like potatoes and root or tuber plants require soils that are heavier and retain water longer. Herbs and smaller flowering plants prefer a soil that is well drained and lighter with more air cavities.

Next Week Part II:  Nutrients of Healthy Soil

Monday, December 21, 2015

HdG Green Team Food Forest Initiative

HdG Seneca Avenue Community Garden

The four existing community gardens are thriving. Available to be gardened by all residents, have attracted gardeners from nearby areas, and are a resource for others in Harford County who are interested in gardening or in forming new community gardens in their neighborhoods.

Every year our gardeners expand their gardening knowledge by sharing information, through training from the state's Master Gardener program and by experimenting with new types of garden structures, techniques, and plants. Some of our gardens are so bountiful that we have been able to share produce with those in need either through food donations at the local food kitchen or simply by placing baskets with produce near the garden entrances.

In 2016 we are looking to expand in a new direction by establishing a food forest at our garden on Seneca Avenue. A food forest is planted with fruit and nut trees, and berry bushes that can begin to yield harvest to table produce in 2 to 3 years and serve as a source of sustainable produce thereafter. The trees and bushes will be planted by gardeners and other volunteers. The food forest will be open to the community to explore and harvest. The above picture shows the HdG Seneca Avenue Community Garden and beyond that is the field and woods where the food forest will be planted.

Our Seneca Avenue garden is in a low-income neighborhood, and we plan to reach out to the neighbors to help make the food forest a valuable learning experience not only for the current gardeners but for other members of the community not currently engaged in our gardens. We want to interest them in the many benefits of raising food in many different ways so that they become community gardeners for the long-run.

Please consider contributing to our initiative to provide a quality environment where families can gather fruits, nuts, berries and other vegetable items from our Havre de Grace Food Forest Initiative by clicking the link and donating at: http://www.hdggreenteam.org/about.html

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Health Benefits of Community Gardening

People throughout the world enjoy community gardening. The popular pastime can not only enhance home and community landscapes but also provide low-cost food sources. The level of physical activity required also offers a multitude of health benefits with studies having confirmed that engaging in gardening can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and increase psychological well-being.

Results show that 9 garden tasks that help out the most include; Digging and Raking (High Intensity) with Planting, Weeding, Mulching, Hoeing, Seeding, Harvesting and Watering (Medium Intensity).
Researchers have also shown that organic community gardeners have an additional benefit or having a reduced body mass index (BMI)!  Imagine not only reducing the cost of grocery shopping, but also reducing the size of your "bottom" line so to speak!

Recent data from one project involving a community garden, estimates that the average community garden plot can save an individual or family as much as $75.00 to $350.00 annually, dependent on vegetable grown.  While money may not be able to provide you with happiness, the taste and nutritional value of growing and eating your own produce certainly can and will.

Organic community gardens also provide a place for people who don't have a sufficient amount of land space to grow their own food, as well as meet like minded individuals and families to not only discuss local news, but also learn new skills and techniques to produce more food in smaller spaces.

To reserve or adopt a community garden plot in the city of Havre de Grace, please contact us at www.hdgreenteam.org or for other areas seek advice from the master gardeners who are part of you local agricultural extension.