Friday, September 7, 2012

Building Soil for a Healthy Harvest

This week MHC garden volunteers pulled together gorgeous harvests for the food pantry and bike cart.  We collected ripe, nearly bursting cherry, Roma, and Green Zebra tomatoes, large red and orange bell peppers, red and green velvety okra, Swiss chard, basil, thyme, and tarragon, cucumbers, and handfuls of banana peppers.
It takes an incredible team of knowledgeable garden volunteers, newbie garden volunteers bursting with energy, youth gardeners full of curiosity, and a community of supporters to make that harvest possible.  It also takes the use of many trusty sustainable gardening techniques to build healthy soil and grow such robust plants.  Over the years, many gardeners have shaped the methods used to make the community gardens so successful.  In today’s blog we’ll talk about the central sustainable gardening technique we use to keep our soil healthy and our harvests bountiful, recycling organic matter from the garden and food pantry to build the soil in the community gardens.
Growing food truly does start with the soil, and the Hub builds garden soil through packing it full of organic matter.  MHC’s most plentiful input of organic matter is hauled by trusty compost volunteers, who mix rotting fruits and veggies from the food pantry with leaves or straw in compost bins and turn it into a rich, organic soil amendment you may know as compost.  Winter and spring compost intern, Jessica Sobocinski, goes into more detail about this process in an earlier bog post.  Check it out for more information.
We also add organic matter directly onto open beds in the form of sheet mulching, also called lasagna gardening.  When sheet mulching we begin with a layer of cardboard or newspaper laid directly on top of the soil.  We then continue layering whatever organic matter we have on hand. Here are some examples of what we might add into a sheet mulched bed in the garden:
  • Leaves
  • Manure donated from a local farmer
  • Compost from our pile
  • Comfrey leaves
  • Rotting fruits and veggies from the food pantry
  • Straw
  • Chopped up plant matter from plants that are finished producing in the garden (ex. old corn stalks)
  • Chopped up garden waste (ex. weeds that aren’t seeding and won’t propagate from their roots)
We let the sheet mulched bed break down until we have a bed full of dark soil ready for planting.
MHC community gardeners recycle all the organic matter we can get our hands on, from the pantry and gardens, whether it be cardboard, paper, vegetable matter, or plant matter, and turn it into healthy and fruitful soil!  We encourage all in the Hub community to do the same, save your vegetable scraps in order to make broth, feed your chickens, sheet mulch your garden or add to your compost.  Recycling organic matter builds soil and is good for the environment and your budget.  Keep up with the MHC blog to learn about more techniques we use to keep our community gardens thriving!

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