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Denver Urban Gardens

Volunteer Spotlight: Jack Franssen

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By Lauren Christensen, Denver Urban Gardens Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator

The beautiful Place Bridge Academy Community GardenAs the 2014 garden season comes to a close, we shine the volunteer spotlight on Jack Franssen, Master Community Gardener and garden leader at Place Bridge Academy Community Garden. In addition to taking on these roles, Jack also volunteers with our Free Seeds & Transplants program, one year famously delivering seeds to over ten distribution centers when a few other volunteers were unable to attend delivery day. His enthusiastic efforts ensured that hundreds of people received their seeds on time! 

Jack began his journey with Denver Urban Gardens at the Beeler Street Community Garden, after he was encouraged to contact the garden leader there as he searched for volunteer opportunities. While gardening at Beeler, he met a gentleman wanting to start a new community garden, and, together, they worked with others in the community to start the garden that would become Place Bridge Academy Community Garden.

What Jack enjoys about being involved with Denver Urban Gardens is the idea of people learning to help themselves, as well as helping their neighbors. He loves getting to know new people and different cultures, and claims that many of the people he meets are better gardeners than he is (we doubt that, Jack!).

Jack also enjoys his Master Community Gardener presentations, saying that even though they sometimes wind up being about something different than he expected going into the presentation, he likes seeing how people respond to what he has to say, and has a water conservation presentation that he is especially proud of.

At DUG, we appreciate Jack because he is always willing to lend a helping hand and takes extra steps to make things run smoothly, such as meeting Dusty Martin, DUG’s Construction Manager, on site in the event of a water break at Place Bridge Academy Community Garden, with the area around the break already dug up, making the repair easier and faster. Jack also takes the time to attend many of our Garden Leader Round Tables to share his wealth of knowledge and experience with other garden leaders.

DUG appreciates Jack, and volunteers like him, who allow us to sustain and continue our work with the community!

Interested in learning more about volunteering with DUG? Click here!

Back to The Underground News: Fall 2013

Garden Leader Spotlight: Carol Trueblood

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By Emily Frost, Denver Urban Gardens Events and Garden Leader Coordinator

The Bradley Garden Club!When Carol Trueblood retired, she thought long and hard about how to spend her newfound time. Her firm belief in “giving back” prompted her to consider joining the Peace Corps, but then she realized that she didn’t need to go around the world to help; she could stay here in Denver and still do a world of good. And that’s when she found Denver Urban Gardens.

Since then, this Garden Leader, Master Community Gardener, and Connecting Generations Mentor has become one of DUG’s biggest advocates, not to mention one of our favorite volunteers. 

Carol’s leadership style has always been all about inclusion and learning together. Her original passion was flower gardening, but once she heard rumors about a community garden cropping up at nearby Bradley Elementary, she started making calls to see how she could get a plot. Someone told her that they needed a garden leader. Carol was supposed to be the helper, but that role quickly shifted into garden leader, and Carol poured her passion into creating a close-knit community at the Heather Reagan Memorial Community Garden at Bradley Elementary School.

Carol describes herself as an introvert, but nobody could ever mistake her for being shy. “When I first became garden leader, I went around introducing myself to everyone I saw in the garden. I said: ‘Hi, I’m Carol! I’m your garden leader and I’ve never grown a vegetable in my life!’ I really wanted everyone to know that we were all in this to learn and grow together.”

When the garden first opened, Carol got the students involved through initiating DUG’s Connecting Generations volunteer program at Bradley, enlisting fellow neighborhood retirees to assist teachers both in and out of the classroom as they shared gardening with a new generation of avid learners. Connecting Generations strives to: strengthen school-based programming around gardens; support teachers and increase use of the gardens year-round; support school science curriculum and improve academic achievement; improve the health and well-being of both the children and older adults while increasing fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity; and strengthen social networks in the school community. When Connecting Generations first started at Bradley Elementary, there were only eight kids who joined Carol and her fellow volunteers for an after school garden club. Undaunted by the small number of interested youth, the Connecting Generations Mentors and collaborating teachers poured all they had into those kids and the garden club. The next year, the garden club had 20 students and a wait list. Meanwhile, the community garden at Bradley now boasts a deeply committed and involved steering committee of many leaders from both community and school, collaborating to make the garden a welcoming and educational space for everyone.

Carol’s enthusiasm for working with kids is obvious, as she excitedly shares one of the things that she loves the most: the way that children just love working with tools. “They like the wheelbarrows, they like the shovels, they like the hoses. They’re just so cute!”

Prompted by her sister, who is a master gardener on the west coast, Carol applied and was accepted into DUG’s Master Community Gardening class, which she credits as being one of the most helpful programs that DUG offers. “You learn not just about gardening, but about people.”

When asked about her experience as a community garden leader, Carol shared a story about how, in their enthusiasm to help out, some of the students pulled out all of her carrots when they were “weeding”. She arrived to find the little carrots strewn and shriveling in rows in her plot. And she had to laugh it off, and decide to plant again. In light of this and other live-and-learn-in-the-garden experiences, Carol offers some words of wisdom on community garden management: “I’m pretty laid back about the garden. There are other gardeners who think that it’s ‘too loose’, but it’s a community garden. And if there is a way to involve the kids, I do it. I really believe that the kids should feel that the garden is theirs.”

“One of the best days of my life was last summer. It was during recess. One little girl, about 8 years old, came up to the other side of the fence and she looked through and said “Can I come into the garden, please?” And I said that she had to ask her teacher but if her teacher said yes, then that would be fine and she said ‘It just looks so beautiful, and so peaceful.’ These kids really get it–they truly understand it.”

DUG is so grateful to Carol and all of our wonderful volunteers, whether they be Garden Leaders, Master Community Gardeners, or Connecting Generations Volunteers (or, like Carol, all three!) To learn more about these programs and how you might get involved, click below.

Connecting Generations Mentor Program 

Master Community Gardener Training Program

Back to The Underground News: Fall 2013

The Five Hundred Year Flood

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By Faatma Mehrmanesh, DeLaney Community Farm Operations Coordinator

Things we learned in the year of the five hundred year flood:

We grew food! We built new bridges, we practiced patience, we learned about ourselves and how to care for one another in crisis, we survived, we made mistakes, we fixed things, we found gifts in unlikely places, we re-learned the value of community and we give reverence and praise to Mother Nature.

Be careful what you wish for (you just might get it).

People are unconditionally kind.

Everything on the farm is a metaphor for life.   

You get what you get and you don’t have a fit.

Abundance has very little (absolutely nothing) to do with control.  

Early in the season we were so excited to get started early! As many Colorado natives or long time residents know, there is no “norm” in our seasons. Sometimes you get spring rain, sometimes you get spring snow, but we were ill prepared for a mild winter and a very late frost. It’s hard to be prepared in a constant state of unpredictability! The late frost and then quick warm up put some nasty cracks in our main water line, pushing back our start date for planting.

And then, rain it did. We had a nice wet season throughout and the plants (and weeds) were loving it! Even though we were battling weeds and spent most of the season catching up to the initial setbacks, the food was abundant. We covered everything up with floating row cover to keep those pesky flea beetles at bay and were proud of ourselves. Some things were late and some things were missing but what we had was beautiful and nourishing us.  

At one point in the season I just decided it would be my personal job to harvest the kale because it could be a painstaking task to cut back and bunch 140 bunches at 15 leaves a bunch of kale first thing on a Monday morning. There were so many weeds and so many mosquitos and there was So. Much. Kale. The food that we planted on purpose was thriving… in spite of our need for perfect neat rows. Our aesthetic was challenged by bindweed, thistle, purslane, amaranth and a lovely little plant that we decided to call “the Devil” (Buffalo Burr). We had to lean into the reality that in spite of the seeming visual chaos, the plants we cared for were thriving and abundant and it all seemed beyond our control.

and then…

When the flash flood warnings were showing up, we like many, imagined the same hard, quick and gone rains that we get a lot. Our farm sits in a little valley of sorts where two creeks meet and when footage of flooding in Aurora was being shown online and on the news, panic set in. I called everyone and told them to stay home while it was raining and we all showed up for work Friday morning to assess the damage. Almost all of the fields had standing water in them and more rain was expected. We walked the fields, some of us holding back tears and all of us telling each other that it could be worse. Rain, rain, rain and more rain. I sat at home in a nail biting state of anxiety. All our Saturday events were cancelled and I headed out to do another assessment. Hail. Hail plus floods equals bad news. Sad news. Knowing then it was time to come together to save what we could and call it a wrap, we asked for help. Shareholders, staff, friends of DUG, and people unrelated to DUG and DeLaney until then, came out to help us pull food out of the fields that was in danger of rotting. It was muddy, overwhelming and exhausting and I was in awe of everyone’s willingness to help in any way they could. A lot was lost and a lot was saved… and even though we had a shortened 16 weeks of harvest instead of our usual 18 weeks plus an additional gleaning week, our current estimations show that we grew more than 28,000 pounds of food.

Beyond the food, community and crisis taught us all a lot. Farmers from everywhere called, emailed and checked in with one another to see how they could help. Everyone sent their volunteers to us. As a team on the farm we cared for each other, allowed ourselves to feel, made sure we rested and ate, thought a lot about all of the farms and homes that were ravaged and considered ourselves lucky and grateful. The phrase “When it rains, it pours” will never be used lightly ever again. The folks who work for Aurora Parks and Open Space are our heroes. We are lucky to be able to do it again next year. Our shareholder members are our heroes. Our community partner organizations are our heroes.

It’s October now and we are still picking and shucking Black Turtle Beans in the mud (please come join us!) while simultaneously putting the farm to bed (in the mud). The season always goes by too fast and at the same I think we’re all ready to go inside. As always at this time of year, I’m ready to tackle the stack of books waiting for me, write a couple dozen thank you cards, oversleep on the weekends and reflect on how to be a better farmer next season.

Always learning and giving thanks,

Faatma

Back to The Underground News: Fall 2013

Hands-on Education in the Garden and in the Classroom

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By Shawnee Adelson, Denver Urban Gardens Youth Education Facilitator

Are you interested in how to use the garden as an educational tool? Have you looked at DUG’s School Garden and Nutrition Curriculum?

This curriculum is current, relevant and extremely well-done. Every elementary school garden team leader should review DUG’s site. – Edible Schoolyard

The seasonal approach of our curriculum bridges gardening, nutrition and science using standards-aligned lessons for the elementary school classroom and garden. Most lessons are one hour and include a healthy, kid-tested recipe that is appropriate for the classroom, topic and season. All of our lessons are available for free to download from our website along with many other supporting documents that cover everything from Integrated Pest Management to Classroom Management Tips. With over 30 lessons to choose from, it may be hard to know where to start. Our list of Key Lessons highlights some of our favorite and most relevant lessons.

Making spring rolls at the August Helping Kids Get Healthy WorkshopEach lesson includes the applicable Colorado Academic Standards in science and comprehensive health with suggested extensions and modifications. Many of the extensions and modifications include how other disciplines may be integrated into the lesson. Literacy standards are a primary focus for many struggling schools and many of our lessons include a writing component. DUG’s education team will be spending some time over the slow winter months to align our lessons to the applicable literacy standards. We also provide suggestions for interdisciplinary extensions, including ideas for math, art and social studies.

The beauty of the curriculum is how adaptable it is to different age groups, populations and settings. Educators who participated in our Helping Kids Get Healthy Educator Workshops in 2012 reported adapting the lessons for four year olds, kindergarteners, middle and high school students and adults. Some shortened the lessons or modified the supplies. And some even took sections of various lessons to create their own lessons.

Our curriculum has made its way around the state and the country as a basis for other programs’ curriculum. The Garden Coordinator for Alamosa Community Gardens participated in one of our Educator Workshops and from there created a fourth grade curriculum to use in their school gardens. The state of Kansas used six of DUG’s core lessons to create their own family gardening curriculum for their SNAP-Ed program. We are thrilled that others find value in a resource we have spent many years developing and refining. 

Judy Elliott (a.k.a. Jungle Judy) developed many of these lessons at Fairview Elementary School, where she has been teaching nutrition and gardening to Don Diehl’s fifth grade class for over ten years. Sara Gunderson, who teaches the DUG curriculum in four fifth grade classrooms at Swansea Elementary. This year we are piloting a new approach to expand our reach to schools who have shown interest in having an outside educator come into their classroom to teach about nutrition and gardening. Four Connecting Generations volunteer mentors will be teaching twelve DUG lessons in classrooms at Johnson Elementary and Maxwell Elementary. The University of Colorado Denver’s Integrated Nutrition Education Program (INEP) provides funding for our in classroom efforts.

To provide more support for educators who wish to use the curriculum, DUG offers the Helping Kids Get Healthy Educator Workshops. Held six times a year, these workshops are based on the curriculum and are designed for teachers and volunteers who work in youth education programs that focus on nutrition and gardening. Each workshop focuses on at least one seasonally appropriate lesson, a compatible and kid-friendly snack and hints and tips from seasoned our educators. Our next workshop is November 7th and will cover worm composting in the classroom and Fat Sandwiches. Click here for more information and how to register for the upcoming workshop.

Back to The Underground News: Fall 2013 

Welcome to the Garden of Saints at Jefferson High School

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By Shannon Spurlock, Denver Urban Gardens Community Initiatives Coordinator

This past September, Steve Schulz, a Chemistry and Environmental Science teacher at Jefferson High School in Edgewater, CO described, in his words, a momentous day during the garden’s first harvest:

For the first time in District history, our high school students have started to feed themselves. My Environmental Science students harvested about 80 pounds of vegetables and fruits from the garden that are now being served in the school lunches.

Momentous was a very fitting word to describe an event that was more than five years in the making.

Back in 2007, Schulz had reached out to Denver Urban Gardens to explore the idea of partnering with the Jeffco Public School District and Jefferson High School to host a school-based community garden. Since then, there have been several planning and design processes, as well as the very intricate process of working through the details of establishing the first community garden on school grounds in Jeffco Public Schools.

To bring the high school’s vision to fruition, a myriad of partners representing multiple sectors and organizations came together at each step along the way. With the support of Jeffco Facilities, Jefferson High School Principal Mike Little, and LiveWell Wheat Ridge, Schulz was able to move the process forward and begin to engage surrounding businesses, service providers, schools and community members in exploring the potential of a community garden in their community.

One key partner, Lumberg Elementary, was fortuitously located across the street from the Jefferson High garden site, and offered a unique opportunity for high school students to mentor younger children. Lumberg’s Parent Liaison, Angela Bennett, worked with the parent group to host on-site garden-based educational programs and engage the parents in growing their own food. Edlyn Rodriguez, Jefferson’s Parent Liaison, also reached out to parents and helped get the word out about the community garden and its role in bridging the school community with the surrounding neighborhood.

With so much outreach and active community engagement, it was important to remain focused on the direct benefits of having a community garden on school grounds. From the very beginning, Schulz emphasized the importance of student involvement and integrating the garden into their daily lives. He sought to use the produce the students grew and infuse it into the cafeteria. Through hard work and ongoing dedication, he worked with Jeffco Public Schools to have Jefferson High School be one of four district schools to implement a program known as garden to cafeteria, whereby the produce grown by the students is used in school meals.

What took more than five years to put in place now has the opportunity to create lasting change at the school and neighborhood level. The hard work put in by Schulz, his students and both schools, along with the participating residents and community partners will encourage this community’s youth to become their own change makers and help create a healthier, more connected community for Jefferson High School and the City of Edgewater.

Back to The Underground News: Fall 2013

October’s Volunteer Opportunities

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Though the garden season is winding down, opportunities to volunteer remain plentiful! Join Denver Urban Gardens for these volunteer opportunities:

Curtis Park Community Garden Work Day
Curtis Park Community Garden is hosting a work day on October 26th from 10:00am – 12:00pm to wrap up the gardening season! Activities will include general garden maintenance and clean-up. Curtis Park Community Garden is located at 29th and Curtis and you can sign up for this opportunity here

General questions about volunteering? Contact us here!

Community Garden Volunteer Opportunities

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Wanting to join a community garden, but want to see what it’s like first? Just wanting to get your hands in the dirt for a day? These upcoming community garden work days are perfect opportunities for both and are in need of volunteers willing to lend a helping hand:

Blue Spruce Community Garden
Join Blue Spruce Community Garden as they tidy up their garden on Saturday, September 7th at 10:00am! The day’s activities will include pulling weeds and pruning trees. The garden is located at 8725 E. 25th Avenue in Aurora and you can sign up to be a part of the work day here. Volunteer spots for this day are full! 

Ruby Hill Community Garden
Join the gardeners at Ruby Hill Community Garden, in partnership with All At Once, on Saturday, September 14th at 8:30am, for a work day that will include mulching, weeding and planting shrubs. Volunteers taking part in this work day have a chance to win a door prize of two tickets to the upcoming sold out Jack Johnson show! The Ruby Hill Community Garden is located at the corner of South Pecos Street and West Mexico Avenue. Sign up to be a part of the work day here!

Volunteer Spotlight: Pamela Flowers

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By Lauren Christensen, Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator

April showers bring Pamela Flowers, this edition’s volunteer spotlight, to the garden. As a Master Community Gardener, as well as a member of this year’s Master Composter program, Flowers volunteers with DUG on several levels and does it all with a smile. In addition to being involved through these channels, Pamela divides her time between being a garden leader at Cheltenham School Community Garden, where she is working with the other garden leaders towards creating a plot dedicated to food donation, and volunteering at Fairview Elementary School, where she teaches fifth graders about eating healthier food, nutrition and gardening. She states that it’s amazing to see the students at Fairview change throughout the program, from having no interest and not wanting to try new foods, to becoming more focused students, who are now excited to try new foods and ask amazing questions about the process of gardening. Pamela truly enjoys working with these students, investing the time to get to know them and their interests.

Pamela’s involvement with DUG began before she even lived in Denver. She said that she had been looking for a similar organization in Baltimore, her former home, for ten years, and when she found the DUG website prior to moving, she knew she had to be involved. Flowers loves being a part of DUG because she knows she is doing important work that impacts people’s lives in a positive way, such as helping someone obtain access to healthy food or find a community to be a part of. Flowers says that if she can help just one person become a little bit healthier, all of her effort will be worth it. She adds that helping people find the joy in gardening and touching the earth is another benefit, as she believes that doing so has a positive impact on one’s all around health. Pamela encourages everyone to get involved with DUG! 

To learn more about volunteering with Denver Urban Gardens, click here

Back to The Underground News: Spring 2013

Planting Peace

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By Emily Frost, Events and Garden Leader Coordinator

How do you heal a community devastated by violence? If you are Ana and James Chavez, you do it by reclaiming wasted land, connecting searching youth with a past to be proud of, and getting your hands dirty. This is a redemption story.  

Ana and James lost their teenage son Troy to gang violence. Troy Chavez was one of 108 children in Denver and the surrounding areas who was a victim of violence between 1992 and 1994- the summer of 1993 is actually known locally as the “Summer of Violence.” Ana and James wanted to change the trajectory of hopelessness that they saw in the youth in their neighborhood, to provide them with a different path, as their son Troy had tried to do himself. They started with peace marches in the community, calling for an end to the violence as they carried crosses bearing the names of the 108 children who were victims of violence on their backs throughout the neighborhood. This gained widespread community attention, and neighbors and fellow families of survivors and victims alike soon drew together to create something more permanent. Ultimately, the community decided to construct a memorial, and in so doing create lasting means of engaging community, honoring the memories of the young victims, and providing children an opportunity to choose a different path. A community garden concept was born. 

Leprino Foods offered the space on the corner of 38th and Shoshone. They used to have a greenhouse on site, but a fire had ravaged the building and left an unsightly vacant lot that became a popular drug haven. Ana and the community were feeling overwhelmed by the amount of space. It was about that time that Michael and David (then Co-Executive Directors) of Denver Urban Gardens got involved. They had heard about the good community organizing Ana was doing and offered to help. At first, the community members were uncertain about bringing in outsiders to help accomplish their goals, but when DUG made it clear they were committed to helping and supporting the community vision and had no desire to run the project or tell folks how to do it, the project moved forward. 

Ana says that community members were very interested and engaged in the project because this community, largely of Mexican ancestry, were people who came from a farm working background, and who have always been connected with the earth. There was a shared belief in the importance of connection to the earth, as well as a growing desire to reconnect children with the earth and with their history. The community decided to call the garden “The Troy Chavez Memorial Peace Garden,” but the garden itself is dedicated to all children who are victims of violence. Ana notes poignantly that “Somehow, if you don’t have a past, all you have is a future, and it makes it a difficult journey. So we decided to go back to the past to reconnect our people to the earth and what is important.”

“When I say ‘our people’ and ‘our ancestors’, I mean the Aztecs, Mayans, and Toltecs. We started teaching that we are not foreigners to this land. We are not immigrants to this country. We are indigenous people. And teaching this sparked a pride in the community, because we’re always told we’re not from here, but we are. So when we started telling people about the garden and the vision of the garden, the youth themselves decided they wanted to build a miniature Aztec ball court.  It’s the first thing that you see when you walk into the garden.” It is a testament to the ownership these young people have taken over the garden, as are the tiles that the youth drew of their hopes for their future.  

“All these kids, they only see their own city block. They don’t think of growing or becoming a bigger person, because they think it’s all they have, this is all that there is for them.” So Ana takes kids on perspective-expanding, out-of-city adventures. The youth work towards these different trips by volunteering. For example, after volunteering to plant trees to restore vulnerable forest areas, Ana and James took the youth to Rocky Mountain National Park on a camping trip. They go skiing, river rafting, horseback riding, and do a variety of different activities with the kids to introduce them to a broader life than the one that they presently have. They are working toward changing the mindset of these youth, which often doesn’t extend beyond what life might look like if they make it to 21 years of age. Ana shared that one hard reality to swallow came when she asked the youth to design memorial tiles to decorate the garden, to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up. None of the tiles extended past young twenties–a snapshot into the mentality of these youth who expect to die young. But Ana, and the garden, are changing that.  

The garden is really important because it touches so many people. We get kids from La Escuela Tlatelolco, Denver Kids, Servicio de la Raza, local daycares, and juvenile diversion programs. We also work with an organization called Peer One, in which incarcerated men come help in the garden. People are drawn to this garden because when you walk into this space, you feel something there… this community garden is all about fighting violence with peace.”

This summer, you can support the Troy Chavez Peace Memorial Garden by partaking in the youth run markets. Keep an eye out on the DUG website for dates and times. To learn more about how you or your organization can get involved in the programs at Peace Community Garden, please contact us

Back to The Underground News: Spring 2013

Planning for optimum garden health

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By Judy Elliott, Education and Community Empowerment Coordinator

Planting at the Fairview Community GardenAs community gardeners, we naturally join together to commune, share and listen, thriving as we learn different strategies for growing our plants and ourselves. We do well as we contemplate mixed plantings, utilizing herbs and flowers to attract beneficial pollinators, reveling in the endless array of culinary masterpieces that can be created from several tiny seeds. Although our Stage 2 drought may be thought of as a reason to dampen our enthusiasm, I prefer to see it as yet another teaching tool that expands my horizons and ways of viewing gardening.

Devote time to planning that allows: season–wide productivity, essential soil preparation, planting smaller quantities of vegetables at the optimum time for their health, correct watering techniques, cultivation of the soil on a regular basis, mulching exposed soil surfaces, an evolving knowledge of specific insects and diseases that impact different crops, prompt harvesting and most of all, viewing your garden as a peaceful oasis.

Soil Preparation: DUG recommends that all gardeners get to know their soil, whether a heavy clay–based or sandy medium. Divide your plot prior to amending it with landscape–based compost, into several internal beds, each with walkways between the fixed growing areas. This not only welcomes feet into the garden, but also limits the areas that require watering (and also the possibilities for weed proliferation). Amend only the growing areas, and thoroughly mix around an inch of compost into the top three to four inches of soil, using a hoe to break up larger soil clumps until they form small aggregates. Do not work your soil when it is wet, as it will dry to the consistency of adobe brick.

Choosing Veggies: Make 2013 the year of quality, not quantity, when it comes to the veggies you plant. Cool season seeds, such as lettuce, arugula, mustard, spinach, radish, peas, beets, carrots, green onions, and herbs such as parsley, dill and cilantro can be planted in small quantities, using the succession planting method, after you have prepared your soil. In this method, ten or so seeds of preferred crops listed above are planted at one – week intervals until the middle of May, to assure a staggered maturity. As crops decrease in productivity, they should be removed, chopped up and put in the compost pile. It is preferable to leave sufficient space in each of your beds (within the larger plot) for warm and hot season vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, peppers, squash, and cucumbers. Plan on only growing a few tomatoes, one or two squash plants, and staggered plantings of cucumbers. Cool season veggies and herbs benefit greatly from adding calendula and bachelor buttons to different areas, to attract beneficial pollinator insects.

Correct watering, cultivating and mulching: DUG recommends that gardeners cultivate the soil around all plants prior to watering. With light cultivation, emerging weeds are broken off at the soil surface and can be left as a surface mulch. Bare soil leads to soil compaction, making it difficult for roots to penetrate deeply to withstand the effects of drought. Use a screwdriver, branch or your finger to assess whether plants need water. Insert your tool of choice about four inches into the soil, and if it has moist particles of soil adhering to it when you remove it, you can wait several days before watering. It is essential to water only at root level, keeping the water flow on low, so as to not erode the soil or disturb young stems or germinating seeds. Plants with hairy leaves, such as tomatoes, squash, pumpkins and cucumbers will resist mid and late season diseases much better when you do no overhead watering. Mulched soil retains water well, extends the growing season for both cool season crops, and provides a more moderate soil temperature for warm weather crops. As mulch decomposes, it stimulates the growth of beneficial microorganisms and increases organic matter, which is typically low in Colorado soils.

Insects and Diseases: Carry insect guides with you in the garden to correctly identify all stages of insects, whether they be the early season flea beetles, producing shotgun type holes in foliage, masses of aphids, producing curled growth, or the white cabbage butterfly, laying eggs on members of the broccoli family. Books such as: Pests of the West, by Whitney Cranshaw, or Rodale’s Color Handbook of Garden Insects, by Anna Carr, are invaluable. Communicate regularly with community gardeners who may have developed unique methods of pest and disease control.

Gardens as peaceful gathering places: A well maintained garden is far more than a bounty of produce. It stimulates our senses and encourages a certain slowing down as we work on communal tasks, develop strong friendships with the network of other dirt lovers and, perhaps most of all needs our nurturing. The 2013 year of using less water may turn out to be the year of planting deep roots that expand our notion of what is possible, of leaping into uncharted waters knowing that our fellow gardeners will help us along the way, of appreciating more and seeing the beauty in every leaf and flower. Plant less, grow more. 

Back to The Underground News: Spring 2013