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Niko Kirby

Gardening as a family

By Faces of DUG

#21: Meet Christian, Grow a Garden participant + backyard gardener

2020 was our first year with DUG. We got approved for a no-cost To-Grow Box. The pandemic was in full swing at this point, and we were spending more time at home. My husband is a musician and that industry was hit hard by COVID. We needed to find ways to become a little bit more financially savvy to make it all work. We thought it would be a great learning experience to grow our own food at home – that it would allow us to teach our children the value of growing food and that it could help us be more responsible about the Earth we live on. We did everything in our backyard. We built garden boxes and also did in-ground planting. We’re looking forward to doing it again this year as Grow a Garden program participants. We didn’t scare ourselves away from it!

I grew up with my mother and grandmother both gardening. I can remember hoeing rows in the garden for my grandmother. She would ask me or one of my cousins to go out and pick something so she could use it while she was cooking. I can remember sitting and playing in the garden rows and eating the fruits right off the trees. It was cool to realize that I could do the same things I saw growing up. 

We wouldn’t have started a garden if it weren’t for DUG’s help. I reached out to DUG on a whim. We didn’t have access to seeds or plans to do it on our own, and receiving them at no cost was what inspired us to build our home garden.

We grew a lot of things that we used regularly like herbs, tomatoes, and lettuces – things we would have previously needed to buy in bulk at the grocery store. So it absolutely did have an impact on how much we were spending – we could just go grab it right out of the garden!

Our home garden was a relaxing, meditative space for me. Every morning, I’d get up, go water, and check on our plants. Being in the garden allowed me to have a free mental space, away from all the craziness that was going on in the world.

Seeing how enthusiastic my children were about watching the plants grow, learning about the different types and names of plants, and learning what each one needed to thrive was super valuable for us as a family. The kids tried so many new vegetables that they probably wouldn’t have tried otherwise because they came out of our own garden. They would go outside and talk to the plants. My son would tell the broccoli that he loved it every morning. My daughter would eat the tomatoes off the vine and I’d wonder why they were always missing!

My husband loves collard greens, so it was amazing to be able to just go get them from the backyard. He didn’t have any gardening experience before this, but now he’s a total gardener. He’s like, “Do you think we should build greenhouses next year?” 

Before signing up for the Grow a Garden program this year, we sat down and had a family discussion about what we wanted to try growing in our garden. We chose things together on the application. I still have seeds from last year that we’ll use this season, as well.”

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The Garden in April

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliott

April, like March, is a month of ‘wild weather’, alternating from moisture-laden snow, drying winds, and even rain/snow mixes (yes, Denver does experience rain at times) to a range of temperatures between 65 degrees in the daytime to 35 degrees nighttime.

If you think that sounds confusing for us, imagine the delicate dance that our trees, perennials and early-season veggies must navigate to survive. Perennials and trees (including fruit trees) have a ‘built-in’ time clock that responds to increasing daylight hours, sunlight intensity, and (for fruit trees), a number of hours below freezing for fruit buds to appear. Once those swelling buds open and leaves unfurl, it almost is a signal for more unsettled weather to descend.

One of the challenges in April appears to be our warming climate, and, concurrent increasing drought situation. It’s all too easy to be lulled into a false sense of complacency regarding our changing climate, especially if tree limbs are bowed down with spring snows. For the entire year, Denver receives between 9 – 11” of water but in the past few years, strong winds & rapidly warming temperatures in spring have made less of that available. With greenery emerging daily our thoughts turn to the process of ‘growing’. 

April is the month to ‘GROW.’

G |Grow to fit the season

Understand the variety of needs of cool-season seeds + transplants.

  • Note: Cool-season crops include peas, lettuce, spinach, radish, cilantro, parsley, chard, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips) while warm-season seeds & transplants include squash, corn, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers.

Denver’s last spring frost can be as late as May 15. Don’t plant warm-season crops until nighttime temperatures are between 55 & 60 degrees.

  • For fast-growing cool-season seeds, such as salad greens, utilize ‘succession planting’, in which small quantities of seeds are planted every few weeks until mid-May, to extend the planting/harvesting window.

Join the DUG network at community.dug.org  to connect with other gardeners on their growing journeys! This platform is meant as a ‘give and take’ with our community offering their advice and posting challenges.

R| Respect the soil

Set up a system of ‘internal pathways’, with 3 ‘ wide planting areas separated by designated walkways (about 2’ wide) to prevent soil compaction within the growing areas.

  • Prior to planting, dig 1.5 – 2” of plant-based compost (not manure) into planting areas. Walkways don’t need to be amended. 

Plan for the inevitable ‘spring into summer’ of warm weather by having straw mulch available to place around cool-season crops.

O | Own and understand the ongoing commitment of gardening

A successful garden requires constant nurturing, not just watering.

  • Plant only what you can care for or use.

Consider the benefits of sharing garden care with another gardener.

W | Welcome the wonder + joy of growth 

Plant flowers and herbs such as zinnias, marigolds, chamomile, fennel + cilantro which produce a sense of riotous color, and also flowers that entice beneficial insects to visit.

  • Flowers have a calming effect on our senses and cause us to ‘pause’, bend down and ‘stay awhile’, noticing changes in veggie growth that may signal the need to handpick that ‘caterpillar’ before it munches the entire leaf. 

Appreciate not only the harvest but also the learning steps along the way.

Garden Tip

Know when it’s time to ‘dig your soil’.

Don’t rely upon daytime temperatures as a sign of when to begin your gardening work. For a more reliable measure that deals with soil moisture:

  • Use a hand trowel or regular shovel to dig down several inches and obtain a small quantity of soil
  • Make a tennis ball-sized mound with the soil
  • Drop the ‘soil ball’ from about a foot in height
  • If it stays together as a ‘ball’, it’s not time to dig your soil. Wait several days and try the test again
  • If it breaks apart (shatters), go ahead and ‘dig in’
  • Our soils are usually high in clay, warm slowly, and have very tiny soil particles. If you dig your garden soil too early (i.e., the soil still stays together as a ‘ball’) it may dry like an adobe brick and make it difficult for smaller seeds to germinate

Remember, patience really does pay off!

Water Conservation 101

By Education

In recognition of World Water Day, DUG connected with Diana Denwood of Aurora Water to talk about where Colorado water comes from and why it’s so precious, the difference between drought and aridification, and ways that you can conserve water.

Growing community support in a school garden

By Faces of DUG

#20: Meet Pallas, cofounder and longtime Garden Leader at Samuels Elementary Community Garden

“I was one of the founders of the Samuels garden in 2011, and have been a Garden Leader there for the last 10 years. I was never a gardener before; I didn’t even think I’d be capable of growing anything! It was all trial-and-error and experimentation in the beginning. Like many DUG school-based community gardens, Samuels began as a parent initiative. At the start, 3 parents including myself made-up the garden leadership team. We followed DUG’s handbook that includes guidelines, protocol, and recommendations on how to start a garden. We followed the outlined steps on how to create a strong base of community and support. We reached out to the surrounding community and got buy-in from teachers, administration, HOA, and surrounding neighbors. Samuels started on solid ground because of DUG. We felt the community piece from the beginning. It just worked, we had fun with it. It wasn’t hard because the motivation was already there. It was like, “Okay, we’re here, we’re doing this, we’re rocking it!” It was so much fun all the time. It was always about the families and friendships at Samuels, adults and students alike. 

The After-School Garden Club at Samuels was popular from the get-go. It’s a free club led by adult volunteers that runs for 8 weeks in the fall and 8 weeks in the spring. So many kids signed-up right away. Everyone looks forward to it now.

The kids and parents see me in the hallway and ask when club is starting up again. Garden Club is run by adult leaders who are each assigned to a group of students.

Each group decides together what activities they want to do every week- like worm composting, veggie pickling, and starting seedlings in the greenhouse. We provide snacks of fruits and veggies right as the students come out of school. The only thing we ask of the parents is that they pick up their child afterwards.

Most of the students come to school on the bus, but parents make it work because Garden Club is so important to their kids. It didn’t take long before we were serving 20% of the student body, more than 100 kids. It was incredible to see that amount of activity, engagement, and ownership.

We now have 15 plots dedicated to the students, the DPS Garden-to-Cafeteria Program, and to the food bank. At the beginning of summer, these plots are turned over to the care of the community gardeners who maintain them in the students’ absence. When the students come back in the fall, they do their weekly harvest for the cafeteria, where they come to the garden with their teachers to weigh and collect fresh produce for the school. I’m planning to lead cooking activities for the last time this spring, even though my kids haven’t been at Samuel for a couple of years now.

I just can’t resist gardens club, it’s the best!

What I really love is that Samuels has been a successful vehicle in building community. We have the involvement and support from the school community, neighbors, and the greater district 4 at large.

Having teachers’ support has really bridged the gap between the garden and the school. It’s a constant learning and growing process. We’ve never required anyone to do things a certain way. It’s always been free-flowing with no pressure; a place to be a kid, have fun, learn, and enjoy friendships. I’ve had the opportunity to garden a lot with my dad, which has been personally gratifying. He started an Earth Day tradition with our family in 2008 where we plant trees on Samuels’ campus. My dad has been planting and maintaining our decorative garden beds with native Colorado plants, flowers, bushes, and all of the beautiful and sensory parts of our garden since the beginning. Samuels is a place to learn how to build relationships. I’ll miss the friendships at Samuels the most. There’s a lot of laughter and goofing off all the time. And when you bring sharing food into the picture, it’s even richer and deeper. 

I love the beauty of discovery, where I’m working with children and adults and we’re discovering things together in the garden. I’ve grown as a gardener. I now appreciate nutrition, cooking, and healthy bodies. I’ve realized just how powerful it is to see the magical expression on a child’s face when they pull up a carrot. That’s what has always motivated me- giving that seed-to-table kind of experience to kids. They grow their own food, wash it, chop it, cook it, and eat it. It’s really gratifying.

We’ve been growing our garden every year in some way. During COVID, we installed a garden kitchen with commercial-grade countertops. We use the counterspace to chop and wash veggies, set-up our food donations, and do on-site cooking with the grill there during our Monday night potlucks. Once our kitchen got installed, I felt like the garden was finally complete. I said to myself, “Okay, my work here is done.” Looking back, it was all a collaborative effort. I couldn’t have done it myself; I was only one member of such a strong team. The one piece of advice I’d give to any new garden just starting out would be to build a strong leadership team. You need a big team, the broader the better!”

More Faces of DUG

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The Garden in March

By A Year in the Garden, Education

by Senior Education Specialist Judy Elliot

March can be one of our (hopefully) snowiest months and also provides wide temperature variations, ranging from an average high of 50 – 58 to lows between 24 and 29 degrees. We’ve also had occasional days of 70 degrees, that throw us all off and exacerbate that ‘got to get growing’ fever that is so unique to gardeners!

Not only are days increasing in length, but sun intensity is noticeable. By March, turf is greening, early bulbs such as crocus, small iris, snowdrops and early daffodils are in bloom, early tulips may have emerged, buds on early blooming shrubs such as lilac and forsythia have enlarged, even fruit trees may show signs of bud swelling: and then the next snow descends or we are deluged with weeks of what ‘new arrivals’ may deem ‘abnormal night time temperatures. All of these changes signal the importance of paying attention to tasks that promote healthy soil for season – wide growth.

March is the month of DISCOVERY.

D |Dig into the wealth of information with DUG

Join the DUG network at community.dug.org  to connect with other gardeners on their growing journeys! This platform is meant as a ‘give and take’ with our community offering their advice and posting challenges.

While you’re there, check out our upcoming classes!

I | Investigate the ease of growing some of your transplants indoors under lights 

Using a simple fluorescent light fixture, seed starting mix, timer, ‘cell pack inserts’, bottom tray and humidity dome, you can easily start seeds for later transplanting to the garden

  • Early March: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions
  • Early March: (Use a bottom ‘heat mat” for better germination) Sweet and hot peppers
  • Mid March: Tomatoes, eggplants

S| Simplify your seasonal work by focusing on the importance of soil health

  • Healthy soil leads to healthy crops which leads to healthy people
  • Activate home compost piles, or purchase landscape – based compost for veggie gardens

C | Create a garden plan to optimize garden usage in all seasons

  • Small quantities of cool-season seeds (our spring season for cool – loving crops such as peas and salad crops never seems long enough
  • Small amounts of warm season veggies (tomatoes, squash, peppers, beans) 
  • Replant spring crops in late summer for a fall crop  

O | Organize tools and garden supports for the upcoming season

  • Sharpen shovels and hoes
  • Remove rust with a file, oil wooden handles with linseed oil
  • Disinfect support structures such as tomato ‘cages’ with a solution of 10% bleach or one containing hydrogen peroxide

V | Visit your community garden plot to remove any dead annual crops from the prior year 

  • Set-up pathways within your plot to designate specific areas for ‘feet to be welcome’. Crops don’t appreciate the constant soil compaction of stepping near them to water or cultivate

E | Evaluate your successes & challenges from the prior year

  • Crop rotation for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potato family is essential
  • Consider your time commitment for gardening. It does require us to notice, pause, turn over leaves, (not just cursory watering)
  • Don’t grow what you don’t like to eat and more than you can use

R | Remember the importance and value of  ‘growing in community’

  • Your fellow gardeners are a wealth of knowledge, skills and wisdom
  • Everyone has a skill that touches gardening
  • Share your skill and ask for help when you need it

Easy Garden Tip

Garden Pathways

For a typical 10’ x 15’ garden plot, divide the plot into 6 separate growing areas

  • Each area is about 6’ 6” long x 2’ 6” wide
  • Internal pathways (for feet to walk, cultivate & care for plants) are 2’ wide
  • Bonus: Pathways don’t require compost and can be mulched with straw or burlap bags
  • This provides an easy way to ‘rotate’ crop families

Staff Spotlight: Meet Brittany

By News

Hi there! For those of you I haven’t met yet, I’m Brittany Pimentel, the Equity & Food Access Director here at Denver Urban Gardens (DUG).

Today I’m sharing a bit about myself, the recent shift in my role, as well as the equity work that’s happening behind the scenes at DUG.

I’m a Peruvian-American who from the age of 12 has worked in a smorgasbord of food-related roles, from restaurants and farm fields to nutrition education and food policy realms. Several years ago, while pursuing a master’s degree in international development with a concentration in food security and humanitarian assistance from the University of Denver, I realized what I really wanted to do was become a farmer. 

However, with student loans and lacking resources to land, I decided the next best thing I could do was engage in food systems change at the local level while helping to shift urban agriculture toward food justice and equitable access for all. After volunteering with DUG’s Grow a Garden program for several years, I felt like I scored my dream job when I was hired in 2018 to manage the program. 

Last June, the organization made a formal statement in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement that focused on our commitment to developing internal policies and systems to ensure that our team, our volunteer leaders, and our board of directors represent the communities we serve. We also committed to creating and implementing a framework for organizational transformation centering justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, and ensuring that our entire team is trained in anti-racist work.

As a first step towards that commitment, we recognized that we needed someone on staff committed to driving that work, and I feel honored to be able to serve as DUG’s first Director of Equity. In my new role, I’ll continue to lead our metro-wide Grow a Garden program, public gardening classes, and community partnerships. In addition, I’m working to create and implement a framework for organizational transformation and in the coming months, I’ll be using a Racial Equity Scorecard to assess all of our programming on a six-point scale to better understand where we’re starting from and where we need to prioritize efforts. 

DUG’s work to cultivate gardeners, grow food and nourish community can only be fully realized once we all have equitable access to resources and opportunities.

As we strive toward becoming a community-led, anti-racist organization, community input is ESSENTIAL to our future. That’s why I’m leading the charge to form a Change Committee, made up of garden leaders, program participants, growers, staff, and board members to help guide what this work will look like in the future. 

We’re ready and excited for the work ahead, and plan to check back in with more progress updates. Onward.

Interested in joining us? Connect with me at brittany@dug.org.

Building new skills for a bright future

By Faces of DUG

#19: Meet Kourtnie, first-year gardener at Maxwell Community Garden

“I found out about DUG through my school, where I also work part-time. I’m majoring in Environmental Science, and my advisor encouraged me to get connected. I’m from Louisiana, and we didn’t have access to community gardens there. Since I was young, I’ve had an interest in nature, wildlife, being outdoors, and growing things. It’s always been a part of me. My family had a garden plot for the first time last season at the Jardin de Esperanza Maxwell School Community Garden. I was pregnant with my fourth child at the time, and actually, my daughter was born a week ago!

My ultimate goal is for my family to live on a homestead and grow all our own food.

So before I started, I attended a DUG workshop to extend my knowledge. I was so impressed by all of the speakers and the effort that DUG put into it. Everyone was willing to give and help. Our first season went well, we’ve learned so much already! I met so many new people at Maxwell and loved seeing each of their unique gardening techniques.”

DUG’s To-Grow Box helped us a lot. I was surprised by the large amount and variety of seeds and plants it included. The plant care guide was great for beginners who don’t know where to start. Without DUG’s help, we wouldn’t have been able to grow so much and such a variety.

It’s expensive to buy your own materials. Our garden helped put food on our table and decreased our grocery bills.

My kids love eating fruits and veggies, so I was spending a lot of money at the store. One of the best things we grew were cherry tomatoes. There were so many of them that we had some every day! Our harvests were always plentiful because we planted things at different times throughout the season, allowing us to see continuous growth.

The garden made my kids so happy; they couldn’t wait to go every day! They were continually asking, “Is there something ready for us to go pull?” They loved watering and digging together. They were fascinated by the garden, and as soon as we picked something, we rinsed it right away and they would go to town! My partner helped with all the heavy stuff. He was amazed every time he saw how much our garden had grown. He was on-board with tasting everything and was constantly surprised at how good it all tasted. I loved seeing his reactions! It became a fun thing for our family to do together.

Gardening isn’t too rigorous, it was very relaxing for me. As an added bonus, I was able to keep an eye on all four kids while doing it! Overall, gardening is very satisfying. Our family plans to garden again at Maxwell this season. I want to do an internship with DUG and give back what they have given me through volunteering. 

More Faces of DUG

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August 21, 2020

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February seed-sprouting ideas for kids

By Education

A Special Activity for Kids: Inside a Seed

‘Wear a Bean’

Materials needed:

  • Small plastic ‘ziploc’ sack, the size of a coin envelope (can use smallest size ‘ziploc’ sack if that is all that is available)
  • 2 sheets moistened paper towel, folded in half
  • 1 large lima bean
  • Piece of yarn or string

Process:

  • Place bean on paper towel, fold towel over bean & place in place sack, closing sack.
  • Punch a hole on either side of top of bag, insert yarn or string and tie around the child’s neck for the day, taking off the sack from around the neck each night and leaving flat on a table.
  • Each day, open the sack, remove bean, blow on it to introduce carbon dioxide and replace the ‘bean necklace’ around child’s neck. The warmth of the body stimulates germination.

Notice:

  • Bean increases in size after several days as water is drawn into the seed.
  • Seed coat softens.
  • Using your fingers, carefully scrape off the seed coat & separate the seed halves.
  • It’s fun to notice the first emergence of a baby ‘root’, stem and later, the first seedling leaves.

The Garden in February

By A Year in the Garden, Education

February weather in Denver varies from highs in the 40’s & 50’s to night-time temperatures in the high teens to upper 20’s. The month is variable; almost always windy, with increasing sun intensity interspersed with periods of snow.

I do remember several years ago, however, when nothing was ‘typical’ and periods of almost record high 70-degree temperatures led to swelling of buds on fruit trees, that then of course opened in the midst of the next blast of blessed snow. We learn to expect that the ‘atypical’ is ‘normal’ for Denver.

Mother nature is beginning to awake in the midst of this and bursting forth throughout the month with an array of early bulbs and corms, such as: dwarf iris (Iris reticulata), often the first to show its grass-like leaves in early February, sometimes covered with snow and miraculously blooming; species and the regular crocus; snowdrops; the ‘allium’ (ornamental onion family) and shorter varieties of daffodils, tulips and grape hyacinth. Early spring-blooming shrubs such as lilacs and forsythia will often show noticeable bud swell from the middle to the end of February.

It is so exciting to take a daily walk around the garden, bending down to notice emerging foliage of perennials among still-standing dead, protective stems. Daily changes abound, sometimes covered with a blanket of snow. BEGIN your yearly journey by:

B | Being open to the connection between healthy soil and healthy growth

  • Try and have your garden mimic the landscape of our tall grass prairies, covered with last year’s grass, providing the soil with a natural defense against storm and wind erosion.
  • Be vigilant in reapplying straw, leaf, alfalfa mulch to garden beds.

E | Encouraging birds and beneficial insects to visit your garden 

  • Leave ‘dead’ perennial stalks, such as ornamental grasses, coneflowers, yarrow and others standing as a source of food and habitat.
  • If possible, provide fresh, warm water for birds.
  • Leave a mulch of small twigs and branches on the soil surface to attract ground-nesting bees.

G | Gather with friends and community gardeners virtually to plan for educational events

  • It might be fun for different people to start different seeds indoors. Onions and leeks can be started in early to mid-February and by the end of the month, the first seeds of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower can be sown.
  • In your virtual sessions, share your successes and challenges of the prior season. See them as ‘teachable moments’.
  • Involve children in the whole seed starting process to stimulate a life-long love for the earth and promote healthy eating.

I | Investigate the ‘greening of the garden’, noticing emerging garlic leaves, new growth at the base of mints, oregano and chives

  • If possible, water garlic, bulbs, asparagus, chives, strawberries on days where temperatures are over 45 degrees.

N | Nurture small steps you take to center yourself in the quiet of the garden 

  • Before the frenzy of ‘everything growing at once’, appreciate this time of treasuring the sun, the soil and the bounty it will produce.