Category Archives: Food & Gardening

Gardening and Food

What do we learn and achieve from gardening?

Exuberant butternut squash vines

Many of us in Chester County celebrate Earth Day every day. Earth herself is being mistreated, but we can work hard to mend our human ways toward her, and at the same time mend our own life styles and diets.

One way of making things better between ourselves and Earth is enjoying the thrill of seeing seeds wend their way into flowers, vegetables and fruits… and healthy food on the table.

If squash wants to grow twenty-foot vines, should we interfere? It’s a question of philosophy: some of us would give it free rein, even at the expense of other plantings being submerged; others of us would severely restrict it to its appointed space.

Flower or vegetable?

Sometimes the distinction between the esthetic and the edible isn’t clear. The tomato, imported to Europe in the 16th century, was originally grown there for decorative use and the fruit was considered toxic!

When we garden, we install plants in a hybrid environment, neither in the state of nature nor protected by four walls and a roof; and in return, they enter into a state of symbiosis with us: we give them a place to grow; and they offer us satisfaction, beauty, and food.

It is a particular pleasure when we see desirable plants seed themselves or resprout another year. Many flowers do this, of course, from one year to the next, such as the invincible annual cleome; and some, like foxgloves, are on a savvy two-year cycle (with perennial tendencies). The attractive white and yellow flowers and glossy leaves grew from a potato that lurked in the ground over the winter.

Gardening also teaches us some valuable life lessons:

Bloody sorrel, a distinctive chard-like plant

• It takes time for plants to grow, and like people they go through recognizable stages. Pea or squash vines, starting as small seeds, develop fast in their infancy, move along to maturity, weather permitting, and produce what can be, if we save seeds, the next generation.

• Consider remaining open to surprise and giving unknown plants a chance to declare themselves before we weed. Plants can unexpectedly overwinter or self-seed, or appear from unknown sources. This bloody sorrel, a red-veined spinach-like leaf crop with an unfortunate name, must have been carried into the vegetable garden by a passing bird.

• Good results depend on patience and continuous effort. If we stop weeding for a few weeks we will spend more time repairing the damage than we saved by taking a vacation; if we stop watering when our plants are drying up, they will not come back.

• Let’s learn our limits! We can collaborate with plants but we can’t control them, or their needs, or the weather; we can amend the soil, but only within limits: it would take generations for clay to become loam and lawn will always be reluctant to grow under trees.

• We need to pay attention, look for facts and evidence about what is going right and wrong, and remain in touch with something outside ourselves: the reality of the garden.

Kitchencycling made easy

• There are no good shortcuts; compost and mulch, our friends, take time to produce. To the right: unusable organic matter from the kitchen returning rapidly and aerobically to nature, under a strong wire mesh, bordered with stones to keep rodents from feasting.

• But pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers destroy soil organisms, beneficial insects and worms, and ultimately the soil itself.

• Peace of mind and inner relaxation — qualities not easily acquired in today’s busy life — do dwell in the garden for us to gather in to ourselves along with what grows there.

Gardening also fosters a whole consciousness and understanding about the Earth and how we relate to it:

• The climate is changing; many areas are more subject to drought and floods, heat and cold, than they have been for many centuries. Large areas in Australia and California have been burning due to record hot and dry weather; the prospective 2021 grape harvest was destroyed in France by hot weather followed by freezing; one of the prime wine regions, the Jura, is becoming inhospitable to the grape. We can think “It can’t happen here,” but it will.

Honey bee, West Chester

• Because native plants have adjusted their needs to our climate and soil, they do a lot better than exotics when adverse weather strikes. And, of course, they evolved in symbiosis with native pollinators, which depend on them.

• The amount of water that soil can hold depends largely on the amount of organic material in the soil. This would be a good time for American gardeners and farmers to depend less on chemical fertilizers and more on treating soil as a living organism that also takes carbon out of circulation.

• Nature has evolved as one great system in each location. When we add in chemicals, we are not only changing plant and animal life but subverting the natural order with consequences we can’t foresee. But we do know that if we want to eat healthy food, it must be grown in healthy soil.

By gardening in our own yards, we show our appreciation of nature; and also we can give away some of our produce to those who need it, and we can encourage others to garden… and in turn to spread the satisfaction and knowledge of feeling in harmony with nature.

Many of our neighbors have been working hard to bring us programming, both online and in person, about how we live on and with the Earth. Please find the large array of locally accessible events in our calendar at the bottom of our home page; and join in!

“Nature’s Best Hope”: Doug Tallamy’s visit, Sept. 13, 2021

tallamy

Doug Tallamy, a widely acclaimed professor in the Dept. of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, gave a talk at West Chester University on Sept. 13, 2021, to an in-person and online audience of over 200. (See the video here, and don’t miss our board member Courtney Finneran’s preceding 10-minute illustrated introduction to our work; Closed Captioning recommended).

The reception before Dr. Tallamy’s talk was attended by Chester County political and business leaders, and the dinner following allowed Green Team and WCU leaders to network about ways to spread Doug’s message and work throughout the County.

Nature’s best hope, he explained, is at this point… ourselves! We, the human race, have disturbed the symbiotic balance between insects and plants, between those and birds and all other vertebrates. We destroy inter-species interactions at our peril, and if we continue to impoverish the living earth, our own food supply will perish.

What can we do as individuals? Welcome biodiversity to our own properties, by turning lawns into meadows, choosing native plants, shunning pesticides and herbicides, and nurturing organically rich soils.

The Green Team, through our Living Landscapes project, strongly supports Dr. Tallamy’s call for a “Homegrown National Park” in our collective back yards (and, of course, in the properties of businesses, non-profits, schools, and municipalities). We can all be part of restoring nature to the healthy, symbiotic state that evolved into the world around us.

In a promising sign of forward movement, the Environmental Advisory Committees of northern Chester County have been conferring with each other on such initiatives and will be meeting next week at the Welkinweir preserve with Chair of the Chesco Board of Commissioners Marian Moskowitz. The WC Green Team will also be represented there and it is hoped that countywide networking of all Chesco EACs will ensue.

As an organization determined to reassert the essential importance of nature and environment, the WC Green Team will strongly support a countywide initiative to reclaim natural areas, plant native pollinators, and create… a “Homegrown Chester County Park”!

Curbside compost coming to you

Good sustainability news from West Chester Weekly News Roundup by hellowestchester , 9/17/21 (sign up there for weekly emails with the latest on West Chester)

Brace yourself. You ready? West Chester is moving forward with its long awaited community composting option.

“We’ve tried to do this a couple of different times,” said West Chester Sustainability Director William Williams at this month’s Borough Council working session.  “We’ve gotten grant funds. We’ve built these programs. The grant goes away. The program goes away.” Well, not this time.

After reviewing four different options from purely educational to 100% Borough-run, Will and West Chester’s Sustainability Advisory Committee think they have come up with a solution that just may stick. One that puts a little bit of the onus on each of the stakeholders – Borough, resident, private sector.

The plan? partner with a private curbside collection service, in this case, WasteWell.

How it works

All members of the program get a big 5-gallon bucket at sign up. You fill it with fruit, vegetable scraps, eggshells, cut flowers, shredded newspaper, etc. (don’t worry, they’ll give you a list). Then every two weeks you put it outside and WasteWell comes to collect it, but that’s not it…

“I almost forgot the best part,” Will said. Every sprint you can get 40lbs of a compost delivered for free. The service normally costs $18/mo but will be offered to Borough residents at $15/mo or a 17 percent discount. WasteWell is also offering to collect from one low-income resident for only $1/mo for every ten West Chester residents that sign up.  

The takeaway In terms of immediate savings, it won’t mean much for the Borough. Once they subsidize the savings, they are looking to net a whopping $3/year per participating customer. Should they hit their year-one goal, that would mean $300 in savings but this isn’t about the short game. It’s the long-term impact and the right thing to do environmentally, that make it compelling.

According to Will, the Chester County landfill currently has less than 15-year capacity. When it’s full we’ll have to start shipping our waste to distant locales at, of course, a cost. “We should do everything in our capacity to extend the capacity of the landfill,” said Will Williams and this would definitely be a step in the right direction. 
Soon West Chester alleys may be lined with grey WasteWell buckets.

Famed natural gardens expert Doug Tallamy to speak at WCU Sept. 13

Please let us know you are coming at Eventbrite.

Dr. Doug Tallamy will describe his plan for a grassroots call-to-action to regenerate biodiversity through native plantings in your backyard. Dr. Tallamy, professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, best-selling author, and an international expert on restoring health to the planet through plants, will visit West Chester University on Monday, September 13.

Prof. Tallamy will spend the day speaking to University classes and will offer a 5pm lecture to the community. Dr. Tallamy is the co-founder of Homegrown National Park, with the purpose to regenerate biodiversity, one person at a time, though a grassroots call-to-action that focuses on native plantings.

Please join West Chester Green Team and WCU Office of Sustainability, which are co-sponsoring Doug’s lecture, at 5:00pm in Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall at 700 S. High Street in West Chester Borough.

THIS EVENT IS FREE TO THE PUBLIC BUT REGISTRATION IS REQUESTED

Download the below flyer here.

Mondays at Melton, August 2: A Glimpse of Japan

by Cara Corridoni

With the Tokyo Olympics just underway, last week Melton Center students got a juicy glimpse into Japanese culture.

Reiko and Misaki reading Momo Taro-san

As part of their Mondays at Melton series, the West Chester Green Team partnered with the Japan Foundation to tell students the story of Momotaro, a child born from a giant peach. The only son of an elderly couple, Momotaro leaves as an adolescent to protect his village from a band of ogres. With the help of some friends he meets along the way, Momotaro is able to convince the ogres to repent of their misdeeds and returns to his homeland a hero. Momotaro is an oral story that may date back to the 14th century.

Boy eating peach at Momo story

The story helped to illustrate the importance of oral storytelling in the Japanese culture while celebrating peach season locally. After the reading, students enjoyed delicious peaches from Barnard’s Orchards, sampled some Japanese candy and got to try their hand at the Japanese art form of origami.

Special thanks to Japan Foundation volunteers Reiko Yoshida, her daughter Misaki and husband Taka Nagai (our stalwart photographer) for making the evening one that students won’t soon forget. 

Type “Melton” in the Search box in the right sidebar for earlier stories about Mondays at Melton.

Jessica Nagle shows how
Reiko instructs in origami

Mondays at Melton covered in Daily Local News

DLN reporter Bill Rettew was with us on July 19, at the weekly Mondays at Melton program presented jointly by the West Chester Green Team and the Melton Center. His photo shows Nora Ziegler reading a book on tomatoes to the children.

Read the full article “West Chester students get lesson on growing, harvesting fruits and vegetables” at the Daily Local News site. Excerpt:

“A lot of kids are not exposed to growing,” said Green Team president elect Margaret Hudgings. “They see it comes from a package in the supermarket instead of from a garden.”

The students plant and watch veggies grow from seeds.

“I gives them an appreciation of fruits and vegetables,” Hudgings said. “If involved with growing themselves, they will eat it.”

What’s Growing in the Borough

Please check out a great article by journalist and professor in WCU’s Department of Communication and Media Jesse Piersol, “What’s Growing in the Borough: the bounty of West Chester gardens,” in the July issue of the very attractive publication The WC Press, pages 33-41. You may receive or pick up a copy, or you can subscribe online for free when you look at the article here.

The article features interviews with:

• Our own gardening activists Ashlie Delshad, Margaret Hudgings, and Sallie Jones;

• West Chester University’s Joan Welch, Kate Stewart and Tyler Montgomery, about the four WCU campus gardens (see our new video featuring them here; scroll down to “The Gardens of West Chester University” and follow the link);

• Also Christina Wilcomes of Hackberry Hill Flowers and Ben Rotteveel of DutchGrown Flower Bulbs.

The article, beautifully written and illustrated with 5 garden photos, including kids gardening at the Melton Center in our community garden program there (see more here and here), ends with thoughts about how, even in difficult times, gardening can bring us a sense of tranquility and escapism.

Thanks to Jesse Piersol and The WC Press for such a great job of presenting an important local trend. May it inspire many more gardeners!

Edible Cress Hair Project

By WCGT summer Garden Program Coordinator Elizabeth Schultz, showing the project she directed at the June 21 Mondays at Melton program

Needed materials
1. Decorated jar
2. Almost full of soil
3. Sprinkling seeds
4. Adding soil to cover seeds
A few days after step 5: attractive edible end result

Looking for a simple, fun activity to do with kids? Look no further! The Green Team organized the following planting activity for children at our first Mondays at Melton youth series, and it is easy to replicate at home. Follow the steps below, and in just a few days you will have a jar person with edible cress hair that can be cut and enjoyed in soups, salads, sandwiches, and more!

Materials Required: 

  • Glass Jar (We used an upcycled 5oz Oui yogurt jar)
  • Soil
  • Garden Cress Seeds
  • Glass Painting/Decorating Materials 

Directions:

  • Step 1: After gathering your materials, start by decorating your jar with whatever craft materials you have on hand. Our kids enjoyed working with paint markers and googly-eyes to make their jar faces really stand out. 
  • Step 2: Once your jar has a lively face, fill it almost to the brim with organic soil or dirt.
  • Step 3: Sprinkle a pinch of your garden cress seeds over the top of the dirt.
  • Step 4: Spoon a small amount of soil over the seeds until they are all lightly buried. Keep seeds shallow at about ¼” planting depth.
  • Step 5: Wet the soil with a little bit of water, place the jar on a windowsill, and wait. Garden cress is extremely quick to sprout and low-maintenance (making it great for impatient kids). You should see cress growing within 2-5 days! 

In a week or less, your cress shoots will be 1½-2” tall and ready to harvest. You can cut the stalks off at the base and use the greens to add a peppery tang to your next dish. To learn more about garden cress and how you can use it in your kitchen, read here.

Flowers brighten up the neighborhood

Thanks to journalist Bill Rettew of the Daily Local News for this tribute to the power of flowers and the Green Team’s efforts to beautiful our area and make it more sustainable! And of course congratulations to Christiane for her contributions to the streetscape.

As Christiane says in the article: “Planting these beautiful flowers or plants provides much more habitat and food to insects and birds compared to just grass. It’s one step you can take to contribute to the environment and it looks beautiful.”

Read more at the Daily Local News, July 7, 2021. For another example of the Green Team’s lawn-to-garden conversion program, see here.

Lawn to Native Pollinator Garden Conversion

by Courtney Finneran

Are you interested in an affordable DIY project to convert your monoculture lawn into a gorgeous and ecologically beneficial native pollinator garden? West Chester Transition Team’s Living Landscapes Committee created a publicly accessible native pollinator garden located in the 500 block of South Maryland Ave in West Chester Borough to showcase this technique and educate the public on the benefits. 

Visible from the sidewalk, the new 200-square-foot native pollinator garden will provide nectar for butterflies and hummingbirds and food for caterpillars. Native plants have evolved to act as hosts to our native insects and therefore provide a highly valuable resource that cannot be provided by non-natives.

First step: tarping the area over a 6-8 week period is an easy way to kill the native turfgrass before planting

Before the area was planted with a mix of native grasses and perennials, the turfgrass had to be removed first. To do this, the committee chose to use the technique commonly known as smothering or tarping, also called solarization or occultation. Thick black plastic sheeting was laid down on the area in mid-March and stayed in place for five weeks. Next the plastic was removed, and the area was exposed to sunlight and precipitation for two weeks. Finally, the plastic was re-laid over the area for a final one-to-two week period to kill any remaining weeds and grass. 

100 plants of over 14 species of native grasses and perennials were planted in May 2021 and mulched with pine-straw.

When the tarp was removed, the dead material was raked up, which also helped prepare the surface for planting. The plants used for this bed were purchased from an online nursery that provides small 4”-plugs consisting of over 13 different native species assembled in a pre-assembled “pollinator garden.” Two pollinator garden trays, totaling 100 plugs of 14 different native species were purchased in February. The goal for this site was to plant the area densely for maximum first-season growth and success.  

Metal mesh cages protect young plants from being eaten by the local hungry rabbits

The planting layout design was developed by one of the Committee members, Michele Hensey of Lifescapes.design. Plants were installed in mid-May shortly after shipment. Pine straw was used for mulch to help retain moisture and control weed growth. Due to the heavy pressure from rabbits in this area, metal cages were put around several preferred species.

(“Lawn-to-garden” has been one of the West Chester Green Team’s main themes; see also several of our videos made by Will Claudio, especially Dawn Mazzone interviewed by Courtney Bodle here.)