2015 Food Gardening Specialists
2015 AND THE FOOD GARDENING SPECIALISTS
by Master Gardener and Food Garden Specialist Stephanie Wrightson
The Food Gardening Specialists (FGS) is a subgroup of Sonoma County Master Gardeners. Members have specialty training and a passion for growing food. Their first planning meeting of 2015 last month started with a question: What new thing are you going to do in your food garden this year? The answers were varied with a few themes weaving throughout—not the least of which was food gardening with less water.
Some the responses:
-Grow vegetables in straw bales. The water-holding capacity of bales is an added benefit.
-Practice no-till gardening. This involves minimum disturbance of the soil to encourage and support life underground to the benefit of our plants and promote better water retention.
-Try veggies not grown before. The list included rhubarb, gooseberries, new tomato varieties and a single plant that produces both cherry tomatoes above ground and potatoes below.
-Become an “expert” in garlic (taking a page out of the book, “Life is Garlic”).
-Breed corn (this from one of our master seed savers – but it still seemed quite ambitious!).
-Use straw as a mulch and in conjunction with conservation agriculture which incorporates the practice of minimum soil disturbance. This FGS had great success growing veggies in a straw bale in 2014. Now that the bale is breaking down, it is serving another purpose: reducing evaporation and weed growth as well as providing an organic mulch that will break down and benefit the soil and plants.
-Espalier (pruning to achieve a particular two-dimensional shape) a navel orange tree…not recommended for the novice gardener.
-Replace strawberry plants. The size of strawberries tend to decline each year and growers often replace them every 3-4 years.
-Graft fruit trees.
-Conduct an experiment with two heavily cover-cropped raised beds. In one, the cover crop will be cut and left in place with veggies planted into the cover crop. In the other, the cover crop will be tilled in and planted. A comparison of the health and productivity of the plants in each bed will be made.
-Plant more perennial foods.
-Reconfigure planting beds so that veggies are planted into raised mounds. We expect these crops to be very “happy.”
COMING UP IN 2015:
2015 Sonoma County Community Garden Summit, February 7, 1:30-4:30 p.m., Lawrence Cook Middle School, Santa Rosa. This event is free to all community gardeners and includes inspirational speakers, opportunities to network with other gardeners, workshops, a seed swap and more. The FGS will conduct two of the workshops: food gardening in small spaces and growing food with less water. In addition, there are two optional community garden pre-summit tours.
Free Food Gardening Workshops. The FGS’s two-hour presentations in the spring and fall discuss garden location, options for planting beds, soil components and amendments, compost and fertilizer, working the soil, crop selection and planning, irrigation, garden maintenance, pest control, harvesting and cover crops. Tips for food gardening in a drought are included. Pre-registration is not required. The first scheduled spring workshop is Saturday, March 21, 10:30 a.m. at the Harvest for the Hungry Garden, 1717 Yulupa Avenue, Santa Rosa. Check the SCMG workshop calendar for additional food gardening workshops to be scheduled soon.
Free advice and consultation services to community gardens. Services include, but are not limited to: advice regarding specific plant or pest problem solutions, a series of consultations about broader gardening issues, FGS Information Tables at opening season events or work days; periodic “walk-arounds” by FGS who are available to offer advice based on visual inspection of crops; and classes on a specific food gardening subject of interest to a particular community garden.
School garden project. In 2014, the FGS implemented a successful pilot project with a few county schools. Expanded implementation is expected in 2015 and will be announced on the SCMG website. Services include, but are not limited to, site evaluation, gardening needs advice (location, soil, irrigation, storage, fencing, tools, etc.), vegetable gardening planning, plant selection and resources and networking assistance.
The Food Gardening Specialists will be conducting activities and offering services from one end of the county to the other. And, they are excited to meet and interact with other passionate food gardeners.