From the Soil Up

Last Friday we took a team of agricultural, environmental, and architectural researchers on a tour of several Weinland Park gardens and the bird sanctuary.
One of the experts was Joe Kovach from OARDC–Wooster, who we had earlier driven up to go visit and learn from in collaboration with our partners at Knowlton School of Architecture. He focuses on urban agricultural research, using high tunnels to extend the season, spatial distribution of plants, diverse varieties of plants, and checkerboard layout to confuse pests, increasing production organically.  

We are interested in learning from Joe’s research and possibly collaborating with him to build more gardens in Weinland Park.

We were joined that day by Mike Hogan from the OSU Extension, who shared with us that, after testing our soil at 4th Street donated by Local Matters and provided by Kurtz Brothers, unfortunately the soil we got is devoid of structure and organic matter, which has dramatically curbed plant productivity and plant health.

We had asked for the testing after noticing that the tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant, and zucchini plants were really struggling to make it in the professional blend soil from Kurtz Brothers even though we were carefully watering each day and the soil seemed dull and void of life.  In contrast, the exact same plants are flourishing in  our front yarden areas using existent untreated soil and has been given much fewer resources.

Tomatoes taking over the yard!

Learning that the soil we had gotten trucked in is little better than dirt was deeply disappointing to everyone on the project.  Yet, it is a learning experience for all.  We are now embarking on correcting the soil deficiencies using organic compost tea and other organic solutions like lime, loam, blood meal, and bone meal.  We’ve take ph readings all over the garden and have a lot of work to do to remediate the soil over the next year…

Will Allen mixes compost & worm castings

Fortunately, just this weekend several of us from Weinland Park attended a hands-on workshop hosted by the Stiletto Gardener in Columbus featuring Will Allen of Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization and land trust that supports people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities.

In 2008, the MacArthur Foundation called Will Allen a genius for the work that he has done in developing urban food gardens in poor neighborhoods. In 2010, Time Magazine called him a hero and declared him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.  We learned from our own experience the importance of good soil and then Will Allen reinforced the critical nature of growing our own soil the entire weekend with hands on lessons.

Will said that “If we plan to produce food, we must first make soil by composting.” So, he took all of us step by step through the process of making compost hot boxes that will produce 1 cubic yard of nutritionally dense soil every 6-8 months.  We used 60 cubic yards of soil to create 4th Street.   It is going to take a lot of compost to grow the soil we need long term…

We learned to create 50-50 layers of carbon (wood chips and ripped up unbleached cardboard) and nitrogen (fruit/vegetable scraps, yard waste, coffee grounds, and brew waste).  Never add meat, dairy, or oil.   Water helps keep it biologically active and healthy.  Temperatures in the compost should get up to 150 degrees to kill bad bacteria, leaving behind organically rich soil, which Will Allen then mixes with worm castings for the most delicious food possible.

Above Will Allen is watering the vermiculture breeding site that he created by layering wood chips, red worms, fruit & vegetable scraps.  Feeding and watering the worms is a daily practice.  This will provide the right environment for the worms to reproduce.  More worms means more castings, creating high grade soil.

So, starting where we are, we are growing soil.  Learning from experience and moving forward.  Growing gardens and people, it’s from the soil up….we need to take the rotting situations and compost them to grow fertile soil into amazing delicious food and we all benefit by taking the difficult situations in life, breaking them down, learning from them and growing dramatic positive solutions for our future.

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