18 September 2010

Building and filling a raised bed

We got up early today to pick up compost and to purchase cedar planks and nails. Cedar, which is supposed to be one of the best types of wood for raised beds, is mighty expensive, even though we went to a lumber yard that gave us a decent discount. I decided to avoid Lowe's, but may need to hit them up next time if I can get the lumber substantially cheaper. The money that we'll end up putting into this whole garden project could cause a pretty considerable hit on our small wallets, which is why it makes me so angry that people are still throwing garbage into the lot. I really hope that people will be a little more respectful now that we have constructed our first raised bed.

Yep, I built a raised bed. Well, ok, technically my husband did, but I cleaned out the garbage from the lot, which was once again littered with junk food wrappers, cigarette butts, and empty bottles. (Sometimes I hate Philadelphia.) But the garden is slowly beginning to take shape, and it could be a really amazing addition to the neighborhood.

Our costs (so far):
  • 8 cedar planks, 6' and 4' long, and supports to create one 4' x 6' raised bed - $105
  • 2 40lb bags of top soil - $2.50
  • 1 package of galvanized nails - $4
  • 30 gallons of compost - Free (from Fairmount recycling center)
We only had enough compost and soil to fill 1/3 of the bed, which is about 11" deep. The city recycling center allows you to take 30 gallons of free compost per visit, so I'll need to make a few more trips. Luckily, they also provide free wood mulch, which will come in handy.

The project is progressing--slowly, but surely.

(The raised bed is 6' x 4' and 11" deep. Since the cedar planks were only about 5 1/2" wide, we doubled them up. We added 2" square cedar posts to the corners to serve as supports.)

16 September 2010

Naming the Garden, Testing the Soil

We are almost official! Our soon-to-be community garden now has a logo and name - The Moore St. Family Garden - thanks to Jermaine of Mainstream Entertainment, and a Facebook Page, thanks to Christina, the driving force behind this whole plan.

I also just received the analysis report for soil samples that I sent to the UMass Soil Testing Lab. By some stroke of luck, our lead levels are low. I was sure that the soil would be highly contaminated -- this is Philly, after all. If you're super interested in this type of thing, the soil test results are a pretty fascinating read.

15 September 2010

Cucumber salad

In Polish meals, you don't really see the huge green salad full of veggies so popular in the States. Salads (or "salatkas" - little salads) often comprise just two to three vegetables covered with a dressing of some sort. And in my family, we ate them with, rather than before, a meal. One of my favorites has always been "mizerja," which is a simple cucumber salad. My mom added only thinly-sliced cucumbers and onions and topped it off with a garlic-infused sour cream dressing.

Since I had scant cucumbers to harvest - not nearly enough to pickle - I decided to make my own version of mizerja.

(tiny cukes)

I bastardized it a bit by adding in a few additional veggies I had on hand. This makes a great summer salad, even if summer is finally drawing to a close.

My version of mizerja
  • Thinly sliced cucumbers (I used a combo of fresh pickling and slicing cukes, but I sliced them too thick)
  • Chopped green onions
  • Chopped garlic scapes (the shoots that grow out of recently-planted garlic cloves)
  • Sliced tomatoes
For the dressing:
  • sour cream (or buttermilk)
  • Minced garlic to taste
  • salt and pepper
The rest is pretty simple. Mix together dressing ingredients and pour on top of veggies. Couldn't be easier!

This blog post is part of Simple Lives Thursday.

05 September 2010

The Genesis of a Community Garden

A little over a month ago, I checked a local urban garden forum and saw a post from a woman seeking others to start a community garden in South Philadelphia. She set her sights on an overgrown lot owned by the city, which cleared out the tall weeds and gave her permission to use it gratis (until someone decides to buy it, anyway). I contacted her, and she immediately responded, asking if I would like to see the lot, which is about 7 blocks from my house.

The lot is a nice size -- I'd estimate 30' x 60' or so -- but, as most abandoned properties in Philadelphia, it was neglected and overrun with garbage. This weekend, she and I, along with several neighbors who also want to contribute to the garden, began clearing out the trash that littered the entire area. I also collected samples to send for heavy metal testing. I'd be surprised if there wasn't significant lead contamination, especially since the site once functioned as a parking lot and since we found 2 of these lovely canisters, labeled "test specimen."

(This does not bode well for the quality of the soil)

We'll construct raised beds, and the soil tests will give us a guideline about how deep they should be. I'm shooting for 18-24" if lead is a significant factor. We've also agreed to grow organically and to draft bylaws.

I'll post more as we get this garden started -- I really hope it all works out, as I'd love to have more room to grow vegetables. If you've been reading this blog, you know I have a container garden on my tiny cemented backyard (see here, here, or here). It does well, but I don't get the output that I'd like. Hopefully, by this time next year, I'll be posting pictures of bountiful tomato plants and runner beans. Until then, here are some photos of the lot in progress.

(The lot, after the city cleared out overgrowth. It's still full of wrappers, plastic detritus, broken glass, and other sundry items)

(Close-up of some of the garbage.)

(A pile comprising the cinder blocks, rocks, and stones that littered the lot. We're trying to determine whether these might be safe to line the raised beds. You can also see at least 5 garbage bags - although we had more - full of the trash that we spent 3 hours collecting.)

(It took 3 people to pull out a giant cast-iron beam embedded in the soil. We hope to sell it and put the profits into the garden.)

(Although you can't see them in this photo, scores of roaches and other insects quickly scattered once the beam was turned over. It was a pretty horrifying sight.)

(The roots of a long-dead tree.)