Participating Gardens – 2014 Rock Spring Report

 

Rock Spring Congregational UCC Church

Plot Against Hunger Garden
At Rock Spring Congregational UCC Church
2013 End of Season Report

Rock Spring Garden

Rock Spring Church continued and augmented its small raised-bed garden on church grounds in 2013, continuing a project of many years standing. The garden is part of the Plot Against Hunger program to provide fresh vegetables to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). In addition to beds at the church, we planted a variety of vegetables on land made available by a church family. The objectives of the garden are to use raised beds on a limited but very visible area to grow vegetables organically for AFAC and to call attention of the congregation and the public to the Plot Against Hunger program. We use raised beds with amended and enriched soil to avoid having to deal with poor underlying soil and to make gardening easier for church member volunteers.

The church gardening program operates under the general supervision of the church Eco-Justice Committee and receives continuing support from the congregation and pastors. The church bulletin carries a report of the amount and kind of vegetable harvested each week, the garden is featured on the redesigned church website http://www.rockspringucc.org/eco-justice, and a specially constructed frame for growing pole beans was visible from inside the church during services.

In 2013 we expanded the four beds located along the Rock Spring Road side of the church with the help of a Community Garden Mini-Grant by adding a new 30-inch high 4’x8’ raised bed designed to make gardening more accessible to church members who have difficulty working on low beds. It also serves as a demonstration model for one kind of structure friendly to less mobile gardeners.  To keep costs down, we constructed the bed of plain untreated pine lumber that we reinforced with steel corners for strength and stability. We treated the wood with an organic stain to improve the appearance of the bed and gave each piece a coating of linseed oil for resistance to moisture. We filled the bed with a mixture of topsoil, composted cow manure, vermiculite, and leaf mulch. We did not use any artificial or non-organic fertilizer, and the materials used to treat the wood did not contain any harmful chemicals.

Approximately 18 members of the church, including members of the middle school youth group and several more senior members, worked actively in preparing, planting, tending, and harvesting vegetables from the garden.

We consulted the AFAC staff about the needs and preferences of AFAC clients and the kinds of produce that AFAC could best manage in its distribution system. Over the season, we planted and harvested 15 different varieties of vegetables and fruits. In addition, we harvested some raspberries and blueberries from the garden located at a church member’s home and, because AFAC could not easily deal with these more fragile fruits, we sold them to members of the congregation and donated the proceeds to AFAC. The garden produced about 500 pounds of vegetables this year, all of which were donated to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

In addition to the fresh food our garden produced for AFAC, we also provided demonstrations of structures and techniques suitable to other similar gardens. Other gardeners and also Boy Scouts looking for Eagle Scout projects were interested in our approach to raised beds and to growing more vegetables vertically to make use of limited space. Groups with gardeners not up to the stooping and bending necessary for ground-level gardening were interested in our 30-inch high raised bed constructed with Mini-Grant funds. One of our gardeners presented a program at the Arlington Central Library on structures for vertical gardening using examples from the Rock Spring gardens for growing pole beans, tomatoes on wire trellises, peas on wire fencing, and tomatoes on rebar posts.

We learned some useful lessons this year.  1. Start early growing plants from seeds indoors under fluorescent lights. The plants are healthier and much less expensive. 2. Labeling plants and planted rows carefully helps volunteers know what to do and provides useful information to visitors. 3. Peppers, tomatoes, okra, eggplant, beans (both bush and pole), and yellow squash were particularly successful this year.

We had some challenges in our gardening this year, mostly from critters. Deer were something of a nuisance at our off-site garden but we limited their damage with an organic spray that was largely successful. We prevented rabbits from dining on our greens in the raised beds with low-level fencing and kept squirrels and birds off our tomatoes with netting. We were less successful with cabbage worms in the cabbage and Brussels sprouts, not wishing to use pesticides or organic solutions harmful to butterflies.