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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Week Ahead (Week 2, 2011)

This week is all about planting planting planting!

We also have one large section of beds to be built, and I'm working to order the irrigation supplies, bare root berries, lumber and tools that are needed in the near future. 

Also, see the new donation needs list on the blogspot site...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Downtown Teaching Farm, Week 1

Week 1: Friday, May 20 - Friday, May 27
Blogger: Ali Ward, Boise High School Science Teacher

There was a lot of digging going on!  Mr. Vega, Mr. Quissell, and I brought our classes over to the farm to work on bed installation and get some of our seedlings settled. 

The layout for the in-ground plantings at the farm is starting to take shape. 

I'm going to describe the farm's space in the coming paragraphs in somewhat of a clockwise fashion beginning at the corner of 12th street and the south edge of the farm (the alley between Hays and Fort).

The Boise High students' first task was to create four 70' mounded rows in what was the compost/waste pile area along the alley.  It was amazing to watch this take form before my very eyes!  We will do large plantings of vining crops along these mounds as we know that the weeds will be ample and we are hoping to mulch and smother many of the weeds with winter squash, melons, and cucumbers on a yet-to-be built trellis along the alleyway.  The most interior bed in this area has been planted with potatoes, and we're going to try some bush beans and snap peas along the two sides of the mounds to help retain the soil and - you guessed it - smother more weeds!  These four rows will be watered with t-tape as soon as we can get the irrigations system installed.

We also hand dug many beds along the 12th Street and Fort Street sides of the farm.  These areas have not yet been planted, and we will continue building these beds in a manner that allows us to use t-tape to irrigate.  I have a line on large numbers of bare-root berries and am considering some hedges of berries to create garden "walls," but we need to spend a bit more time figuring out the best crops where and how this will work with our arbored entrances.  We also have cultivated several large beds, one that will be used for Indian corn underplanted with gourds, a mounded area for strawberries, and some areas that we will use for heritage beans.  I had the idea of having the students save the bean seed in the Fall, perhaps to sell as a fundraiser in the spring - we'll see - if you have any heirloom beans you'd like to grow out for seed saving purposes, bring them on down.  We are going to plant A LOT of beans in the next few years as we continue to build the soil's nitrogen content.

On the corner of 12th and Fort we have installed a tomato forest in the serpentine garden.  We should be able to get about 80 plants in this area, trellising them onto 8' painted poles to create a vertical tomato patch.  (There will be a painting party soon soon soon!)  I've been using this method at home for years, and I think it will be an interesting take on this space.  We will underplant the tomatoes with companions - with the main purpose there being - you guessed it - smothering weeds!  This serpentine garden will be watered once or twice a week by flooding it - once the plants are established.  I have to admit - we did not do a good job of keeping track of the varieties of tomatoes planted in here so far - it was raining and taking notes on varieties didn't work out very well.  But, we just had to get them in the ground.  Most of our starts have been under lights since Febuary and it was now or never for the little guys.  I'm hoping that I can go back and do a bunch of retro-labeling once they start to fruit - I have good notes of the varieties that I started, and again I would love the students have the ability to save and sell seeds for tomatoes someday, so we'll experiment with it this season.

To the South East of the serpentine, on a large curved swath, is be a bed that we will use for annual herbs and some cutting flowers, and perhaps getting our plants of rhubarb and such started.  This area of the garden is the most confusing to think about how we are going to irrigate it, with curved beds, circular beds, and the hose area.  Because it is possilbe that we will want to totally replan this area, I'm going to plant in a carefree manner in here this year - try to get a bunch of the weeds out and smothered, and only use soft mulch on the paths here as they may someday get plowed under.  Again, we've just been trying to get our seedlings in the ground - most of them look pretty sad - the shock of leaving the classroom lights to the full sun, wind, and cool weather has been hard on things.  Some will be strong and make it, others will have to be replanted.  That is OK, the students have enjoyed growing and nurturing these seedlings all winter and spring, it is good to get them in the ground and give it a try.  A some point though, we will need to think about building a flock of cold frames - one use for them being an area to harden off seedlings.
One of the more unique features of the farm are the two large circular beds near the Eastern Edge of the cultivated spaces.  These circles were here, and had been cultivated before, so the students and I decided on a plan to utilize them.  They planted mounds of potatoes around the edges, with a "moat" type of trench, and an island in the middle.  These "islands" are about 6' in diameter.  We will construct big pole bean teepee's on these islands, hopefully with enough room inside for little people to hang out in the shade.  We'll need about 12-18 branches, fairly straight, and about 9-10' long for this project.  One of our teacher's spouses works for the City of Boise in the Forestry Department, so I'm going to ask if he'll help us out with appropriate branches for this.  The "moats" will be used to flood irrigate these two circle gardens one to two times a week.

Now, the raised beds.  I have done a bit of work on a master plan for these 20 beds, utilizing companion planting and intensive planting techniques.  That being said, I'm starting to realize that there is no way I can coordinate all of the community gardeners and student farmers during the summer.  I am seeking someone who would like to help coordinate the community gardeners and make certain that that piece of the puzzle is functioning.  I will still be happy to teach the workshop series for students/community gardeners, but if any of you would be interested in helping me coordinate this different group of farmers, please let me know.  please.

Also, I am seeking a student leader who would be the Harvest Coordinator.  This person would work with me on the harvest plans, and work with Idaho's Bounty project and other community leaders to make sure that the food is dropped off with the appropriate organizations.   This person will also work with me on the record keeping of harvest information.  This information will be key for more successful planned plantings in coming seasons.

I am also seeking a student leader who can be a Water Master.  This person would be in charge of making sure that the irrigation plan is being followed and that the water volunteers are showing up.  This peson will also work with Mr. Quissell and United Water to further develop the partnership with United Water and make sure we aren't using our donated water too quickly!

At this point I see myself in the role of planting/harvest design and student farmer coordination.  I will also be teaching the "Farm Family " series of classes.  Erik Quissell has taken the lead as liason between different organizations and the Downtown Teaching Farm.  He has been coordinating with the Methodist church, NENA, and United Water so far. 

I also realized recently that it would be silly not to try to sell at least a portion of the food to financially support the farm project. We have no intent of trying to operate a farm stand or market booth - most of the food will go to the families of the farmers (student and community volunteers), food banks and church pantries, and to the school cafeteria.  But, there will still be plenty we could sell.  I had the idea of doing a once a month (perhaps June/July/August/September) "u-pick" farm day where outside people can come wander around with student "farm guide" and harvest what they want, pay a donation of their choice, and the $$ can go to our Boise Schools Foundation account, which is tax-deductable and the can be used by us for continued farm support.  These could be seen and promoted almost as "open house" farm parties, where folks can come, harvest what they would like, and contribute what they can.  Seems like a great community builder.  If anyone else likes that idea - let me know if you'd like to help me plan/promote such a thing.  Essentially, we need an "Event Coordinator."

Is it possilbe that all of this has really come together in a week?!