Support the Future of St. Louis Community Gardens on St. Louis Gives Day 2018
The Power of Growing Food
About Give STL Day
Give STL Day is a 24-hour day of online giving happening this year on May 2. It is an opportunity for Gateway Greening to invite the community of St. Louis to help us further the work that we do.
Gateway Greening supports more than 200 community and school gardens in the St. Louis area, that do more than provide a beautifying space in communities. They connect residents of all ages and backgrounds to their food and to each other. Gardens provide joyful spaces where people can interact and share their lives and the fresh food that they grow.
Written by Mary Anne Pikrone, Tower Grove East Community Garden Leader.
Three and a half years ago, as my husband and I were taking a get-acquainted drive through the neighborhood we chose to live in, we came upon folks working in the Tower Grove East Community Garden. I’d given up backyard gardens in Richmond, VA., and Toledo, Ohio, and was prepared to do with just a postage stamp yard behind our new location on Louisiana Ave. So I walked into the garden, asked about available beds, and within a couple weeks, I was happily planting tomato seedlings in my new plot a half block from where we moved. It made me feel at home again.
Meanwhile, I kept hearing about Gateway Greening but didn’t really understand what the organization was. I did note our sign said the garden was established by GG in 1999– long before I moved here.
I got more involved in the Tower Grove East Community Garden, and that’s when I came to appreciate what a wonderful resource Gateway Greening is. I visited their headquarters and took the required course for garden officers. I attended their early spring conferences, where I learned community gardening techniques and met others who are just as passionate about urban gardening as I am. And, best of all, I discovered Gateway Greening’s volunteer services.
Frankly, we wouldn’t be where we are today–nor would we look as good–if it were not for the volunteers Gateway Greening has sent us. We’ve had folks from Minnesota who mightily struggled, and prevailed, in 90-degree weather under brutal sunlight; they weren’t used to such heat.
We’ve had seminarians and families who’ve helped us. We’ve had up to several dozen people–I call them worker bees–who have descended on our grounds, worked furiously in often very hot weather and left the place neat and clean. I must say the most impressive were the high school track team girls (can’t remember from where), who conquered deep roots that our gardeners hadn’t been able to budge. Yes, I have to say they definitely out-weeded the guys.
Then, late last year, Gateway Greening arrived with much-needed tools to refurbish our tool shed. What a gift! Now, of course, I hope to apply for a new arbor/trellis from them. When I have friends visit, I always give them a tour of the garden and explain about Gateway Greening, a wonderful umbrella organization of more than 200 urban community gardens.
Meanwhile, we’re determined to keep improving the garden. Thanks to Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, the city installed new sidewalks and replaced ancient steps leading up to the garden this fall. We paid to have our 100-year-old plus retaining wall tuckpointed; it had been cracking and chipping.
Most gardeners know that encouraging pollinators is good for their growing plants, but not everyone knows that increased diversity of pollinators can mean more vegetables to harvest.
One of the best ways to ensure that your garden thrives every year is by taking the time to plan before you plant.
While deciding which varieties of peppers to grow is an important choice, choosing which plants to encourage native pollinators can be just as vital to creating a flourishing garden.
Factors to Consider
Seasonality–When deciding what to plant to nurture native pollinators in your garden, considering when various plants will bloom is of the utmost importance. Bees and other native pollinators need sources of nectar and/or pollen during the time that they are foraging and creating nests. To provide these sources of fuel, be sure to select plants that will bloom throughout the growing season.
Gateway Greening’s Strategy: In our Demonstration Garden, there is a wide variety of native flowers. When first planted, these plants were designed to bloom throughout the growing season, but more aggressive fall flowering plants have crowded out the spring flowering. Luckily, there are other parts of the Demonstration Garden that have only spring flowering
plants, ensuring that pollinators always have resources to utilize.
Plant Placement–To maximize the benefit that native plants offer in your garden, placement can be an important consideration. When plants are grouped in large patches, instead of being by themselves, they can offer more resources to pollinators.
Bordering your edible plants with native flowering plants can also improve pollination of your edible plants as well as provide pollinators with even more resources to thrive, leading to more vegetables being produced.
Gateway Greening’s Strategy: In both the native pollinator area and wildlife garden in the Demonstration Garden, native plants are grouped in large patches. Gateway Greening tries to plant native plants directly into the ground in order to save space in raised beds, especially since native plants thrive in Missouri’s clay-filled soil. Otherwise unused space is also used strategically in other parts of the garden such as the small area next to the roadside fence, where ornamental plantings bloom throughout the season.
Plant Varieties to Consider
Native Yarrow–Though some consider it to be a weed, yarrow is a native, flowering perennial that attracts butterflies with its white flowers and long bloom time.
Anise Hyssop–This herbaceous perennial is attractive to a variety of native pollinators. Its fragrant, purple blossoms stick around from June to September, making it a beautiful and edible addition to any garden.
Chives–Another edible that attracts native pollinators, chives bloom in the late spring and early summer to ensure that pollinators stick around all season.
Garlic Chives–Though similar to chives, garlic chives bloom in the late summer and early fall, which can be a time when other plants are not flowering.
Aster–In addition to having large, purple flowers, aster is notable for its late bloom time, which stretches into October.
Witch Hazel–Though you might know it from the first aid aisle, witch hazel is unique for both its interesting blooms and very early bloom time, which can begin as early as January.
Native Passionflower (Maypop)–Related to the tropical passion fruit, this unusual flower has a long bloom time and is much loved by bumblebees.
Other great choices to encourage native pollinators in your garden include perennial edibles that flower such as selvatica, oregano, thyme, chives, garlic chives, lemon balm, and mint.
Gateway Greening’s Strategy: Last year, garlic chives, chives, and thyme were planted at the ends of raised beds that contained vegetables. These pollinator attracting perennials are edible and flower beautifully.
Though many of these native plants make St. Louis gardens more efficient, they also can add beauty to their surroundings. Many of them produce gorgeous, colorful blooms that can
light up a neighborhood.
To see all the strategies that Gateway Greening utilizes to encourage pollinators, come take a tour of the Demonstration Garden on Saturday, March 17, 10am – 11am or just stop by at 3841 Bell Ave, St. Louis, MO 63108 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays. Check out even more opportunities to visit the space here.
For more information on which native plants thrive in Missouri, check out these resources!
Though the 2017 growing season may be over, winter is no time to sleep on preparing for your garden. One of the most important aspects of planning for spring is deciding which plants to grow. Below we provide recommendations from knowledgeable Gateway Greening staff so that your garden can thrive!
If you have not heard about the many benefits of perennial plants, consider this your wake up call. Perennials can reduce the amount of time spent planting in the spring and are often quite hardy.
Some great choices for St. Louis, according to our Garden Program Manager, Dean Gunderson, are:
Sorrel –A tangy green that kids love, sorrel is a perennial that thrives in the St. Louis region. It can be used as either an herb or green and is ready to harvest in earlyspring, making it a great way to start the growing season.
Asparagus –Though asparagus can take a year or two to establish, once it does it will produce delicious food for years to come.
Read more about edible perennials that grow well in St. Louis here.
Varieties That Thrive in St. Louis
Jackson Hambrick, Garden Project Manager at Gateway Greening, has a lot of experience finding varieties of common vegetables that thrive in St. Louis. Through trial and error, he has found that the examples below embrace the extreme temperatures and unreliable precipitation of the region.
Malabar Spinach –Though the name suggests otherwise, this plant is not actually a spinach. Unlike classic spinach, malabar spinach does quite well with the humidity and heat of summer in St. Louis.
Lettuce ‘Muir’ –“This is the most heat tolerant lettuce I have come across. It can easily handle the large temperature swings of St. Louis springs and can be grown under cover during the early summer,” Jackson said.
Missouri Pink Love Apple Tomato –If you are looking for a gorgeous tomato to add color to your garden, this variety is a great choice. It is a Missouri heirloom and when taken care of, it will thrive in the St. Louis region.
Try Something New
Roselle –Roselle is a species of hibiscus that is native to West Africa. It is used to make hibiscus beverages and preserves. While a perennial in warmer climates, in the St. Louis area it is
Storage Tomatoes –If you ever wish for home grown tomatoes long after the growing season, storage tomatoes are a perfect choice. When they are picked green, they will ripen over the course of weeks and can stay delicious for weeks beyond that, depending on the specific variety.
Okra –Though okra is a widely recognized vegetable, it is not always common in community gardens. It is a great choice for St. Louis because it loves our hot summers! It also produces beautiful flowers that can be used in arrangements.
Ground Cherries –If you are looking for a slightly sweet and low maintenance choice for your garden, ground cherries will fit the bill. They are in the same genus as tomatillos and could be mistaken for them because of the papery husks that they are covered in. They are great to mix in salsas and pies and also make a delicious jam.
Do you have a favorite plant that does not get enough love in the St. Louis region? Or have you been meaning to try something new but have not been able to plant it yet? Share with us on Facebook, Twitter or email! We would love to hear about your garden experiments and plans.
This is the third in a series of articles about the challenges gardeners and farmers have faced while working in an urban area, as well as the solutions they have come up with in the face of these issues. Read the previous posts from the series here and here.
A Skeptical Gardener
Allison Reed was skeptical about joining a community garden. Mostly because she hates bugs. Especially mosquitoes.
But when Florida Cargill, garden leader of House of Living Stone community garden, asked her if she wanted a garden bed two years ago, Allison decided to give it a try.
She still hates bugs, but has found an enjoyable hobby in community gardening. She even calls it one of the most relaxing hobbies that one can have. Planting citronella plants in her garden beds has also helped keep the bugs off of her when she comes to tend to her plants during summer evenings.
House of Living Stone
House of Living Stone community garden was founded in 2011 and is part of the First Baptist Church of Webster Groves. The name, which often draws interest, is based on the bible verse 1 Peter 2:5. According to Florida, the verse is about Christ talking to Peter about how believers are the living stones of a church.
The garden’s relationship with the First Baptist Church of Webster Groves means that it is used quite often for bible studies and events. It functions as a community space where members of the church can meet while enjoying the striking beauty of the garden.
And striking it is. When I first visited the garden on a September evening, the sun was just beginning to cast light through the trees. The garden, which is set atop a steep hill, features a variety of flowers and a small orchard and seems to welcome visitors in with its many benches and picnic tables.
Children in the Garden
One of the unique components of the House of Living Stone community garden is the emphasis on making the space a welcoming place for children.
At one edge of the garden, there is a patio area made of many painted concrete pavestones. The pavestones were painted by children of First Baptist Church of Webster Groves and feature bright designs, names, and references to biblical stories. The paintings were designed to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary and several of the pavestones have images of large birthday cakes as a result.
The garden also has a bed for children to plant various vegetables and flowers. This past summer, it held sweet potatoes and marigolds.
Florida and other garden members work hard to ensure that the garden is a place where children can come to play and enjoy its many wonders.
Problems and Solutions
The garden is undoubtedly a haven, which is made obvious as soon as you climb to the top of the hill where it sits and take in the view around it. But, like many community gardens, it experiences both environmental and involvement challenges.
This past summer, the garden’s biggest problem has been moles and groundhogs. The gardeners tried building fences made of chicken wire around their garden beds. The makeshift fences worked at first but half-chewed sweet potato leaves made it obvious that the problem required more action. Some of the gardeners eventually built a cage made of chicken wire around their garden bed. This prevented any critters from climbing in and making a meal out of growing vegetables.
House of Living Stone Community Garden, like many others, has also experienced periods of low membership and engagement.
Florida said that she keeps an eye on the garden beds and reaches out to members to ask them if they need anything if it seems like they are having trouble making it to the garden.
She also credits continued membership to the enthusiasm of the pastor of First Baptist Church of Webster Groves.
“He always tells people about the garden and how to get involved and makes sure to announce events there at church meetings,” Florida said.
The garden’s strong connection to the church has meant that excess produce has a convenient place to be donated. The church has a food outreach ministry that provides supplemental meals to those in need.
The garden is a unique entity. A place of calm in a city that teems with life. It provides both respite and a place to challenge oneself.
“Planting something new every year is fun. I just like to see if I can grow something different,” Allison said.
I entered the garden stressed from traffic and honking horns. But as I walk down the hill the garden sits on, the light slanting low, I feel a sense of calm that was not there before.
Written by Mallory Brown, Communications & Fundraising AmeriCorps VISTA
If you stopped by the Demonstration Garden this spring, you may have met Myra Rosenthal, a long time Gateway Greening volunteer and Garden Leader of the Garden of Eden at the JCC. Recently, we caught up with Myra to learn more about the Garden of Eden’s unique mission: providing her local food pantry with fresh garden produce.
“You know, it wasn’t difficult [to start a garden] and it evolved organically (pardon the pun). Many people have gardens in their homes and bring excess produce to the pantry. For years my husband has always taken his extra tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers there. Jewish congregations in the St. Louis area have donation bins solely for the purpose of collecting food for the pantry.” – Myra Rosenthal, Garden Leader at the Garden of Eden
Founded in 2011 with the goal of providing fresh produce to the local Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, the Garden of Eden has grown considerably from its humble beginnings.
Open four days a week, the Garden of Eden is located on a corner of the St. Louis Jewish Community Center property and currently has more than 4,000 square feet of growing space in the form of raised planting berms and beds. A portion of the garden is reserved for the use of nearby Covenant Place residents, many of whom are immigrants or refugees.
With the combined effort of long-time gardeners, individual and group volunteers, and even a few cheery day camp participants, the Garden of Eden was able to grow and donate more than 3,700 pounds of food to the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry in 2016 alone.
Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry
Started in 1991, the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service, originally operated out of a single room on a shoestring budget, serving no more than 40 families. Since then the food pantry has grown considerably. Today it is a designated USDA food pantry affiliated with the St. Louis Area Foodbank and Operation Food Search, and serves more than 6,500 people each month, making it one of the largest food pantries in the region.
During a recent visit to the food pantry to learn more about how community gardeners can support their local pantries, Gateway Greening staff Erin Wood and Mallory Brown were deeply impressed by the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry’s commitment to alleviating hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds. The staff and volunteers of the pantry make every effort to accommodate special dietary needs, providing kosher, halal, gluten-free, and diabetic friendly options for their guests as much as possible.
When asked how the Garden of Eden decides what to grow in the garden each year, Myra’s response was candid: “Well, we got smart. Eventually. When we first started, that is, in our first year, we went to a local gardening store and we thought, ‘Oh, this plant looks good. We’ll buy it.’ ‘Oh, look, this is interesting. Let’s get it.’ ‘Oh, this herb is soooo cute. We’ll grow this.’ Then somewhere in the middle of the summer, I remember thinking, ‘Is that what the clients of the food pantry want?’ So the next time I went to the pantry I asked. I was stunned when I was told the clients in the pantry had no use for herbs. They wanted simple, sustainable food. They didn’t want anything fancy. That’s when I learned we don’t grow what WE want. We grow what THEY, the clients of the food pantry, want.”
Visiting the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry is much like visiting a corner grocery store, as the pantry has moved to a “Client Choice” model. Using this model, guests are encouraged to explore the items and select foods which their families will use at home, up to a certain amount based on the number of people in their household. Judy Berkowitz, Director of the food pantry, explains that this model is more flexible than the traditional ‘bagged’ method, allowing individuals to meet their dietary needs while still embracing differences in food culture among their diverse guest base.
Myra shared that it is sometimes challenging to grow for such a diverse community, but most of the time – it isn’t. Despite not being familiar with crops like okra and collard greens, Myra chose to grow them because they went over well with the clients. “We are a multicultural country anyway and we should try other’s foods. Come to think of it, the clients at the food pantry are multinational. Some are from Asia, Russia, the Ukraine, and the Middle East. What’s odd or unusual to us may not be to them and they gladly take.”
Community Garden Challenges
When asked about challenges faced by gardening, Myra states: “Gardens are gardens. I’ve never met a productive vegetable garden that looks like a set for a magazine or a tv show. Even the vegetable garden in Orange Is the New Black looks a zillion times better than ours. And there’s a dead body buried in it! I have had to deal with dismissive comments of people who think we should look weed free, lush and beautiful. I think we spend an inordinate amount of time on weeding and other tasks so that the garden looks at least decent to ordinary passersby. But, then, to be fair, we chose not to have a fence. That was deliberate. In the Bible, farmers are commanded to leave part of their fields for the poor to glean. We do the same.”
Beyond the weeds, the Garden of Eden faces other challenges that many St. Louis community gardens can relate to: the struggle to find continuous funding, engaged volunteers and new garden members, as well as materials being stolen or vandalized. And perhaps the most devastating of all – the occasional crop failure.
Guide to Growing for Food Pantries
Interested in sharing the bounty from your personal or community garden with a local food pantry? Myra shares a few insights:
Food pantries are as varied and unique as the communities they serve. Some will have refrigerators and freezers available for storing excess food, and some will not. Although most will take fresh foods that will last for at least a few days, some pantries will only accept boxed and canned goods.
Open Hours: Learn when the food pantry is open, and call ahead to see when they accept donations. Many rely on volunteers and may only have the capacity to accept and process your gift on certain days.
Visit your food pantry! Knowing how a pantry operates, and what its specific needs are, will empower you to make informed decisions about what will and will not be helpful to the food pantry.
Always respect the privacy of the guests of the food pantry. Ask the food pantry staff if there are any guidelines you should be following when making a donation.
People who are food insufficient are reluctant to try new items, and many do not have measuring cups, baking equipment, or easy access to the internet to search for recipes. When possible, keep your food donations simple and basic. When growing for a pantry, always ask what foods will be most helpful.
Always clean the food before making a donation! Food pantries have a lot of work to accomplish and often have limited manpower to do it all. Food safety is paramount when providing food for others, and providing clean food ensures it ends up on the shelves quicker.
Call ahead and let the food pantry know that you are harvesting for them or plan to make a donation on a certain day. This simple courtesy is anything but, as it allows the pantry to make changes as needed to meet the needs of its guests.
This is the second in a series of articles about the challenges gardeners and farmers have faced while working in an urban area, as well as the solutions they have come up with in the face of these issues. Read the first post from the series here.
Botanical Heights Community Garden
The Botanical Heights Community Garden was established more than a decade ago and has been an integral part of the Botanical Heights neighborhood since its creation. One of the larger community gardens in the city of St. Louis, it has over 50 beds and currently counts around 30 people as members. The garden has a large orchard as well which it won in 2010 from the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation of California, which was underwritten by Edy’s Fruit Bars.
I visited the garden in late July when its many beds were overflowing with vegetables, flowers, and herbs. The garden is a beautiful example of the amount of produce that can be grown on a small city lot. But it has always experienced challenges that have threatened its long-term success.
Struggles With Involvement
Nicki Bergmann, one of the garden’s current leaders, comments that the garden has struggled with involvement and interest.
“We do regular work days, but we noticed that the same few gardeners were showing up every time.”
Nicki says that she understands that for some people it is not always possible to make the work days. They decided to institute a rebate system last year to encourage involvement and reward people who were putting the most work into the garden.
They have annual dues for belonging to the garden that they increased this year. However, those dues can be decreased if gardeners come to work days, mow, or trim the trees in the orchard.
Nicki says this system benefits both the garden and members.
“Members who can’t participate in work days pay their dues which helps us keep the garden running. And members who were already coming to work days are rewarded by being charged less for their garden membership.”
She also commented that the rebate system has helped with recruiting more garden members. Members that want more beds and have time to commit to maintaining the garden can get more beds inexpensively, as a result of the rebate system.
Communication Problems and Solutions
For the Botanical Heights Community Garden, organization and communication has also been an issue in the past.
“We’ve made a concerted effort to ensure that people are informed about what is going on in the garden and how they can be involved,” said Nicki.
They use Google calendar to schedule work days and have used Sign Up Genius to get head counts for work days and happy hours. They also use word of mouth and email.
Gardeners have also worked on planning ahead for volunteers.
“Planning some big projects for volunteer groups to work on ensures that their time is going to be beneficial to the garden and fulfilling for them,” said Nicki.
Botanical Heights Community Garden has had some issues with bugs damaging their plants, particularly aphids.
Recently they have bought and released ladybugs, which Nicki said has helped with the aphid problem.
To prevent the spread of diseases such as powdery mildewor mosaic virus, which are highly contagious, they have created a policy that works to protect the garden as a whole.
“We try to monitor it and require gardeners to pull any infected plants as soon as they show signs of infection,” said Nicki.
To address problems with involvement, Botanical Heights Community Garden has a rebate system that rewards gardeners that come to the work days or do tasks for the garden.
In order to tackle issues with communication, the garden leaders have used Google Calendar and Sign Up Genius in addition to other avenues to keep gardeners informed about events.
To address environmental issues, the garden has released ladybugs to combat aphids and adopted a strict policy to avoid the spread of disease.
This is the first in a series of articles about the challenges gardeners and farmers have faced in an urban area, as well as the solutions they have come up with in the face of these issues.
13th Street Garden was established eight years ago and can be found in the Old North neighborhood of St. Louis. It is unique in that it is a resource garden, one that lends tools and knowledge to other gardens. It is also special because of its longevity. I met with garden leaders Jason and Jessica to talk about the unique issues they face as garden leaders in St. Louis.
The garden has historically been supported by the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, but it is managed by longtime, dedicated neighborhood volunteers. They hold a weekly farmers’ market on site where they sell extra produce that is collectively grown in the center rows. The money from the market goes back into the garden to keep it running with seeds, plants, tools, and other materials. When asked what their biggest challenge is, both agreed lack of time and volunteers keeps them from reaching all of their goals.
“In an effort to keep weeds down, we decided to try having people sign up to weed just a single row each week, which is much more manageable than trying to tackle everything at once,” Jason said when explaining the solutions they’ve found to increasing involvement with more neighbors.
They also do outreach, such as going door to door in their neighborhood and speaking to market customers about how they can join the garden. Jessica says their market especially creates a sense of community, bringing in people from across the area who may not be members of the garden.
Jessica holds this sense of community very dearly.
“I moved here from Chicago where I lived in a mid-rise building and didn’t know anyone. Here, I know many of my neighbors. We have potlucks for almost every holiday and people come to our farmers’ market just to hang out and talk.”
They both agreed that Old North is a tight knit neighborhood, but that the garden makes it even closer.
“That’s the magic of this neighborhood. People know each other and they care about each other,” said Jason.
However, they are concerned about gardening in an urban environment.
“Lead exposure is a concern, even though plants don’t absorb much into their roots,” said Jason.
This concerns many urban farmers and gardeners. Lead is often left behind in the soil from demolished buildings.
Many gardens, including the 13th St. Garden, use raised beds and rows with fresh soil and compost to avoid lead exposure. Washing one’s hands after gardening and harvested vegetables before eating them also helps cut down on the risk of exposure. They are also experimenting with low till practices and mulching to reduce direct contact with the soil and skin.
They’ve also faced some theft.
“We’ve had a couple incidences of plants being pulled out of the ground and taken. Whole kale plants just disappearing. The majority of our garden-grown seedlings disappeared at the beginning of the season.”
And while they feel disappointed when theft happens, they remind themselves that it only happens occasionally. Neighbors and other urban farmers reached out to donate money and seedlings to replace those lost, getting the garden back on schedule for planting.
“Everyone is really supportive. Even if they’re not part of the garden,” said Jason.
Looking forward, both Jessica and Jason are primarily concerned with how best to increase fresh food access in their neighborhood. They want to be a resource for their community, whether that means sharing knowledge or assisting people in setting up a backyard garden.
“If a backyard garden is going to work best for them, then we will try to support them however we can,” said Jason.
To address lack of time and volunteers, 13th St. Garden does outreach door-to-door and at their on-site farmers’ markets. They also have interested people take responsibility for smaller tasks such as weeding a row, instead of expecting everyone to tackle the whole garden.
To address the risk of lead exposure, they use raised beds and rows with fresh soil and compost to prevent contamination. They also remind volunteers and members to wash hands and produce after coming into contact with soil. They are also trying low till practices.
When it comes to theft, they remind themselves that it is an infrequent occurrence that does not reflect the attitudes of the majority of the community.
To increase food access in the community, they focus on providing the best resources for each individual, in addition to increasing production and growing their farmers’ market.
-Written by Mallory Brown, Communications & Fundraising AmeriCorps VISTA at Gateway Greening
To read about other community gardens, check out the links below:
Every spring, farmers and gardeners alike begin to grow their plants. While some planting and a lot of planning happens during the winter months, the bulk of the work of growing begins in early spring. But what if you could plant edible plants that come back year after year with less work?
Benefits of Edible Perennials
Annuals, plants that live only one year and must be replaced, make up the majority of edibles grown in Missouri. Perennials can provide relief from some the work that annuals involve, but their low maintenance characteristics aren’t the only benefit they provide.
Edible perennials are great for soil. Bare soil quickly dries out and washes away in the winter without the help of roots to hold it in place. And so growing something is vital. Also, perennials don’t require tilling which can kill beneficial components of soil. Perennials allow soil to thrive by adding organic matter to it and letting worms mix all the beneficial components together.
Perennials, including trees, help catch water and nutrients that might otherwise run into storm water drains without nurturing anything. One of the biggest issues in cities is the proliferation of impervious surfaces such as concrete and asphalt that do not catch storm water, leading to overburdened and overflowing sewer systems. Perennials help to divert storm water by catching it in their root systems, something that grass, with its small roots, just can’t do.
These plants alsocreate nurturing and permanent habitats for animals, fungus, and more. These are vital as people continue to destroy existing habitats to put up buildings and roads.
Perennials help extend the harvest season. Some edible perennials are ready in early spring, which means you have plants to harvest and eat during a period that usually isn’t high yield. This is especially beneficial for school gardens that want to harvest some edible plants before summer arrives.
These plants can also help to improve your garden. Some perennials fix nitrogen in the soil, providing themselves and neighboring crops with fertilizer. Others help to prevent erosion on hills or work as hedges or ground cover. And several can help pollinators while others can climb trellises to provide shade for other plants.
Examples of Perennial Edibles that Grow Well In Missouri:
However, perennials have their drawbacks. Some perennial vegetables, like asparagus, take a few years to establish. Other perennials are only edible for short periods as they become bitter when they flower. A few perennials can choke other plants by taking over parts of your garden. And some perennials have issues with disease and pest management as a result of the lack of crop rotation.
Edible perennials are a great addition to your current selection of annuals. They work together and can create a thriving and delicious garden!
To read more on this subject, check out these links:
This spring, youth educators Meg Holmes and Lucy Herleth have been working with Brown School practicum student Eli Horowitz to develop a mindfulness program to use in conjunction with Gateway Greening’s Seed to STEM curriculum. This project was inspired by City Seeds, the therapeutic horticulture job training program that has been offered to St. Patrick center clients on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm in various forms over the last 10 years. We know from both health studies and our own personal experiences with City Seeds that being outside and in green spaces has a positive impact on well-being. That is improved by being intentional about how one is working in that green space, coupling it with reflection, meditation, and journaling. As St. Louis Public Schools placed a ban on out of school suspensions for children 2nd grade and under, it seemed like an opportune time to add an additional component to our school garden arsenal.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice focusing one’s attention but in a relaxed and nonjudgmental way. Often it starts with focusing on physical sensations like the feeling of breathing.
In the near term, this practice helps students to slow down and calm down, which can help students with transitions between classes and activities. In the long term, it can help students to develop a better awareness of their body, thoughts, and emotions, which, in turn, helps students deal with stress and improve impulse control.
In addition to this, it is a transferrable skill. Focusing attention is an essential skill for our little scientists, whether it is observing pollinators to designing experiments. Being able to slow down and really pay attention is what science is all about.
Instigating the Mindfulness Program
Meg, Lucy, and Eli started the mindfulness program by working with 1st-5th graders at Mallinckrodt Academy and Clay Elementary. For the past month, they have been starting their Seed to STEM classes with 5 minute focused breathing exercises in which students are guided to focus on how their breathing feels. As the exercises finish, Eli asks each student and teacher to share feedback on how they feel with a quick questionnaire. This has allowed Eli to track the impact of regularly including mindfulness in class time. Students and teachers alike have indicated that they like to do the mindfulness exercises and feel more calm and focused when they’ve finished.
Written by Kathleen Carson, Gateway Greening Education Manager.
Looking for more ways to incorporate the school garden into your lesson plan? Stop by:
Gateway Greening’s Workshops for Educatorspage to explore monthly workshops that address the challenges and opportunities represented by teaching in school gardens
The Gateway Greening Educators Facebook group to connect with other teachers throughout St. Louis with similar interests in school gardens
Check out our In the School GardenYoutube playlist for short, actionable how-to videos that are seasonally relevant.