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Re: good community garden book? (and compost ?)

  • Subject: [cg] Re: good community garden book? (and compost ?)
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2002 17:28:51 -0800 (PST)

Hi, Rex,

Congratulations! Good questions. In reverse order -

> 2. anyone have estimated cubic yards of compost for
> each 1000 sqft of new 
> beds? I am working on old compacted soil of slightly
> on the clay side of the 
> soil spectrum.

Yep, clay. Got plenty of that in North Carolina. What
color is it?

There are 3 good answers to your question. The
simplest is get all the good compost you can. Plus
rotted manure, leaf mold, and any other organic matter
you can lay hands on.

More specifically, for clay soils, NC State recommends
11 yd3 of compost per 1000 ft2 to make a lasting and
noticeable improvement in tilth. This translates to
between 11 and 22 pickup loads, depending on how good
your shocks are and how much they'll load. Our county
compost yard has a 15 yd3 truck for $40 a load, which
I can sometimes beg from our saintly compost and
recycling manager Ann Gill, given a good cause like a
community garden. Sounds like a lot, but that's only 3
in or so to cover the soil. Dig or till that in to at
least 6 - 8 inches. I like to use a version of 'double
digging' as described by John Seymore (he calls it
'bastard trenching') or John Jeavons, though I use a
pick for the 'under' dig the first time round.

There are people who swear by 'no-till' techniques,
but that's a separate discussion. When you are
starting a vegetable garden, I suggest you dig the
compost in, from my experience.

Last option is to stretch things as much as you can by
putting compost only where you need it. Figure out
where your paths and common areas are, and don't put
compost there. Use cheaper (usually free) deep mulch
instead in those places. As a rule of thumb, go for
3-4 inches of compost wherever you need it.

I also suggest doing a soil test. Do a 'standard' test
to see what your pH (acid/base level) is (you may want
to add limestone if that's an acidic clay soil), and
ideally do a biological test, too. Does Dr. Elaine
Ingham have a special community garden rate yet? (I
like her site: www.soilfoodweb.com). Local cooperative
extension may be able to help - find a sympathetic
extension agent or master gardener.

Last suggestion, hopefully an easy one, is to toss
down a cover crop on any bare spots. It is a bit late,
but down here in the south we can still loss out
annual ryegrass. Cover crops protect and build soil.

Time spent on your soil will handsomely pay off in
healthier and more bountiful crops. Besides, it&#3to
buildwardship in action.
> I just received funding tobuild a community garden
> at my school and I have a 
> few questions.
> 1. Is their a good resource book for design the
> layout of a community 
> garden/ or do I just have to peice one together
> using 3-4 books? (one on 
> irrigation, one on plants, one on raised beds, one
> on fence building)?

In addition to the books folks have mentioned - I
agree that Betsy Johnson's book from Boston is a gem -
I suggest a getting a specific book on irrigation, or,
better, seeking out a local organic farmer or master
gardener. Robert Kourik and Hendrix and Straw both
have both written helpful irrigation books, but they
don't really apply directly to community gardens.
Something that's just coming up is rain 'harvesting',
you might want to look into that, too - we are here,
after last summer's drought. Remember the drought?

On raised beds, just remember you don't need to make
'boxes' for the soil out of wood. Simply mounding the
soil is all you need (scrape that valuable topsoil
from your paths onto each bed). If you want to
'outline' the beds, rubble, rocks or adobe clay bricks
are a much less expensive alternative. Whatever you
do, avoid poisoned wood (CCA 'pressure treated
lumber') for lining beds, no matter what poobah wants
to donate it. Build a deck or shed out of it instead,
if you have to. My favorite garden design story is in
Karen Payne and Debbie Fryman's 'Cultivating
Community', available from ACGA - I'd add that to the
booklist. It tells how David Hawkins and the kids at
Martin Luther King accessibility in Berkeley, CA,
formed beds in their garden by holding hands to create
organic shapes.

There are important cg accessability questions, true.
It is a very good idea to build some beds that are
truly 'raised' (table height) and on good paths, so
people in wheelchairs and those who can't bend can
garden. To make high beds, I like concrete block -
there was a nice post and website on this a couple
weeks ago, no?

Seedfolks, btw, is an engaging little book. Both
Fleishmans, son and dad, are fine writers. On the
other hand, I like reading about gardeners in their
own words. We'll have a book coming out with the
stories (and recipes) of Charlotte's community
gardeners early next year, I'll keep you all posted.
Meanwhile, keep a journal, and encourage your
gardeners to tell their stories.

I've gone on too long, as usual. The ice storm just
smacked us silly, large parts of Charlotte are still
without power. It was death to Bradford pears,
especially. I'm no Bradford fan, but I still ended up
with a yard full of limbs to cut and haul from our elm
and a couple of beech trees. Ugly, after all that
pretty sparkly ice.

Good luck with your garden,

Don Boekelheide
Charlotte, NC 

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