What’s happening at the City Plaza Children’s Garden?

by on December 6th, 2012

Soilmates Coordinator Scott Koepke’s Update:

After an almost 6 month growing season, the City Plaza Children’s Garden is taking a well-deserved nap. As harvests tapered off and the first hard frosts arrived, most of the plants were ready for the compost pile. But even with nights in the teens and twenties, a few hardy souls hung on until several weeks ago: marigolds, carrots, even some broccoli heads. As we enter December, however, we’ve put the beds to bed.

One of the best ways to condition the soil for next spring involves cover cropping. A few weeks ago I broadcast rye seed on both beds and lightly raked it in. At the time I thought it might be too late for germination, but, just last weekend, when temps were back into the ’60s, I noticed a light green carpet of rye grass beginning to emerge! This was so exciting to see, not just because I thought it might be too cold for germination, but I had forgotten that the trajectory of the sun is so low in the southern sky this time of year that the garden receives very little if any direct sunlight at all during the day. Still, there was enough ambient light to awaken the rye. And on December 21, the first official day of winter, remember that the days actually begin to get longer as the light begins its return to spring!

Cover crops (also known as green manure) are vital for improving soil fertility as they build organic matter. In the case of rye, it has germinated, will die back (assuming we get a real winter this year!) and will regenerate in spring, at which point we’ll turn it under and let it decompose a few weeks prior to planting. This decomposition process produces more biological activity that results in more available nutrients for root systems.

A few stragglers are still out there. It’s always so hard for me to take out all the plants in a garden even when they’re finished producing. I left a couple of kale plants, for instance. And the broccoli still has such a pretty pale yellow flower head. They look so noble standing there. I hope to see some snow on them soon. And we saved some seed as well: beans, marigolds, sweet corn and sunflower (although it has been fun watching the birds attack the sunflower seed!).

Plans are already afoot for 2013. I want to include potatoes & onions into the mix, two veggies we didn’t get to this year. And I’d love to consider more grains and legumes — barley & black beans! One thing we might not do again, though, sadly, is sweet corn. The wind is so fierce through the Ped Mall at times that the taller plants tend to get knocked over pretty easily. But, once again, at least it’s the wind and not disrespectful people — I’m still so incredibly grateful to the tens of thousands of people who walked through that space this past summer and gave it nothing but the highest respect. No vandals, only some grazers! (By the way, don’t know if you noticed it or not, but, speaking of those sunflowers, hope you got a chance to see that the cucumbers climbed the sunnies like a natural trellis. So cool!)

Happy Holidays, Soilmates!!
And, hope to see you all at the garden this spring.
-Scott (Dec. 6, 2012)

As we get closer to planting season again, visit http://www.icpl.org/kidsgarden/ for all our City Plaza Children’s Garden news. And thanks to everyone who made the first planting season such a success. Way to grow, Iowa City!

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