Growing Lots News and Fotos!

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A few weeks back, The Mix, a bi-monthly publication produced by the Twin Cities co-ops, wrote an excellent article entitled "Sustainable Farms, Connected Communities".   Growing Lots Urban Farm was one of three farm models detailed in the article.. give it a read!

Also, back in the spring, The Sprout, (The Seward Co-op newsletter) did a story on Growing Lots Urban Farm for the April/May 2010 isues (though at the time the farm had as of yet to be named!)... well the other day Chris Bohnhoff, a local photographer who took pictures for the article at the time, stopped by the farm to do take follow-up pictures of the farms progress.  Here is a link to his blog featuring a few of his pictures:

Hope everyone is enjoying this amazing Monday! 

Best wishes from Growing Lots Urban Farm

Posted via email from Urban Farmer of Seward

Not quite 'Strawberry Fields Forever', but how about 'Melon Fields for the Summer'?

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The recipe for turning an old parking into a place of beautiful food production requires a whole heap of hard work, a dash of youthful exuberance (not to be confused with mere youthfulness) and easily a dozen pinches of creativity!  These pinches of creativity seem to come at random times, when after much pondering and head scratching, an idea will pop out of thin air.. and land squarely in your lap waiting for you to do something with it... 

So one day in May, while working on turning a parking lot into a farm, it became obvious that a 75 degree day quickly heated up on a black asphalt parking lot.  Because, as many of you know, black absorbs the light energy that strikes it, and then radiates it back out into the air in the form of heatwaves.  This is the basic concept behind the architectural use of dark stone in homes to absorb the sun's warmth during the day, and radiate it at night, thus reducing heating costs.

Well, as the heat factor rose, and it became quite apparent the black asphalt parking lot would do the same thing, the wheels started turning.  How could this attribute of the parking lot be put to use in creating a more productive farm system at the site?  What plants would most benefit from this?  And what design would be both low-cost and functional?  Well, as the question turned over and over (and over..and over.. ), my dry mouth and dehydrated body began dreaming of a ripe, juicy, sweet watermelon.  And Waa-LAA, that was it!  Watermelons and melons would thrive on top of a surface that radiated off heat all night long.  Watermelons, canteloupes, honeydews, etc., love warm and humid summer nights... and if Minnesota happened to have another cool summer like last year, this extra warmth could prove to be a boon.  So the melon fields were born...

The next design question was how to create a melon field using a minimal amount of soil as soil is a premium resource on this type of agricultural project, so wise use of said resource becomes paramount!  Not wanting  to cover the entire melon 'field' in soil, some type of container became the obvious next choice.. but in what form??  The mind's eye envisioned about 20-30 individual containers with 4-5 melon plants per container.  Wine barrels cut in half would have been both aethestically wonderful, and amazingly expensive.  Large black plastic pots?  While cheaper, still not quite cheap enough and the black pot on the black asphalt would literally cook on those 90+ degree days...but then the Muses sang and creativity sprung forth from the wells of inspiration!

Already having made potato towers from fencing, straw and soil (see previous post for more exciting details) .. why not apply the same concept here, only cutting the bins in half for a makeshift melon container?  After calculating out the material costs, I realized each container would only cost me about $1.75 + soil cost... and the straw layer around the outside would both reduce evaporation, and also reflect the sun, hence keeping the soil cooler than using a black plastic pot.

The image to the left is culmination of this idea into about 25 melon containers, with the pictures below showing the little melon transplants right after they were first planted (left) and the most recent picture of their growth (right), where they are just starting to range outside their proverbial 'nest'... who's your mama bird??

So how are they doing?  Their growth so far is pretty good.  And in terms of water, they are currently getting a good drenching every third day (even during the hot dry stretches), so evaporative losses seem minimal. 

The melon field contains some dear old friends in a new form (watermelons... var: Blacktail Mountain, Little Baby Flower;) and some new friends I am looking forward to inviting over for dinner! (melons... var: Boule d'Or, Charantais, Haogen, Sun Jewel, and Savor.)

Now let this be a word to the wise farmer.. never, ever, think you will remember what flats you seeded what melons (or any other plant for that matter!) into. In the craziness of getting a farm up and going the first year... well, labels didn't quite flow through the process... and while these were the types planted in the spring, which ones came up and made it into the melon field is a slightly different story... with the final chapter entitled, "Hmmm, now WHO are YOU?"  (and the epilogue, "oooh, YUMM!)

Next design challenge, how to keep those pesky rabbits from nibbling on the melons once they come in for a landing.... rabbit stew anyone?

Watch for future updates on the melon field experiment here at Growing Lots Blog or at Urban Farmer of Seward.

2010 CSA-Shares Available...!

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Become and Urban Farm CSA- Share member today...

I bet you thought you missed the boat on getting signed up for a CSA share this year.  Well, Growing Lots is excited to be able to still offer up shares for the 2010 growing season.

As a first year start-up farm, those who choose to invest at this time will see their money going to strengthen the urban food system directly.  The money will feed back into the farm, and be used to purchase and install a high tunnel this season, add other vitals like tools and sheds, and get .

  • The first year a  special share price of $350 is being offered.  (Frist year members who return in 2011 will get a 15% discount)
  • This is a weekly share to be picked up on-site every Thursday between 4-7 pm, starting on Thursday, July 8th and going to Mid-October.
  • If you are interested in supporting the farm through purchasing a 2010 share, print out this form  , fill it in and mail it to Growing Lots c/o Stefan Meyer, 3809 E 45 ST., Minneapolis, MN 55406.
  • This first year there will be no work-trade options for the shares, but a more dynamic pricing system will definitely be in place by the 2nd year.
If you are not interested in a full-share, but are interested in supporting this new community farm, you can make donations to the farm, through our non-profit partner, Seward Redesign.  For more information, see the Help The Farm Grow section.

Farmer Stefan

Posted via email from Urban Farmer of Seward

First 'Open to the Public' Day at Growing Lots!

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For the first time, Growing Lots Urban Farm is opening its doors for the community to come by, check out the farm, chat with the farmer and for those interested, sign up for 2010 CSA-Shares.

What I am calling an 'Open to the Public' day will be in a weeks time on Saturday, June 26th, from 9am to 12 noon.  There will be farming goings-ons that morning, with people coming and going, so come on down and add to the hustle and bustle :)

Visit the About The Farm page for a map detailing the location of the farm site at 22nd St. and Snelling Ave, in the Seward Neighborhood.

If you are interested in 2010 CSA-shares through Growing Lots, check out the Become an Urban CSA Member! page...

Potato Towers & Living Fence Posts!

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When I was living in southern Mexico a few years back, there were many things that fascinated me about their methods of agriculture... it often displayed a simple, straight-foward and low energy/resource input methodology.  One example of this that fascinated me to no end was the use of a specific type of tree (don't ask the species, I couldn't remember even if faced with a firing squad!), which they planted in the ground and used as fence posts.  I remember one too many days as a child installing barb wire fences on our family farm, which required the use of excessive brute force and a pile driver, or a bobcat/tractor.  In contrast, the low tech approach to creating a living fence post entailed sawing off a branch from a living tree, and sticking it in the ground.  The branch would root itself out, and then the fence was attached to the very solid small tree.  Eloquent indeed.

As I pondered the need to create fence posts on the Growing Lot site, I did not relish the idea of pounding metal stakes or rebar through the asphalt of the old parking lot.  I turned it over in my mind, and like all good composting processes, it eventually produced black gold!  I decided to create potato towers as living fence posts.  This is a multi-functional element - and multi-functionality is a key component of Permaculture design.  Not only does it act as a fence post, it allows me to grow a significant amount of food in a small space (think vertical!), and also add beauty.  What is a potato tower you say, and how in the world do you make one?  Well, follow me, and I will lead you down the proverbial rabbit hole to 'tater land...

Step 1:  Resources

Here is a list of resources you should have on hand:

  1. 3 to 4' tall Wire fencing - something with sufficient gauge to retain its form, and be used for a few years,
  2. Wire cutters,
  3. Some sort of twisty tie or pliable metal, 
  4. Straw or hay,
  5. Pure compost (no manure! not even composted!!),
  6. Water source,
  7. Potatoes (go for a mix, prettier that way),
Step 2:  Create the frame

Use the wire cutters to cut out a section of the fence to create a cylinder container, about 2.5 to 3 ft in diameter.  I personally find that a 4' tall, 14 gauge fence works well.

Use either a twisty tie, a piece of metal wire, or a pipe cleaner to tie the fence ends together.

The end product would look something like the bin to the left.

Then collect your compost.  I tend to like a clean (meaning no rocks, plastics, etc.) leaf compost, which doesn't have a lot of large woody chunks.

3.  Create the first layer

I personally like to use straw to create a barrier inside the bin to both help keep in the compost, and to reduce water-loss due to evaporation.  Though it can be done without the straw, just make sure to use a fence with smaller holes to keep the compost from spilling out.

I first lay down a 2-3" layer of straw on the bottom then create a 'bird nest' inside the bin.  The straw naturally supports itself up the sides as you spread it, leaving a large central area for the compost.

Next, shovel in the compost.  I aim to put in my first layer of potatoes about 1 ft above the ground, allowing the bottom layer of potatoes plenty of room to form potatoes.

Step 4:  Lay-down potato layer and water in... thoroughly!

Lay the potatoes about every 5-6" along the very outside of the bin.  They can be literally right next to the straw layer, with the eyes pointed out.  (See picture to left for an idea.) 
A note about potatoes:
Use certified seed potatoes if possible... they are guaranteed disease free.  Though, I have personally used potatoes from the previous year, and even from the store, and had great success.  Though it's a little like playing Russian ( Irish) Roulette.

 Potatoes only need 1-2 eyes per piece to grow, so feel free to cut up the larger potatoes into 2 or more chunks, at least as big as a golf ball.  The smaller potatoes can be simply planted whole.  Ideally, cut the potatoes 24 hrs prior to planting, allowing time for a scab to grow over the cut, thereby reducing disease/rot issues.  Though as a child, we would always cut and plant on the spot, and I always remember having to dig a lot of potatoes in the late summer...(where were those child labor laws when you really needed them??)

If the potatoes are already sprouting, no worries.  If the sprouts are less than 3-4" long, go ahead and plant them.  Or you can simply break off the sprouts, as they will regrow.  You can actually do this up to 5 times before you start affecting the potatoes ability to grow.  Resilient little suckers for sure!

Next, it is important to absolutely soak the compost, as it often is on the drier side of things.  Do this after every potato layer is planted.

Step 5:  Repeat steps 3 and 4, laying down a new layer of potatoes every foot or so until finished.  The whole bin will use about 4 lbs. of potatoes.

Step 6:  Toppin' er off...

There are a couple options for finishing off the potato tower.  You can finish it off with a top layer of potatoes (with about 5" of compost laying over-top) along both the outside and also an inner circle (these will sprout out the top of the bin - see image below).


Though I chose a different option at Growing Lots.  I lay down 3 layers of potatoes along the outside (up to 3 ft), but then lay down a thick layer of straw and filled the top 1.5 ft with a soil/manure/compost blend for veggies.  Then I planted a variety of plants into the top of each living fence post.

Step 7:  Keep it well-watered...

It is important to keep the bin moist, from top to bottom.  I have found the easy approach to watering is to create a moat along the top of the bin, and then put a hose in the moat at a flow-rate so that it is absorbed at about the same rate.  Do this for about 20 minutes, once per week, and you should have sufficient moisture.

Step 8:  grow, Grow, GROW!

In about 10-14 days you will see your first little potato shoots sprouting out the side of the potato tower.

In about a month's time, the Potato Medusa is born!  This picture is one of the potato towers planted through Backyard Harvest.  You can see in this potato tower, we did not use straw, and simply used a fence with smaller holes.

Step 9:  The Harvest

Once the potatoes have all died back in the late summer/fall, it's harvest time!  No shovels, no digging.. simply tip over the potato bin and pick out the potatoes.  Experience has shown that a bin that uses about 4 lbs of potatoes can produce upwards of 25 lbs of potatoes.  Of course this will vary depending upon the potato variety chosen, and if any disease problems cut short the potato plants life.

Coming Soon!

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Watch out, Growing Lots is Growing! 

Keep an eye out over the next couple of days as I post my experience building Potato Towers as Living Fence Posts, planting the first plants, and a progression of photos to date. 

YAY... it's growing :)

Farmer Stefan

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Welcome to Growing Lots Urban Farm!

The sun is back and things are moving into high gear with Growing Lots Urban Farm.  The review process with the city on our initial site has been completed, with the next step the simple little thing of turning a parking lot into a healthy and productive urban farm site. 

No problem, right?  It will be the same concept as a raised bed garden, with a few modications for the overall size of the project.  The soil will be a 50/50 mix of soil and compost from The Mulch Store, along with some composted manure.  This will be a lot of soil/compost to get to a 12-18" depth!  Who's up for some wheelbarrow action?

As we move into this phase of the project, keep an eye out for more pictures of the project coming online!..

Farmer Stefan 

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Welcome to the new site for Growing Lots Urban Farm! 

This site is a work in progress for sure... but it will be used throughout this upcoming season to help the community watch the neighborhood farm grow...

The farm will be run as both a neighborhood CSA for those interested in shares (a great way to invest in your local food source!) and will also have on-site Open Markets once the season gets underway.  Stay tuned for more on this! 

Right now all of our baby veggie plants are in the process of growing, growing, growing.. An indoor growing operation was set up this first year in a local warehouse space owned by Seward Redesign, and rented out by Verde Strategies (a rainbarrel-making company.. check them out online.. ).  Verde Strategies very graciously offered up some of their warehouse space to help this farm project get up and going this first year.. a huge thanks to those great guys..

So WHERE is the site?  That is an often asked question for sure.. The short answer is in the Seward Neighborhood.. the long answer is the final details are being worked out with both the landowners and the city, so until the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed, the curtain shall remain closed on this one.. but ALL shall be revealed in due time. 

So check back frequently for more information, pictures and stories from the Growing Side!