Two of my favorite words together are “edible landscapes.” What a beautiful way to describe creative uses of public green space for food in addition to flowers. Year three of the City Plaza Children’s Garden will be over already before you know it, so I thought I’d check in with a brief update on some highlights from this past summer.
We harvest food from the garden every Wednesday, and all produce is donated to Table To Table. Our annual rain dance with the pre-schoolers ultimately worked. Perhaps a bit too well. It seems to be feast or famine with rainfall this year. A good rain soaker can often take a gardener through a couple of weeks, and is much more preferable than using tap water. Luckily, we haven’t had to water supplementally that much. Raised beds typically dry out quicker, but the better we take care of the soil with plenty of organic matter, the more effectively it holds onto water molecules to get through dry spells. And, as anyone who knows my teaching knows, it’s all about the soil. We also did a fun “balanced diet promise” with the kiddos the other day. They all put their hands over their hearts before we read some carrot stories, and promised me that they’d eat their veggies!
The bumper crop this year has been eggplant. That purple is the color of summer. Cherry Tomato jungle got a haircut recently. And, of course, the ever-popular natural trellis of cucumbers climbing the sunflowers continues to be a big attraction. That discovery, by the way, like many discoveries, was a serendipitous accident: a couple years ago on children’s day at Arts Fest, when we were planting, some cucumber seeds fell out of my pocket near the sunflower seeds and, voila! Cukes climbing sunnies. Companions forever. Next year I’d love to do one bed just with root crops: more ‘taters, beets, onions, carrots and garlic. It’s important to remember the distinction between above and below ground plants.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses. This has been the first season that we’ve had a bit more vandalism and theft. Some plants ripped out and signs stolen. But, overall, as I say every year, I’m still so grateful for the respect this space is given. And you know what? Those rare events of disrespect, in my experience at least, have been valuable, teachable moments. I even had one person come up to me this year and apologize for removing one of the two celery bunches.
The city is still on track to remodel the ped mall, likely in the next couple of years or so. City Staff has been very supportive of the children’s garden, and have told me that they indeed plan to retain enough sunlight-adequate space to continue this precious community resource. I will never tire of watching families walk around the beds, identifying veggies. But I’m a man of simple pleasures.
Soon to come, as well, will be the annual “Putting The Beds To Bed” routine: broadcasting a cover crop of rye seed. I recommend this for any gardener. Soil should never lay bare. Rye is a regenerative cover that will return in spring, unlike oats & peas, for instance, which are “winterkill” – both methods, however, do their job: building organic matter to provide chemically-available nutrients to root systems. So, to come full circle, let’s return to the essential theme of taking care of the soil first. Then we have plants. Then we have food and oxygen for people and animals. And then we’re here.
Thanks again, Iowa City, for honoring the City Plaza Children’s Garden. And a huge thank you to Rachael Carlson, Scott Spak and Mara Cole who help each summer tremendously with Children’s Day planting, produce deliveries and signage! As I always tell all of my students, the best is yet to come. – Scott Koepke, New Pi Soilmates.