trials and triumphs of urban gardening

In our first year of “professional” gardening we took on an ambitious number of projects, some of which we’ve talked about on this blog.  Seems time for an update.cville march 09 025

The Woodfolk House garden is going great. We had plenty of chard, mustard and collard greens, kale, spinach, and snow and snap peas through the Spring.  As Summer approached the beets, carrots, cabbage, and broccoli started coming in, and our garlic and first round of onions is currently curing.  Over the last few days the first cherry and grape tomatoes have ripened, a fantastic early-summer treat!

The pests have been miraculously sparse.  Bugs have not been a problem and we’ve only in the last week gotten what looks like groundhog damage.  Alexis has been on a crusade against the critters for years.  This year we banded together to take a more offensive DSCN2572strategy.  Alexis and I have made several forays out to the local dens with shovels and carbon monoxide bombs in hand.  Short of relocating them, or fencing the entire garden, putting them to sleep seemed the most humane option.  What kind of karma are we incurring?  Is this price for fresh veggies really worth it?  Clearly right now we’ve decided it is.

Our garden around the corner at 814 Ridge St. has met a more unfortunate fate.  Through Food Not Bombs we met the folx who live there and were offered the backyard for gardening.  The soil was fantastic.  There was no water source, but the yard was in a moist pocket, and we set up a rain barrel.  We planted corn, squash, melons, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

Things started sprouting, all was going well.  Then some critter came along and munched almost everything (sparing the corn sprouts, oddly enough).  Groundhogs seemed the likely culprit.  One of our fellow neighborhood gardeners, Stephan, has had success with a simple chicken wire fence.  Another neighborhood gardener, Adriane, had erected a more solid metal fence, but amazingly the groundhogs  actually climbed over it!  Stephan’s was flimsy enough to prevent climbing, but sturdy enough so that it wouldn’t just fall over. I put up a similar model.  Things were fine for a couple weeks, but then the munchers returned.  On inspection Kassia found deer tracks throughout the plot.

This garden has been a great experience in facing some of the problems we’ll be dealing with when Patchwork Farms gets off the ground.  Pests and water, among other things, are known issues, but we’re getting some first-hand experience dealing with them.

That said, we’ve actually hit an even bigger problem with this garden.  The people who invited us to garden there were renters and the owner recently sold the place.  We’re trying to contact the new owner to see if he is willing to let things play out (what doesn’t get chomped down anyway), but we may end up just having to pack up.  It’s unfortunate, but doing this garden helped us connect with the African-American community in the neighborhood.  Modest bridge-building, but all-in-all the effort was well worth it.

In the meantime, Kassia happened to meet a woman named Theresa on Ridge St while gleaning mulberries from a tree across the street.  Kassia mentioned something about gardening and Theresa launched into a spirited description of her desire to have a garden in her back yard that others in the neighborhood could help with and share the produce.   Theresa has lived on Ridge St. since she was a little girl, with memories of the days when the end of the street bled into fields and fairgrounds.  She’s lived with her mom and sister in their current house for over 30 years.

Initially, the sloped yard, covered with 4 ft high grass was a bit daunting.  But then I realized we still had a bunch of black plastic.  I walked the lawn-mower up the street to take care of the grass and then laid out the plastic (pinned down with bricks from Bess, another of our neighborhood gardening friends).  We went back over the next few days and transplanted tomatoes, melons, summer squash, okra, and cucumbers.  Sadly but predictably the groundhogs have again struck.  Kassia surveyed the damage with Theresa who was totally unconcerned.  “Oh I’ll just water these for the groundhogs,” she said as she took the watering can around.

Our efforts with Mr. Ross have come to something of a close.  After numerous visits Mr. Ross finally accepted our offer to have Todd from QCC (the organization that runs The Garden of Goodness–urban farm at the public housing development near downtown) to come till his plot.  Even by that time I was skeptical about what Mr. Ross was going to actually do, but Mr Ross wanted his yard tilled and we could help.

Todd came with the tiller and gave both of us our first lesson with the beast.  Mr. Ross was pleased.  A week later I stopped by again.  Mr. Ross hadn’t planted anything yet and didn’t see likely to.  At that point I decided that it was time to let it go.  We’d provided a service, made several clear offers to help.  I’ll keep visiting, and if he wants to take us up on our offer, great, otherwise I’m just happy to have made the connection and spent time listening to his stories.

Also nice has been visiting the various gardens where we’d hosted work-parties during the late Winter and early Spring.  Seeing happy plants in place of bare earth is always gratifying, especially if you helped make it happen!

Finally, we have an experiement in process.  One of our garden work-parties was helping our friend Jennifer put a garden in at a generous neighbors back yard.  The spot was COVERED in a thick layer of wire-grass.  We were only able to clear about 20 x 10 ft area, which was about as much as Jennifer wanted.  But the space available was about 8 times that.  I asked around about the best way to kill large amounts of grass, especailly wire-grass.  Black plastic, I was told.  Cover it up for the Summer.  So, right now there’s about 800 ft. of black plastic slowly suffocating a large patch of wire-grass.  I helped lay out a smaller piece for Bess up the street.  Come September 1st you can expect to hear a little about what we find underneath! ;0)

Meanwhile, we are enjoying the summer bounty of our garden, as well as the many conversations and connections that come from it!


~ by skybluestar on July 8, 2009.

2 Responses to “trials and triumphs of urban gardening”

  1. Sky,

    Invest in a book called 1001 All-Natural Secrets to a PEST-FREE PROPERTY. It’s not the best but there are a lot of non lethal and non pesticide ways to get rid of things. Unfortunately in the rodent section there are no groundhogs. Keep up the great things you all do.

  2. The accident of finding this post has brhnetegid my day

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