Working for the Underground

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No More Lawn

Food Not Lawn

What’s that old saying about good farmers growing food and great ones growing soil? Well, we make no claims to greatness here at Dirt to Dinner but we are trying to give the soil the great treatment it deserves. The space that now grows food started out as a lawn. If I had to guess, I would say that any original topsoil that remained from earlier days (the area was converted from farms to housing in the 50’s) was stripped off when the house was redone in 2000. We weren’t here yet, so we don’t really know. But the lawn and the adobe below seemed awful close together when we started digging it up.

In the spring of 2009, we removed large sections of the grass and added raised beds. In some places, we didn’t even remove the grass and the raised beds went right on top. Since then we have stopped watering the parts of the lawn that remained. The raised beds now all have well-tended and organically amended soil in them, but they are like tiny, well-provisioned rafts in a sea of wild, dry, mostly neglected ground.

Chipped Fruit Tree Shreds

Mulch Carpet

Or, I should say, they were, until the generous folks at A-1 Tree Service arrived on Thursday with a very large truckload of chipped and shredded summer-pruned fruit tree trimmings.  This is exactly what we needed to improve all the garden soil and connect the soil in the raised beds to a healthy, vibrant network of soil bacteria, underground critters and earthworms.

The chippings have fruit, green leaves, dry leaves and branches all mixed and shredded together, so they are already a combination of the ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ we need for composting. Spread in a layer about 10 inches thick, they will discourage the growth of grass and weeds, hold moisture in the soil around the beds, help moderate temperatures in the garden, and over time, they will break down into a rich layer of compost further encouraging the connections between all the beds and a healthy soil throughout the garden. In a year or two, when we want to add a new bed to the garden, underneath that compost layer will be rich soil just waiting for us to plant.

Dirt to Dinner is a project to help children and other community members get up close and personal with growing food. It wouldn’t be here without the volunteers and sponsors who make it possible to include so many in this nurturing activity. Thanks again to A-1 Tree Service, Bauer Lumber, Naturalyards, Victory Seeds and all of you who contribute time and energy to this project.

Special thanks to Oscar, from A-1 Tree Service for all his help moving the chippings into the garden!

Huge Pile of Chippings

Man vs. Mulch

Compost Resurrection

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100 Years of Farming  

100 Years of Farming

I spent part of Easter Sunday in the garden, pretty much like I do every day. I cleared the sod that we piled willy-nilly around the compost bins when the kids took the turf up for the Dirt to Dinner bed in the front garden. Once I made my way to the compost bin that’s done cooking, I dug underneath to see what the compost was like. The dog helped. Remind me not to get a digging breed next time. ;-)

The first thing that greeted me under there was a worm. Looked ready to me.

I got a large cement mixing tub and balanced the family heirloom across it to sift the compost. My husband’s family were Italian immigrants who farmed in Santa Cruz for several generations. This frame has come down to us from the family farm and I’m honored to use it. My mother-in-law briefly toyed with the idea of setting it out with the trash last Clean-Up Week, but even though the squirrels have done their worst, it survives as part of the Dirt to Dinner project here with us.

Tomato Variety

Tomato Variety

I sifted the compost through the frame, relocating the worms and adding whatever didn’t make it through the frame to the compost bin that we are currently building up. Then I took my tubfull of “black gold” over to the tomato bed. One of my recent don’t-know-how-I’d-survive-without-her phone calls to my mother-in-law went something like this, “Can I grow six varieties of tomatoes in the same bed?”

“They won’t mind but you can’t save the seed.”

“Why not?”

“They might not breed true into what you expect them to be next time.”

Just like kids, in other words. 

I carefully surrounded my six tomaotes with compost made from the scraps from the food we’ve already eaten, chewed by worms and other unseen helpers, sifted through more than a hundred years of family farming. It felt like a perfect moment in keeping with the resurrection theme of the day.

The best place to seek God is in a garden.  You can dig for him there. 
~George Bernard Shaw