Experiments in the Demonstration Garden: 45 Degree Trellis

This is blog two of a three-part series.

45 Degree Trellis Experiment

March in the Demonstration Garden. The 45-degree angle trellis was built over an existing raised bed, seen here full of winter cover crops.


One of the challenges of growing food in an urban environment is not only finding a space to start a garden, but also clean soil to grow food in. As a result, Gateway Greening is always looking for new ways to make the most of our available space.


Growing Up

Last summer, Garden Program Manager Dean Gunderson decided to tackle the 45-degree angle trellis. The concept is fairly simple. Instead of using a shade cloth to cover and protect vulnerable cool season crops, he would build a trellis and grow a vining plant across it. If it worked, the cool season crops would be protected by the leaves of the vine above, and would result in twice the harvest amount from the one growing space.

To start, Dean and long-time volunteer John Newman teamed up to design and build the trellis using spare lumber and cattle panel.

The hardest part [of building the trellis] was figuring out how to stabilize the flexible cattle panel and how to attach the legs to it since it was narrower than our wide [garden] beds. – Dean Gunderson, Garden Program Manager.

In the end, Dean and John built a wooden frame to support a single length of cattle panel and attached wooden legs to the sides for support. By varying the lengths of the wooden legs, they were able to create the desired 45-degree angle.


Planting for Harvest & Feedback

In the spring cabbage, broccoli, and other cool season crops were planted in the raised bed below the trellis. These are crops that often die off as summer arrives, and would be effective indicators of how well the experiment worked. A few weeks later, volunteers planted four tromboncino squash plants at the low end of the trellis to be the “shade vine.”

This experiment was particularly fun to watch. Unfortunately, the squash’s growth did not take off until summer heat hit, meaning it was not able to provide significant protection for the spring cool season crops. However, once the heat hit the tromboncino squash plants grew at staggering speeds, creating a shady nook in no time. More than one Saturday volunteer and staff member observed that it was a perfect place for a yoga mat and a nap!


45 Degree Angle Trellis Experiment
Tromboncino squash taking over the 45-degree angle trellis in August of 2017.


Although it did not provide adequate cover in spring, the squash was more than able to provide cover for fall cool season crops. As a result, volunteers were able to plant carrots, cabbage, and a few other fall crops earlier than we typically would. The harvest from these crops was smaller than anticipated, but we suspect that was due to a lack of sunlight – the tromboncino squash vines really took off!


Our Recommendation:

Using vining plants in place of shade cloths can be an effective method of maximizing space while still protecting cool season crops, however, it does require extra management. Choose vining plants that will grow and provide shade at the time you need it most. For some of the more aggressive growers, make time to prune away excess vines to permit adequate sunlight to reach crops below.


Fun fact: Saturday volunteers harvested 263.45 pounds of tromboncino squash from the trellis experiment this summer. That’s 263.45 pounds harvest in just three months!


To learn more about experiments that happened in the Demonstration Garden in 2017, please check out our Garden Soxx Experiment and Potato Tower Experiment blogs.

Experiments in the Demonstration Garden: Garden Soxx

This blog is part of a three-part series. 

Joe Maddox of Eco Constructors and local artist Steve Ingraham spent a morning helping to set up our two of our 2017 experiments: Garden Soxx and Potato Towers.


“I wish I could garden at home but…”

One of the most common phrases I hear from volunteers helping in the Demonstration Garden on Saturdays is: “I wish I could garden at home, but I live in an apartment.” On the other hand, we have several older individuals who tell us they “miss gardening but I just can’t bend over to pull weeds anymore.”

At Gateway Greening, we believe that gardening should be accessible to everyone so when an opportunity to test a new container gardening product came up, we took it!


Beginning the Garden Soxx Experiment

Thanks to a donation by Eco Constructors, a local business that specializes in sustainable, low-impact erosion control products, Gateway Greening received several Garden Soxx to test. These short tubes are made using a special mesh filled with organic growing medium from St. Louis Composting, and weigh about 30 pounds each when dry. Our goal was to see if Garden Soxx could be an effective method for container gardening in urban spaces.


Pole beans sprouting during the Garden Soxx Experiment at the Demonstration Garden in Summer of 2017.


For our Garden Soxx experiment, we placed several tubes along the edge of a brick patio in the Demonstration Garden. By doing so, we hoped to create conditions similar to an apartment balcony or concrete patio. One placed, staff and volunteers planted a small variety of crops commonly found in both home and community gardens: chives, purple basil, three different varieties of hot peppers, pole beans, and radishes.

Planting was a breeze. Using a small pocket knife, we made holes in the mesh fabric that were just big enough for our seeds and seedlings to fit inside. For the seedlings, we scooped out a small amount of growing medium to make space for the root systems. The extra medium was gently packed around and over the seedling’s roots to stabilize and protect the plant while it got established.

Throughout the summer volunteers and staff vigilantly watered the plants several times a week using a garden hose or watering can. Thanks to the mesh tube, we saw very little soil run-off and overwatering was impossible. Excess water simply ran out!

Before long, we started harvesting a small amount of produce from the chives, basil, and each of the hot pepper plants. Unfortunately, the resident rabbits made a feast of our pole beans shortly after germination, and our fall crop of radishes did not germinate – likely due to dry conditions.


A mix of basil, hot pepper varieties, and poles beans in Garden Soxx on the Demonstration Garden Patio in Spring of 2017.


Did it Work?

Overall, the Garden Soxx were an effective method for container gardening in an urban space, but they did present a few challenges as the season wore on.

Firstly, that the Garden Soxx needed almost constant watering during dry spells and the height of summer heat. With their sunny location and lack of wind protection on the edge of the patio, the Garden Soxx were prone to drying out quickly which stressed the plants. The second challenge was that the Garden Soxx needed a few applications of organic fertilizer throughout the summer to support ongoing food production.


Our Recommendation:

Garden Soxx would be ideal for someone looking to grow annual vegetables or flowers with shallow root systems on a balcony or raised patio. Gardeners using Garden Soxx should be prepared to water regularly, and add small amounts of fertilizer as needed. Want to check out Garden Soxx first hand? Stop by the Carriage House during the growing season in 2018!

To learn more about experiments that happened in the Demonstration Garden in 2017, please check out our 45 Degree Angle Trellis Experiment and Potato Tower Experiment blogs.

From School Year to Summer with Dig It STL

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Dig It STL 2017 Interns installed new beds in the Demonstration Garden made from upcycled materials found in the local community.

This week, our first year of Dig It school year internships came to a close as our interns graduated from high school. In the 2016/2017 school year, our crew of 16 seniors from McKinley, Collegiate, and Soldan high schools racked up a cool 560 hours of service on the Gateway Greening farm, and they can see the impact. The garlic they planted in the fall is almost ready to be harvested, the fruit trees they pruned are filled with tiny green cherries, plums, and peaches, and in the words of one intern, “It’s sad we have to leave just when it’s getting good out here!”

Our teens explored a wide range of topics this year, including hunger and food insecurity, no-till soil management, medicinal herbs, and food policy. This highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of urban agriculture, and the connections between our farm and the diverse fields of ecology, biology, food science, public health, and business or nonprofit management. These are topics many teens don’t even know they’re interested in! One intern said, “I just signed up for this internship so that my friend wouldn’t be the only one at the info session, but Dig It has been interesting and fun and had made me more interested in environmental farming.”

Working on the farm also allowed interns an opportunity to reflect on their own health and habits. During our last-day reflection, many of our interns said they felt inspired to eat more fresh foods after this experience, and to seek out food grown organically, despite the fact that healthy eating was not a topic we explicitly covered. Some students came to the farm right after a difficult chemistry class and expressed how relaxing and peaceful it was to be able to spend part of the day outdoors, a feeling substantiated by research on green space and mental health
Blog | School to summer with Dig It 5/2017
Just as the soil food web in this no-till bed interns researched and implemented supports a spinach seedling, may the web of connections and experiences students had on the farm support them as they grow.

Work-based learning programs like this can result in higher lifetime earnings and better postsecondary outcomes for youth, and we are incredibly grateful to the Career and College Readiness team at Saint Louis Public Schools for their support. However, Dig It STL school year internships benefit Gateway Greening as well. We have the opportunity to train the next wave of nonprofit staff and citizens that will keep our St. Louis food projects running for the long haul. Young people who never would have sought us out on their own have the opportunity to realize that they are interested in our mission. Even if our interns never set foot on a farm again, we hope we have cultivated an affection for land and food that sticks with the students for life.

PS: We’re excited that two of our school year interns, Adam and Caroline, were hired onto the summer Dig It STL crew! Stay tuned for more when the Dig It STL summer session kicks off on June 14th.


Written by Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Teen Programs Coordinator


Discover more about the Dig It STL Program: 

April on the Urban Farm with Dig It STL
A Semester in the Dig It STL Internship Program
No-Till Proposal by Dig It STL
USDA Awards Grant to Support Green Jobs for St. Louis Teens

April on the Urban Farm with Dig It STL

Interns from Soldan International High School painting row signs for the Gateway Greening Urban Farm.

The appearance of April on the farm coincides with the mysterious disappearance of sufficient hours in the day.

Dig It kicked it into high gear last week, cutting, assembling, and painting 96 wooden signs to mark the beds on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm. What we thought might take two days turned into four days of feverish cutting, drilling, and painting.

Dig IT STL intern Adam and AmeriCorps VISTA Genesis planting on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm.

A quick side trip with a few interns to plant half a bed of greens became several hours of aphid-squishing after we discovered the pesky pests had already invaded the seedlings. While we were there, we thought we’d check on the no-till bed whose cover crop surely would be nice and dead by now. Can you tell what part of the bed the holey tarp was on? Hint: it’s the part that still looks very much alive.

Cover crops that survived due to hole-filled tarps.

We re-crimped the cover crop, and found a long roll of black landscape fabric to replace the offending tarp. By then everyone was late, breaking into a slow jog to get the Gateway Greening Urban Farm cleaned and locked up.

Despite the frenetic pace of the final weeks of spring internship, the world right now is certainly mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful, as e.e. cumming wrote. Our interns are already asking about volunteering on the Gateway Greening Urban Farm after graduation, a suggestion that they too have caught the farming bug. I hear it’s pretty contagious.

Written by Carolyn Cosgrove-Payne, Teen Programs Coordinator 


Discover more about the Dig It STL Program: 

A Semester in the Dig It STL Internship Program
No-Till Proposal by Dig It STL

Volunteers Spring Cleaning School Gardens

Saint Louis Public Schools have spring break next week, so students throughout the district have been tackling big projects in their gardens. Some of the garden projects were simply too big for students to complete during class time. Thanks to a bit of help from some amazing volunteers, the school gardens will be ready for warmer weather and planting after spring break.

Clay Elementary

Blog - Spring cleaning Mar 2017 01
It may have been freezing, but the Washington University Danforth Scholars were a cheerful and energetic volunteer group!
Last week the Washington University Danforth Scholars braved cold weather to spent a day of their own spring break working outside in freezing temperatures at Clay Elementary last week. When they signed up, they did not anticipate needing warm layers and hand warmers, but nonetheless they worked hard throughout the school day! 
The Danforth Scholars kept warm by moving mulch and compost, and tackled a tricky rebuild project of older raised  garden beds. Throughout the day, these volunteers also visited classes and assisted with lessons on weather and ecosystems, pairing up with third graders as they made their weekly weather and plant observations. It may have been colder than expected, but the Clay Elementary students had a great deal of fun with the Danforth Scholars volunteers.


Gateway Elementary

Throughout the week, middle school students from the Wyman Center, a teen outreach and support program, also worked in various Gateway Greening school gardens to prepare for spring. On Thursday, Ferguson Middle Schoolers from the Wyman Center volunteered at Gateway Elementary. The Ferguson students worked with Gateway Elementary’s fourth grade students to finish installing new garden beds, moving endless buckets of soil and compost into new double-high beds and pulled out piles of weeds.

Along the way, Gateway fourth graders fearlessly held giant earthworms and taught the middle school students about worms, and the Ferguson middle schoolers demonstrated excellent wheelbarrow skills. It was truly a community event with partners from MU Extension and Gateway Michael School coming out to work in the school garden with the students.

For students to get the most out of their gardens, extra help is needed throughout the school year, but especially in spring. It takes considerable effort preparing the soil, moving mulch onto pathways, and expanding garden beds before the growing season begins.

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Endless buckets of fresh compost and plenty of humor at Gateway Elementary’s school garden last week.


Volunteer in a School Garden

Volunteering in a school garden is an excellent way to learn more about programs in your local schools. Individuals and groups are welcome to volunteer in school gardens. You can help during big garden work days or implement a garden lesson. Please contact Gateway Greening Volunteer Manager Megan Moncure to learn more.

Top 10 Questions our Volunteer Team Hears!

Recently we sat down with our Volunteer Team to find out what questions they hear most often. From tabling in the community to working with volunteers in community gardens across St. Louis, these are the top 10 questions our volunteer team hears!

Are you the same as Great Rivers Greenway? Don’t you do the trails?

Nope! The names sound similar and both organizations are invested in making St. Louis a greener, healthier place to live for everyone in the community. However, we go about it in very different ways. Gateway Greening uses the Power of Growing Food – in school gardens, community gardens, and urban farms – to build stronger, healthier communities throughout St. Louis.

Community gardens come in many shapes and sizes: tree & shrub plantings, native gardens, perennial beds, street beautification projects, and our personal favorites, school & community vegetable gardens! These gardens don’t just beautify their neighborhoods. They also bring neighbors together to meet and interact with their community over something positive and fun! Gateway Greening currently supports more than 220 active gardens throughout St. Louis City and County.

“A major difference between Gateway Greening and other community gardening organizations remains its reliance on neighborhood groups to develop and manage their own gardens, which greatly increases the number of gardens it can assist.” – Sue Reed, founding member of Gateway Greening

Where does your funding come from?

Gateway Greening has a wide base of funding from individual donors, private foundations, corporate foundations, corporations, and public funding.  Gateway Greening currently has funding from the City of St. Louis, State of Missouri tax credits, and the USDA.

To help support Gateway Greening programs, please consider becoming a Member or giving a gift today!

What do you do in the winter?

As the growing season winds down, most of our staff shifts from actively working outside in gardens around St. Louis into planning and preparation for the following year. By the time the snow flies we are:

  • Planning all of the 130+ Community Education Workshops, Pints ‘n’ Plants, & Food Policy Lunch ‘n’ Learn events we’ll host in the coming year
  • Working with groups who are starting or expanding a school or community garden
  • Cutting lumber for all of the compost bins, benches, and raised beds we’ll award for new garden installs & expansions in the spring
  • Tabling at community events all over the city, sharing information & recruiting new volunteers
  • Busy at local schools, helping teachers & students connect curriculum to things happening in the garden
  • Revising planting rotations at The Gateway Greening Urban Farm, then locating new materials
  • Setting up food distribution relationships with local organizations and community members
  • Evaluating our programs and making adjustments & improvements
  • Writing grants to continue funding our various programs

The Gateway Greening Urban Farm and Bell Demonstration Garden may be closed for winter, but we’re still as busy as ever!

How many staff do you have?

Gateway Greening has a full time staff of 13, supplemented by seasonal staff positions, AmeriCorps VISTAs, Interns, and of course, our amazing volunteers! After reading the rest of this blog, visit our website to “Meet the Crew.”

How can I start a garden?

We can help with that! But before we do, check out the the interactive Map of Gateway Greening Gardens on our website to see if there’s an existing garden active near you! With more than 220 active gardens throughout St. Louis City and County, you may be surprised to discover there’s garden just a block away.

If you’re still interested in starting a community garden, then we’re happy to help! Over the last 30 years we’ve put everything we’ve learned about building long-lasting garden projects into our garden development process, and we’re here to guide you through it. Stop by our website and explore the Start Your Own or Join the Network page to learn more about the development process and discover your “next step.”

Anyone can start a garden, but there are long-term benefits of working through our development process and becoming a Gateway Greening Network Garden. Beyond guidance in laying the groundwork for a sustainable project during development, network gardens are eligible for many exclusive services such as: expansion grants, free ornamental plants, vegetable seedlings, tool loans, reduced rates of educator led classes, and an assigned staff liaison to provide quick support for gardening questions or other issues that crop up in the garden.

Do you want/accept compost?

Not currently. Gateway Greening doesn’t have the necessary storage space to collect, maintain, and re-distribute compost.

Instead, we encourage our network of school and community gardens to install compost bins at their locations. That way, they have a space to dispose of garden waste and a ready source of healthy compost at their fingertips!

Network garden members may apply for our signature 3-bin compost system through the biannual garden expansion grant. Or, keep a weathered eye on our events list! We offer at least one compost-bin building workshop for the general public each year.

Do you have problems with theft and vandalism?

Yes, we’ve experienced occurrences of theft over the years at several Gateway Greening owned properties. The community and school gardens we support are also no stranger to tool and food theft. That’s why we take steps to educate the public about how those items are used and also mitigate the likelihood of theft.

Food is often taken from the school and community gardens we serve, and a big part of that is passersby not being aware that they shouldn’t take the food. Several of our community gardeners have discovered that posting friendly signs to educate visitors about the space and how the produce is used curbs stealing. Other gardens have incorporated strategic plantings to hide ripening food from sight. When possible, many gardens secure their space by raising the funds to install perimeter fences that keep unwanted guests out. Ultimately, it’s up to the gardeners to decide how they would like to handle food theft in their garden.

Over the years, we’ve also seen tools and other materials stolen from both school and community gardens. To minimize the risk of tool theft, we began offering sturdy, lockable tool sheds to gardens that lacked a protective storage space through our garden expansion grants.

Where do you sell your food?

Good question! Depends on which location you’re asking about.

School and Community Gardens that are part of the Gateway Greening Network have full autonomy in deciding what happens to their produce. Some choose to donate everything they grow to local food pantries or sell it at farmer’s markets, but the majority of them choose to leave distribution of produce at the discretion of the gardener that grew it. Bell Demonstration Garden operates similarly, sending produce harvested home with the day’s volunteers and then donating the extras to St. Patrick Center’s food pantry.

The produce grown at The Gateway Greening Urban Farm is sold at several locations throughout St. Louis. First and foremost, our farm is supported in part by our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. This basically works as a subscription service for food, with members purchasing their ‘share’ in the spring, providing much needed funding when the farm needs it most. In return, we’ll provide them with weekly boxes full of fresh produce throughout the growing season!

We also have a few wholesale and retail contracts with local organizations like Food Outreach, City Greens, and the St. Louis MetroMarket. By partnering with these organizations we’re able to make our produce accessible to local communities at an affordable price! Any extras are then donated to the St. Patrick Center food pantry to be turned into hot meals for those in need.

Do you have a garden in my neighborhood? Is the garden at… one of yours?

With more than 220 active school and community gardens in our network, it can be difficult to remember which gardens are part of our network at the drop of a hat! That’s why we developed the interactive Map of Gateway Greening Gardens that’s found on our website. It lists every garden we work with throughout the city and county, and also displays how that garden is used. If you haven’t explored it before, then we recommend you stop by to check it out. You might just be surprised at how many gardens are active near you!

Another option is to look at the signs around the garden. Gateway Greening has been providing new and expanded gardens with attractive signage for nearly 20 years. These signs will typically have the garden’s name, a quote or mission statement, and the Gateway Greening logo.