Dozens of novice gardeners learned what it takes to get a spring garden started the right way during a free clinic at Soil Born Farms near Sacramento, California, in February.
“We’ve never offered anything quite like it before,” says Sarah Barnes, the farm’s education coordinator. “The idea is to offer a variety of options for people who are interested in learning about gardening.”
The Spring Garden Clinic reviewed the high points of composting, vegetable gardening, natural pest control, cooking, water conservation, and seed saving — led by members of Soil Born Farms and their community partners. The 3-hour format complements the farm’s other more intensive gardening classes, and is a way to introduce the farm to a new audience and hopefully inspire urban farmers to “grow their groceries.”
Barnes says the demand for gardening training is growing faster than Soil Born’s capacity to fulfill it. Tickets to the clinic were gone within three days. “There’s a thirst for this, a hunger out there. So we’re trying our best to meet it,” she says.
A more comprehensive Beginning Gardener Course begins in April which goes into more depth on garden design, building healthy soil, garden ecology, pest control and more over seven weeks.
An intermediate course starts Feb. 14, which covers advanced garden design and planting, seed saving and propagation, tree pruning, attracting pollinators and beneficial insects. Courses in the Grow Your Groceries series cost $225.
Barnes says the farm hopes to offer one of those courses again in the fall and cover cool season gardening. There’s also a six-month permiculture design course that delves into how to mimick nature’s processes to create sustainable environments with less human intervention.
So where is all this hunger for gardening information coming from?
Barnes says the designation of Sacramento as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital a couple of years ago has heightened people’s awareness of food and where it comes from. The interest she saw at Soil Born’s booth at the Farm-to-Fork Festival last year was extraordinary.
“It’s an indicator to me that the Farm-to-Fork Capital designation has really expanded the reach of the local food movement in Sacramento,” she says. “I can only imagine that that’s spurred the interest and awareness of more and more people in this city toward the idea of growing your own food.”
At February’s clinic, a variety of apartment dwellers, house renters, first time homeowners, and people putting in a first garden attended the sessions, interested in everything from container gardens and raised beds to larger plots on acreage.
It’s now time for Sacramentans to get a jump start on a spring garden, Soil Born Volunteer Coordinator Daylin Wade told the audience at the “Edible Gardening Basics” session.
“People tend to think ‘I’m not a gardener’, or ‘I have a black thumb’ — but try it,” she said.
A good place for newbies to start is by installing raised beds, Wade said. They can be filled with fresh garden soil (amended with organic compost!), solving many drainage and soil deficiencies.
Rotate the types of plants you put in the same place each season to minimize pests and disease, and plant a succession of crops for a longer harvest season, she advised.
Keep seedlings moist, but allow the surface of the soil to dry out between deep waterings as the plants germinate, Wade said. Keep plants with similar needs for sun and water together, she advised, recommending good basic gardening books like John Jevons’ “How to Grow More Vegetables” or “The Edible Garden” by Alys Fowler.
A session on composting and building soil fertility was hosted by Soil Born course graduate and urban farming advocate Chanowk Yisrael, the founder of Yisrael Family Farm.
It’s virtually impossible to compost incorrectly, said presenter Yahqiym Yisrael. “There’s probably 250 million ways to compost. You’re going to get something because it happens naturally.”
He shared his biodynamic “lasagna” method, which simply piles up alternating layers of organic materials and food scraps several feet high, and then leaves the pile unturned for the better part of a year until it has composted.
Such a pile should not smell or attract pests, because the heat generated by the decomposing material kills harmful bacteria, Yahqiym said.
“When you build a compost pile correctly, it’s going to deter harmful pests and animals,” he said.
Cover your pile with a tarp when it rains so it doesn’t get too wet or cool off, he advised. Then sprinkle an inch or two of finished compost throughout your vegetable beds each year.
Cooking with spring veggies
The demonstration of gardening basics came full circle in a cooking demonstration by homesteader Kathy Anuszczyk. Using a the farm’s fresh kale, cabbage, carrots, onions and rutabagas, Anuszczyk whipped up a pot of lentil soup that was quickly devoured by the audience.
“I love to cook, I love to eat, and whole foods are so exciting!” she said, demonstrating how easy it is to include more unprocessed, whole foods in the family’s diet.
No matter the season, eating a variety of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables is the best way to improve your health, she said: “It’s such an amazing gift: Here, in the middle of winter, we have purple and green and orange on our plate.”
Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture and Education Project offers events and classes throughout the year, along with a farm stand open on Saturday mornings during the season. Soil Born produce is found at a number of farmers markets year round.
The farm is located at 2140 Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670.