Hello, Soil. Pleased to Mulch You!

This morning, we were lucky to have a visit at the garden from Kevin Allison, urban soil specialist with the Marion County Soul and Water Conversation District. Kevin is a wealth of knowledge, and we are looking forward especially to doing some fun things with cover crops this fall at the garden, using his guidance and expertise.

Yes, we get excited about things like cover crops around here. Hey, they are really cool! Cover crops = happy soil = happy plants = less work for us = more delicious veggies.

Kevin also had a really great, really simple tip for our gardeners and anyone growing their own produce: add a light layer of straw to any exposed soil in your garden. As your seeds and seedlings go in the ground, the straw keeps moisture from wicking out of your soil and has a moderating effect on soil temperature. Both of these things limit stress on your plants, make your life easier, and help your plants focus their energy on growing awesome produce for you and your family. It also adds more organic matter to your soil.

And as temperatures broke 80 degrees here in Central Indiana, conserving water and protecting plants from heat will be increasingly important!

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Kevin will be leading a FREE educational workshop, “Healthy Soil, Healthy Garden,” for us in conjunction with the seed library at Glendale Public Library on Sunday, June 11 from 3-4pm. Please come geek out over soil health with us!

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Community: I Can Count on You, and You Can Count on Me*

As a community organization with a gardening problem, we are really thrilled to support a whole lot of new ways to connect with your neighbors this spring. Keystone-Monon is off-the-charts hopping this month, and we hope you’ll join us at an upcoming community event!

Our neighborhood has so much going on, we’ve launched an events calendar you can reference anytime.

Mark your calendars, get involved, and make some new friends:

*This blog post title comes from my sons’ new favorite book, Counting on Community, by Innosanto Nagara. It’s beautiful and is read daily over here!

GARDEN 101: Decode your seed packet and begin planning your spring garden

Spring has sprung, the grass is ‘ris. I wonder where the birdies is!*

It’s the first day of spring, and here in Central Indiana, the buds are popping out on the trees, and we are itching to dig in the dirt! But when should you start? What should you plant? And hoe? I mean, how?

DECODING YOUR SEED PACKET:
The secret to finding out when and how to plant your garden? The seed packet.

Here’s an example of the amazing amount of information contained in just one little seed packet. Key things to pay attention to:

  • Days from planting to harvest and recommended season (front of package)
  • Planting information (depth, spacing)
  • When to plant and recommendations for indoor seedling starting vs. outdoor direct seeding (really, this and the depth/spacing information tells you everything you need to know to get started)
  • Date packaged (the germination rate, or the number of seeds that will successfully sprout, decreases with age, but don’t chuck your seeds from the last season or two! Just plan to plant extra seeds)

For those new to gardening, sowing seeds directly into your garden beds can be such a beautifully simple, rewarding way to plant. You might be surprised at how many crops grow wonderfully just from dropping seed into soil (and actually prefer it), particularly some of the more cold hardy crops planted in early-spring or later in the fall.

Some of our favorites, which we will start seeding sometime in mid- to late-April:

  • Lettuces
  • Greens like kale, spinach, chard, and collard greens
  • Root vegetables like carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips
  • Cabbage
  • Peas

THE NEVER-ENDING HARVEST
The cool thing about lettuces and greens: once they start growing, you can harvest them forever (or in the case of lettuce, until it gets too hot and the plants bolt, or go to seed). With lettuces and other delicate greens, just give them a “haircut” when harvesting, trimming off what you plan to eat and leaving the bulk of the plant and center leaves in tact. Come back a week later, and you won’t even be able to tell you trimmed them.

With greens like chard, kale, and collard greens, harvest the outermost leaves, breaking the entire leaf and stem off from the primary plant stalk. Always leave several of the innermost leaves in tact, and your plants will continue to grow and produce. These types of greens are cold hardy, but they will also last through the heat of summer!

(This is maybe one of the dorkier things I’ve ever searched for on YouTube, but if you’d like to see the technique for harvesting chard, kale, and collards, check it out).

BUT WHEN DO I PLANT WHAT?! MEET YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND, THE GARDEN CALENDAR
Okay, so we’ve identified some cooler weather crops above, but what about our heat loving plants, like tomatoes, squash, peppers, delicate herbs, and other more exotic plants?
The biggest thing: you’ll want to learn your average last frost day (in the spring) and your average first frost day (in the fall) to understand your growing season. Here in Indianapolis, we’re looking at the following:

  • Average last frost day (in the spring): Area C – April 26-May 5
  • Average first frost day (in the fall): Area F/G – Anywhere from October 6-October 25

Again, a good place to start is your seed packet OR check out the following amazing references:

ONE LAST THING…
One of the funnest things about gardening is uncovering your own gardening philosophy and seeing how it aligns – or differs – from what you consider to be “you.” 

For a beginning garden, consider purchasing some of your plant starts. And on that note, here’s your shameless self-promotion warning:

  • The Keystone-Monon Community Garden is hosting a seedling sale on 4/23 from 10am-4pm at Indy Urban Flea, 1225 E Brookside Ave, Indianapolis!
  • Come pick up a few of these beauties, grow your own food, and support the garden, a completely volunteer- and community-driven endeavor!

*Every spring, this pops into my head. It was one of my late, great grandmother Mildred’s favorite quotes each spring. Grandma Farm, as we called her, also had the most amazing backyard garden in the south suburbs of Chicago when I was a kid!

Got Worms? FREE Educational Workshop on Vermicomposting, 6/22!

WHAT: Got Worms? Turn Your Trash to Treasure with Home Worm Composting

WHEN: Wednesday, July 22, 6:30-7:30 pm

WHERE: Indy Hostel, 4903 Winthrop Ave, Indianapolis, IN

Join the Keystone-Monon Community Garden and Keith O’Dell of Castaway Compost for this FREE interactive, hands on workshop on how to start your own worm composting system. Vermicomposting is a fun, easy way to turn your food waste into “black gold,” or worm compost, that can keep your garden and house plants healthy and strong.

Vermicomposting is a great project for kids (of all ages), and anyone can do it, even if you don’t have a lot of space for a traditional composting bin system.

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SPECIAL THANKS to community partner Indy Hostel for hosting us! Feel free to bring your own chairs or blankets, drinks, and food. We’ll also provide a brief update about the garden’s status and when we expect to begin building.

Keith will provide us with his expertise, and attendees will have the opportunity to purchase supplies from Castaway Compost to start their own home vermicomposting bins.

ABOUT KEITH O’DELL AND CASTAWAY COMPOST: Castaway Compost was formed by accident. I was trying to answer two questions: how to improve crop production in Kenya and Honduras (Missionary friends) and how to get rid of hundreds of pounds of coffee grounds (work). Several months of Internet surfing and discussions with interested parties led me from composting to hydroponics to aquaculture and finally to worm composting. Castaway Compost was formed. I haven’t completely answered the two questions – I’m still learning – but I do have many working worm bins, thriving gardens and lawn and hundreds of pounds of worm compost.