Thinning, Planting, and… Bokashi-ing?

Hello all! As you may know, school is back in session at UAA. This means that the end of the gardening season is nearly upon us, and I still haven’t shared the entire story of the UAA Student Garden! I plan on remedying this shortly. Now, lets start back up from where we left off (before the NYC post).

  

After the UAA Student gardeners attended the bokashi workshop, they held their own work party to apply the finished bokashi to the garden. The work party was initially planned because several observant volunteers noticed that our plants weren’t growing very well. Upon further investigation, it was determined that the plants were very close together. The garden needed to be thinned!

   

If you are unfamiliar with the thinning process (as I was before writing this post), it is pretty much just what it sounds like. After planting each seed with careful hands and gently watering the little sprouts until they grow into adorable little seedlings… you rip half of them out of the ground, giving the lucky survivors room to prosper. It’s pretty abhorrent, right? It goes against our most basic gardening instinct (keep the plants in the ground) but it is a necessary process to ensure our garden is healthy. Plants need room to grow. Seedlings don’t get the proper amount of nutrients, water, or sunlight when we let them get too cozy with their neighbors. So we need to cut that out! Literally.

   

In addition to thinning the garden, we also built some trellises for our peas, which were growing very quickly. This process was relatively easy; we set up stakes and string for the peas to climb on. While the peas were growing successfully, our zucchini was not doing nearly as well.  Sadly, it was dying. Luckily one of the volunteers had some broccoli starters to replace our poor dead zucchini plants.

Another plant that was doing dangerously well was our mint plant, which was located in our herb barrel. Mint can be very invasive when growing in close proximity to other, more peaceable plants. Without our interference, the aggressive mint plant would quickly choke out its docile herb-barrel companions. We found it necessary to transplant our mint plant to its own little planter to thrive harmlessly.

Other activities of our work party include planting more salad greens (this time with adequate spacing to reduce the need for thinning later), planting raspberries, blueberries, and gooseberries, and lastly applying the bokashi to the surface of the beds.

A bucket of bokashi ready to be spread on our garden's beds.

  

Stay tuned for the next few posts, I’ll be wrapping up the narrative of the garden’s summer activities and perhaps giving you a sneak peak at what we are planning for next spring.

Post by Jasmine Woodland, Garden Media Coordinator

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Big City, Big Gardening Ideas

 

Hello UAA Student Garden Fans! This post will be breaking the familiar pattern that the blog posts have followed so far. This is because Shannon (one of our garden advisors and volunteers), Aleks (Garden Volunteer Coordinator), and I (the Garden Media Coordinator) have recently returned from New York City, where we attended the American Community Gardening Association’s 32nd Annual National Conference, held at Columbia University. We want to tell you all about it!

The conference consisted of hands-on workshops led by a variety of experienced community gardening organizations, various talks, and many networking opportunities (for more information about ACGA, visit their website). The conference culminated with the chance to visit some of the many community gardening projects in NYC. Aleks, Shannon, and I had an awesome adventure in the South Bronx where we visited several successful gardens that have partnered with school groups to create wonderful community “hubs” for sharing, learning, and growing.

 

As Media Coordinator, I found myself drawn to several specific workshops—“Social Media Helping and Supporting Community Gardens” and “Creating a Successful Event Using Social Media and Traditional Outreach”. Both of these workshops emphasized the importance of having both a physical and a virtual presence as a community gardening organization in order to maximize impact on the surrounding community. The presenters also discussed the importance of having an easily accessible online legacy that tells the story of the project from the beginning. This is exactly what I hope this blog will be—a permanent and easily found record that explains what we have done, what we are currently doing, and why.

The conference introduced us to a TON of new information pertaining to the community gardening game. While at times we felt bombarded with this gardening information, several important themes and ideas applicable to our project came up through our experiences at the conference.

One theme was the importance of turning space into place. We discussed this idea in a workshop, then witnessed first hand on our South Bronx garden tour. Most of the successfully integrated projects we learned about had partnered with other organizations to ensure that the community was engaged in the garden on multiple levels. Community members were always able to use and appreciate the garden without having to volunteer to assist in garden maintenance. Whether it is school groups making garden-inspired art or neighbors using the garden as a community gathering place, there are more things to do in a garden than just growing things! In the future we hope that the UAA Student Garden becomes a venue for the UAA Community to come together in a variety of ways.

Another theme that interested us at the conference was the contrast between gardening in the city (most organizations were focused on urban gardening) and gardening in Alaska. As Alaskans, we have a very different perspective on what gardens are for. In an urban setting, gardens are cherished as one of the few opportunities to experience nature. The contrast of the “gray and the green” was mentioned often to emphasize how valuable green gardening spaces are to people living in a city. Since green space is not exactly difficult to locate in Alaska, thisidea was relatively new to us. Our eyes were opened to the possibility that some members of our community might have limited access to nature, and we hope to connect with these groups, allowing them to experience nature in Anchorage.

   

Ultimately, we hope that the UAA Student Garden project will serve as a bridge between the University and the Anchorage community. Our project provides natural learning and leadership building opportunities, and as a continual project it is always changing and improving. With this project, there is no “done”. There will always be more plants to grow, connections to make, people to impact, lessons to learn, and fun to be had!

Post by Jasmine Woodland, Garden Media Coordinator

 

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Have you seen the garden lately?

Hello everyone! Here are some photos of the new signs that have been put up in the garden. Make sure to stop by, explore the garden, and check out the signs in person!

          

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Bokashi Workshop

Bokashi….is it a Japanese Tree, a granola bar, or a variety of lettuce? Actually, Bokashi is Japanese, can make a tree or lettuce grow (however isn’t either), and Bokashi does incorporate dry organic matter, such as rice or wheat bran (which can be found in your granola bar).

Bokashi is a Japanese term meaning fermented organic matter. The Bokashi method is a process that creates this fermented organic matter (not compost, but a different product that is beneficial to a garden’s soil) very quickly and efficiently.  Like composting, the Bokashi method is an excellent alternative to throwing out organic waste. Did you know that organic waste makes up between 20-40% of the total “garbage” that ends up in landfills? It seems like an awful waste of organic waste, if you ask me. Especially when such materials can easily be turned into a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer (or whatever else strikes your organic waste fancy).

The Bokashi method has been used in Japan for ages as a means for disposing of kitchen waste, using the product to grow lush gardens.  Earlier this summer, the UAA Student Garden volunteers had the opportunity to use the Bokashi method to make our own fermented organic matter! Exciting, right?

We all met at Green Earth Land Works, a wonderful Alaskan landscaping business (and an avid supporter of the UAA Student Garden). There Melody, our Garden Caretaker, conducted a workshop during which the volunteers used the Bokashi process to make some fermented organic matter of our very own! The process was simple, fast, and really fun! Ideally, this post would be smattered with some excellent photos as proof of the fun we allegedly had, but unfortunately, no photos have surfaced from our Bokashi experience! So if you are a volunteer with some photos stashed away, please email sustainuaa@gmail.com so we can add them to this post as soon as possible :)

The ingredients for Bokashi include molasses, water, bran (carbon material) and EM1. EM1 is “a product made of dry organic matter such as rice or wheat bran, hay, sawdust, dried leaves, etc. that has been fermented with EM1 Microbial Inoculants, molasses, and water.” (EMI definition borrowed from this Bokashi Recipe given to the Student Garden Project by Christina at Green Earth). When all the ingredients are combined, microbes begin to grow, and Bokashi begins fermenting.

Outside the Green Earth nursery, we took turns adding the liquid materials to a large pile of wheat bran atop a plastic liner. Shovels in hand, laughing with excitement, we mixed the ingredients together. The smell was amazing, like baking in one’s kitchen! Have you smelled molasses lately? We then shoveled the mixture (not too dry, not too moist) into black garbage bags, and bid everyone adieu. Three weeks later, after the microbes had a ball inside these plastic bags, the Bokashi was delightfully fermented and ready to be added to our humble garden.

Post written by Suzanne Schafer and Jasmine Woodland

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Planting the Garden

Following the Gardening Workshop with Saskia on Sunday, the volunteers felt more than ready to plant (actually, I think most of us still felt pretty “green” about the whole now-you’re-a-gardener situation, but we were excited to get our hands dirty and get the garden started!). Arrangements were made for the volunteers to meet again alongside our raised beds on Wednesday, the 18th of May.

     

Melody, our Garden Caretaker, and Aleks, our Volunteer Coordinator, keep the troops in line during the planting session.

Melody Miller, our Garden Caretaker, called upon her gardening expertise to plan out what would be planted where in the garden. Once the beds were marked for planting, the volunteers got to work!

 

A lot of the plants growing in our garden were started from seeds, but we also had small herb starters to plant in one of our halved barrels, and potato starters for another barrel. We also kept some of our raised bed space open for berry shrubs, which we planted later in the season.

 

Once the seeds were planted in orderly rows, the garden was watered for the first time! The gardeners were shown the proper way to hydrate the garden, and we also went over some basic garden maintenance guidelines.

The planting was an exciting, fun day for all of us! More photos can be found on our Flickr

Post by Jasmine Woodland, Garden Media Coordinator

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May 15 Gardening Workshop

There’s no right or wrong way to garden…

The day after our raised beds were built and filled with soil, the garden volunteers congregated on-site once again to attend the summer’s first gardening workshop. The workshop began with an indoor discussion and ended with some hands-on planning out in the garden. The following post was written by super-volunteer Suzanne Schafer with some editing and supplementation by Jasmine Woodland, the Garden Project’s Media Coordinator (me!). Joshua at MtnBoy Media took most of the photos seen here (thanks   again, Josh!) with a few exceptions. Enjoy!

What grows well in Alaska? What should we add to our soil to nourish it? How can we maximize our planting space? These are all important questions many of us new and eager garden volunteers had before we planned and planted our garden, until… Saskia, Alaska Master Gardener, came along and conducted an intensive Gardening Workshop that answered these questions and more.

Seedlings! The seedlings hesitantly sprout.

The workshop began with basic introductions followed by a fun activity that involved the gardeners getting close to the ground, mimicking seeds, and then “growing” into plants. It was difficult not to laugh and enjoy our short time spent as seedlings. Needless to say, this activity successfully broke the ice for the discussion that followed.

The volunteers "grow" at the beginning of the gardening workshop.

Our discussion focused on three main topics: gardening successfully in Alaskan conditions, choosing the best plants to grow, and some regular garden maintenance necessities.

Saskia shares her knowledge of Alaska gardening with the volunteers.

The most important matter we discussed was the Alaskan climate, and of course, our short growing season. Despite the lack of days, we have our round-the-clock daylight hours to speed up the growth in the garden and reap sizable harvests! We have approximately four months of garden-friendly conditions, beginning in mid-May, after the last frost. Gardening in Alaska requires that you choose hardy plants that reach maturity relatively quickly.

These include root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and radishes that can be planted before the frost is completely gone, leafy greens such as arugula, spinach, swiss chard, and lettuce, and plants in the Brassica family such as cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, and cauliflower.

Looking through the variety of seeds for planting.

We also learned that incorporating rotating crop strategies could not only maximize our minimal amount of space, but also enable us to double our harvest by replanting. Plants such as zucchini and squash are vegetables that need a nurturing start indoors and then should be “hardened” (slowly introduced to outdoor conditions before planting in the ground), and planted in the garden later.

Melody, the Garden Caretaker, explains where certain plants should be placed.

Other gardening techniques explained include: companion planting, staggering seed rows, and container planting certain species that may become invasive to the other neighboring plants (a technique we later used to isolate our thriving mint plant).

Saskia demonstrates the proper way to plant seeds. Saskia, being a very “natural gardener”, discussed several strategies to minimize the amount of maintenance needed in the garden. Using mulch atop a layer of compost comprised of straw and dried leaves will not only help moisture retention in the soil, but also stifle weeds. Additionally, weeds, discolored leaves, and organic matter from the kitchen can be buried right under the soil surrounding plants as a form of on-site composting.  You don’t even need to take your weeds or the apple you’re crunching on over to the compost! She also encouraged us to create a watering schedule in order to ensure that our garden never gets too dry. After this workshop, we were much more equipped with the tools we needed to get outside (and inside) to begin planting!

One point that Saskia made clear to the volunteers was that there really is no right or wrong way to garden. The basic necessities for planting include nutrient rich soil, plenty of water, sunlight, and space, along with a little TLC. Our plants may thrive and grow successfully, or they could die (hopefully not!) but the most important aspect of gardening is to discover through doing, treating each obstacle, triumph, or error as an opportunity to learn. Every experience we have with this garden will give us valuable knowledge and will help us to improve next summer’s project. The Sustainability Club envisioned that the garden would provide the UAA community with an example of small scale gardening in Alaska and this workshop was the beginning of building this example.

Learning about planting herbs in Alaska.

Post by Jasmine Woodland, Garden Media Coordinator

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Raised Bed Construction

The volunteers at the end of the work session.

The UAA Student Garden is a raised bed garden, built on a previously grassy space on the west side of the Beatrice McDonald Hall. The garden beds were constructed on a warm Saturday afternoon in the middle of May (the 14th, to be exact). The bed construction event was one of the garden project’s first “hands on” activities, and we were ecstatic when 16 eager volunteers showed up to help. Once the site was prepared and the materials procured and prepped, construction took about two and a half hours.

Sod Removal The cleared garden plot!

The day before bed construction, UAA Facilities removed the sod from the garden plot. This was very awesome, and now we don’t have to deal with killing the grass to prevent it from spreading to our beds. Thanks, Facilities!

Cedar PlanksInitially, the Sustainability Club discussed using salvaged scrap lumber for the raised beds in the garden, but we ended up choosing cedar planks. UAA Facilities requested that we go with cedar in order to ensure that the beds were not only aesthetically pleasing, but also durable and long lasting.

Before the beds could be assembled and placed on the newly de-sodded garden plot, the ground had to be leveled (to prevent water run-off) and the cedar planks had to be prepared for easy on-site assembly. Aleks (Sustainability Club President) and Sunny (the club’s advisor) took the 1×10 cedar planks to Sunny’s Dad’s workshop, where they were measured and cut. Volunteers used rakes to level the slightly sloping plot before they constructed the four rectangular raised beds.

Marking the garden plot for bed placement. Constructing the beds

More bed preparation. Group bed installation!

Once the beds were assembled and placed (go to the Garden Map to check out the bed placement) volunteers filled them with soil. Along with the raised beds, our garden also has halved whiskey barrels for growing things such as potatoes, zucchinis, herbs, and berry shrubs. We adapted the barrels to fit our needs by creating a proper water drainage system in each barrel. First, we drilled holes in the bottoms, then, we placed a base layer of rocks and weed cloth beneath the soil to prevent the holes from clogging with dirt.

 Drilling the holes in the halved whiskey barrels. Using rocks for the barrels' water drainage systems. Soil for the newly constructed beds.

The final step was to spread wood chips donated by Greatland Tree Service between the beds and the whiskey barrels to prevent mud and weeds. And with that, the garden beds were ready to be planted!

Our wonderful donated wood chips.  The team spreading the woodchips.

Joshua at MtnBoy Media photographed the bed construction, so thanks to him, we have a wonderful visual narrative of everything that happened. More photos can be found on the UAA Student Garden project’s Flickr account. Joshua also documented the event that followed bed construction: our first gardening workshop! More on that event in the next post.

Post by Jasmine Woodland, Garden Media Coordinator

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