Archive for February, 2010

The journey to becoming Citizen Gardeners

We’re on a quest for gardening knowledge – soaking in what we can a little at a time. After reading more about becoming a master gardener (at least 50 hours of training and 50 hours of volunteer service), we decided to start smaller. I found a program in Austin called the Citizen Gardener, about 10 hours of training and 10 hours of volunteer work. Now that sounded doable!

We gave it a shot and completed the 10 hours of training last weekend and are now looking at volunteer opportunities. We learned all about choosing and prepping a site, using square foot gardening and lasagna gardening techniques for raised beds, and turning household trash and scraps into compost – thanks to our great teachers, Jared and Les.

With both techniques, we learned that you should pick a good site (one that gets eight hours of sun a day, is aesthetically pleasing, is relatively flat, etc.) and prep that site. Remove any large rocks; wet the ground thoroughly; start the microbial process of the existing soil by throwing down items high in nitrogen (coffee grounds, food scraps, etc.); lay down cardboard on top of your scraps to act as a weed blocker; and water the cardboard well! Then, you’re ready to place your bed on top of the cardboard.

Square food garden

Don't forget to mulch around your bed!

With square foot gardening, you measure out your bed in square foot sections. We built a pretty portable 4×4 ft. bed, which is typical for a square foot garden. Another principle of this technique is close plant spacing, also a principle of biointensive gardening. I didn’t realize you could pretty much halve the spacing recommendations on seed packets. By planting your veggies closer together, you create a cover of sorts to keep your soil bed moist and prevent erosion. Besides, this is how plants generally grow in nature.

With lasagna gardening, you create a raised bed using layers of compostable items – hay, chicken manure, lawn clippings, coffee grounds, and other items you’d put into a compost bin. This may be a cheaper option if you don’t have compost soil readily available at home because filling an entire 4×4 ft. bed can be expensive when you use good dirt. Having these two beds side-by-side will be helpful for crop rotation during the next planting season.

Composting with Citizen Gardeners

Les, Blair, and Jared working on the compost bin.

We also talked a lot about “growing your own soil,” aka composting – layering browns (carbon) and greens (nitrogen) to create good dirt. We got creative with our compost bin, constructing it with five used palettes and some old wire, filling it with plenty of interesting items. Blair, being the only male in the class of about 15-20 women, was tasked to “stir” the bed.

We also learned that you can find usable garden items in the most unexpected places (used palettes from grocery stores, food scraps from a local school cafeteria or your own kitchen, coffee grounds from Starbucks, scrap wood, leaf trimmings, PVC pipe, chicken wire, and even neighbors’ junk). We also learned about a cool Web site (Freecycle.org), where people give away things they just don’t want anymore. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure, or so the saying goes.

Despite having some pretty crummy weather for an outdoor class (about 34 degrees our first Saturday morning and raining the second Saturday morning), I think the course was a great hands-on experience for beginner gardeners to learn general techniques for starting or improving a garden. Plus, you get to meet some cool people and hear about their experiences in the garden. We’ll all meet up again in May for a potluck (if we don’t run into each other sooner volunteering around town)!

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What is FarmVille’s appeal?

This post is especially for my friend, Hilary, who reminded me that it’s not cool to start a blog and not update it regularly, and for my friend, Blake, who is a young social media guru and loves Facebook. Together we work on social media strategy during our day jobs, but I’m perplexed as to how social media is reaching into gardening, especially with the hit Facebook application FarmVille (and it’s surprising adoption).

According to AppData, FarmVille surpassed 80 million monthly active users this week. (Note: Active users are defined as people playing the game at least once within 30 days.) That’s 20% of the whole Facebook population and more than the entire Twitter population playing this game. This active user base is growing by approximately 10 million people per month!

What is FarmVille’s appeal? You can grow and harvest crops, raise livestock, and sell your items in the online market – but can’t you do all that in real life? I heard from someone at work last week that you can throw sheep at people in FarmVille. I couldn’t see myself doing that in real life. If even a fraction of the people playing FarmVille started planting and harvesting crops in real life, we could have a huge impact on agricultural sustainability. Are people learning more about gardening by playing FarmVille? Do techniques in the game carry over into your garden?

FarmVille Land Plot

Photo source: The New York Times, "To Harvest Squash, Click Here"

FarmVille claims to have “plenty of land for everyone,” and that’s not always the case in real life. Some people don’t have access to gardens (those living in apartments or condos, for example), and some may not have the desire or ability to keep up with a garden. If land is your concern, check into community gardens – an open plot of land gardened by a group of volunteers who then enjoy what they produce. What a great concept for greening urban areas! The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) is a great resource for finding community gardens in your area.

“The Association recognizes that community gardening improves people’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.”

So, why spend time harvesting online when you can make an impact on your family’s food intake? I’d love to hear comments if you play FarmVille. Do you believe more people should play? To anyone who reads this post, I want to make it clear that I do play video/virtual games on occasion and have nothing against them, but I’m particularly interested in the FarmVille phenomenon because it ties so closely to something I love doing in my backyard!