February 19, 2010

Urban Gardeners Set Sights On Spring

by Nate Rafn

2009 was a year that saw the expansion of gardening efforts throughout the Willamette Valley. By spring, the economic recession was well underway. And with a cloud of uncertainty hovering overhead, forward-thinking gardeners, farmers, and nurseries adapted to the situation.

For farmers, seedlings and vegetable-starts proved to be a valuable crop, as consumers attempted to grow some of their own food at home. Popular plants included tomatoes, squash, and lettuce.

Likewise, nurseries stocked up on supplies, like garden tools, pots, soil, seeds and seedlings. And again, consumers responded.

Meanwhile, many experienced home-gardeners focused on efficiency- installing rain catchment systems, saving seeds, composting, planting in succession, and preserving or sharing the surplus.

By most accounts, the 2009 growing season was an overall success.

Marion-Polk Food Share's sustainable community gardens program helped grow 100,000 lbs. of fresh produce for area food pantries. In fact, while working with volunteers at the Oregon School for the Deaf garden, community garden coordinator Jordan Blake referred to 2009 as "the year of the garden." In addition, the prospect of keeping chickens within Salem city limits has only increased enthusiasm for self-sufficiency.

And with a new growing season just ahead (and an unemployment rate still hovering near 10 percent) these trends are not likely to change.

Planning meetings and work parties are already taking place at Marion-Polk Food Share and in the gardens they take part in. The Southeast Salem Neighborhood Garden hosts work parties every other Saturday, attracting Food Share staff and numerous volunteers from inside and outside the neighborhood. Tasks include spreading composted soil, digging weeds, and constructing raised beds. Rain barrels were installed late last spring, making 2010 the first full year of their use. That said, expenses for water are likely to fall.

McKinley Elementary School in Salem is slated for an urban agricultural revolution of its own. School principal, Annie Morton, is working with faculty, parents, students, and community partners on developing a school garden.

"The garden is an educational tool as well as a way to build awareness about where our food comes from," says Morton, an avid gardener herself.

Gardeners and farmers in the Willamette Valley tend to plant their first seeds in February or March, using greenhouses and cold frames as protection from the frost. Starting certain varieties early can give you a big jump on the season.

Broccoli, kale, lettuce, orach, leek, parsnip, potato, spinach and cabbage are examples of vegetables that can be direct planted in the beginning of the season or started indoors.

Tips for successful urban food-production
Work with neighbors- share seeds, tools, harvest, etc.
Save on water by installing rain barrels
Start a compost pile
Preserve or share the surplus
Support Chickens In The Yard

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