Growing Food

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I love growing food. Love. It.  There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than seeing the food I have grown, grace our plates at meal time.  And while this time of year requires a lot of physical demand (Who needs a gym when you are working 6 yards of compost and mulch into the soil?), the rewards are definitely worth the effort.  The perennials are already popping up, and the cold tolerant vegetable seeds are in the ground.  We are not far away, friends.  I can almost taste that strawberry rhubarb crisp now.

But perhaps the most rewarding of growing my own food, is sharing this passion with others.  I have the absolute pleasure of working with the students of Cathedral of St. Peter School in their school garden for the forth growing season.  And as I worked with students last week in the garden, I was reminded of why this project is so very important.  Many have lost their connection to the food they eat.  They view food as coming from the grocery store and have no idea how it is grown, or the work that goes in to growing it.  Working with these students allows them to connect with their food, see how it is grown, and become an active participant in that growth process.  Our garden project enables students to try new foods, and learn about the importance of consuming healthy foods and how that translates into fuel for our bodies and minds.  Most importantly, our school garden work illustrates how to be stewards of God’s creation, and to value and cherish all that the Earth and God provide for us each and every day.

IMG_2542Happy 2016 growing season, friends!

Our System

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When we created our garden five years ago, we sectioned off a very small portion of our gardening space with chicken wire and created a compost pile.  Since that time, our composting operation has been evolving because to be perfectly honest…it never really worked as well as we felt it should.

When we visited Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin a year and a half ago, we were inspired by the vermicomposting system Will Allen set up, but we were never able to get the results from our worms that he seemed to be getting.  It was not until this past winter when I read Will Allen’s book Good Food Revolution, that I realized our mistake.  We were overworking our worms.  We were filling our vermicompost with loads of food and paper scraps and they simply were unable to keep up.  While reading Allen’s book, I discovered Growing Power’s secret:  Growing Power allows their collected food scraps to partially decompose first, then add the worms to the mix.  Bingo.

IMG_3524So, after many a year of trial and error, I believe we finally have a system set up that will work.  Because as Will Allen says in his book, he can predict a garden’s growing success based on “how much attention has been paid to creating fertile soil.”

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We place our compostable materials (food scraps, grass clippings, leavings, paper shred, egg cartons, coffee grounds, etc.) in the wooden boxes.  (We cover our boxes with burlap just to cut down on the bugs and smell, but it still allows the compost to breath.)  We try to turn this pile over every couple of weeks.  Once the scraps begin to brown and break down, we move them to the red garbage can, and/or the blue plastic bin, and/or the black tower.  These bins have some holes drilled on the sides for aeration, and this is where our worms are.  (The black tower is an actual vermicompost bin we purchased a few years back.  The benefit of this type of bin is that liquid can drain off the bottom and can then be used to make compost tea.)  Once the worms do their work we are left with compost the consistency of coffee grounds.  This compost can then be added to our garden.

Burlap Placemats

While on our visit to Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin back in December, we were told that burlap bags worked great as covers for compost bins.  Our tour guide told us that they obtained all of their burlap bags from local coffee roasters for little to no cost at all.

It just so happens that there is a local coffee roaster housed just two store fronts down from my husband’s fitness business, so we decided to investigate and I’ll be darned that they literally had closets full of burlap!  The owner said that there is one local farmer that comes regularly to pick up some of her extra bags, but other than that she was just waiting for someone to take them off her hands because she hated to just throw them out.

Well, my husband walked out of there with a tower of burlap sacks, towering far above his over six foot frame.  While we did use a few of the coffee bags to cover our compost bins, we were left with a lot extra stock.  So, I started to look through my crafting books for different things to do with burlap and I came upon one of my Amanda Blake Soule favorites, The Creative Family.  In this book, Amanda discusses the use of burlap to introduce children to sewing.  The wide spaces in the burlap make for easy needlework for young children.

After feeling inspired, as I so often do after reading Amanda’s books, the girls and I got to work.  The girls each took turns sewing using roughly 1 X 2 foot pieces of burlap (I simply cut up one coffee bag), embroidery floss, an embroidery hoop and a large needle.

After the girls reached a point where they were satisfied with their work, I removed the hoop and used my sewing machine to sew on a bit of fabric to the back of the burlap.

This quick project (It only took about 45 minutes from start to finish…including clean up.) ended up turning out quite well and the girls now have their very own hand crafted snack-time placemats.

Now I just need to come up with some more projects to use up the other twenty burlap bags I have 🙂  If anyone has any crafty ideas, please feel free to leave a comment.  I would love to come up with some more ideas.

2012 Seed Starting Day

Ever since we started our garden three summers ago, the third weekend in February marked our “Seed Starting Day” for the year’s garden.  This past Saturday marked this occasion and a wonderful day was had by all.  As I said last week, I was feeling the need to get in the soil and grow something, so I was very happy to see that day pop up on our calendar!

We normally start the morning off with some sort of yummy breakfast, made with products from last year’s harvest.  This year I made pumpkin scones, and they were delicious!  (This recipe to follow in a post later this week.)

Then the girls drew pictures of what they thought would happen to the seeds once they were planted.

Here is my five year old daughter’s drawing.  She said, “This is a picture of a pot, with the plant marker and a few sprouts coming up.  The sun and rain are coming down on the sprouts.”  Such the gardening expert!

This is the drawing my two year old completed.  She said, “This is a plant with a rainbow.” She is on her way to garden expert status very, very soon I’m sure.

This year for our seed starting mix, we took a five gallon bucket and filled it up half way with compost from last summer.  We then mixed in one small package of coir (coconut husk fiber), which helps to retain moisture much like a peat mixture does.

We mixed away until we had a nice ground mixture, perfect for seed starting.

Then my husband and girls got busy planting tomato seeds (Amish Paste, Martino’s Roma, Speckled Roman, and Italian Heirloom…all my favorite tomatoes to make tomato sauce with in August), basil seeds and Butterfly Weed seeds.  The girls were really able to contribute to the effort this year and it was awe inspiring to see those little hands working the earth, and instinctively knowing how to plant these small seeds so that they will later grow to provide us with a bounty of vegetables.

We keep our seeds in our craft room in our basement.  My husband hooks up fluorescent shop lights that can be moved up as the plants grow.  He also hooks the lights up to a timer so that the plants can get 14-16 hours of light per day.  We also put an oscillating floor fan in there with the seeds to help prevent mold or fungus from growing on the surface of the soil.

Inspiration

Last week in my post about our Red Wigglers, I mentioned that we purchased our most recent batch from Growing Power, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Growing Power is truly one of the most amazing places I have been in my lifetime, and it is no wonder why there were only a few people on our tour who were even from the Midwest. People travel from all over the globe to visit founder Will Allen’s urban garden, situated in a food desert on the north side of Milwaukee. If anyone reading this post is ever in the area you must, must, must stop by for a tour.

For my birthday, my husband told me that my present was going to be a family trip to Growing Power. Now that is my kind of present! Love it!

I’m not sure what exactly I was anticipating going into this trip, but Growing Power far exceeded every single one of my expectations! Not only were there thousands upon thousands of plants being grown in this facility, there were mushrooms, fish, chickens, turkeys, bees and goats. Solar cells and cisterns. It was unbelievable.

And what is more amazing than all of this is their outreach programs. Growing Power sells their food at a store front food stand, sources their food to local restaurants, collects waste from local breweries and coffee houses for use in their compost bins, and they have unbelievable youth education programs. One man on our tour was there with his three young children and he was from Milwaukee. He told my husband and I that Growing Power even does a CSA-type food drop off for many of the local schools. He said that on Mondays parents can turn in a sheet if they want a box of food on Friday, and then on Friday the students are sent home with their box filled with vegetables from Growing Power and a new order form for the following week. I was floored.

Why can’t every community do something of this nature? All children deserve to have their bodies nourished with this healthy food. All children deserve amazing educational opportunities like the ones that Growing Power offers to youth of their community. I believe with every fiber of my being that something like this is possible in every city in our nation. Growing Power reaffirmed my belief that this is actually possible. I am truly inspired.