Thursday, April 28, 2011

How To: Straw Bale Beds

At the Escalante Community Garden (ECG), we’re all about aesthetics, inclusivity, and the 3 R’s (reducing, reusing, and recycling).  That’s why we decided to install some straw bale beds in our garden.  Straw bale beds are an excellent way to use a natural material to build unique raised-beds that are both beautiful and physically accessible for most people.  Here’s how you do it:

1.)  Obtain approximately 8-15 straw bales per raised bed you want to construct (depending on shape/design of bed).  Straw bales are typically sold at garden supply stores, or from local farmers.
Note: 2 stringer straw bales are typically 36” X 18”, 3 stringer bales are usually 48” X 24”.  Also, straw bales are better than hay.  Hay bales often contain more weed seeds, and could bring weeds into your garden.
2.)  Determine a flat location to build your bed(s).
3.)  Lay the straw bales out in your garden in the shape you want (1 bale high).  We use rectangles at the ECG, but feel free to be creative in your space!  You can create a circle, square, triangle, or something else!
4.)  For natural weed control, consider applying a few layers “lasagna” down at the bottom of the bed: alternating layers of cardboard and black, soy ink newspaper.
5.)  Fill the beds with your favorite organic compost.  We use EcoScraps.
6.)  Plant whatever delicious veggies you want to grow!  We recommend growing more shallow plants, such as: lettuce, potatoes, radishes, and corn.
7.)  ENJOY your harvest!

Note: When the straw begins to deteriorate after a few growing seasons, you can add it to your compost pile; the straw from the bales will act as a great semi-composted material!  If you don’t have a compost pile, use this as an opportunity to start one!


One of the ECG's Straw Bale Beds

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Member Sit-Down: Interview with Carol Kronoff

This morning, Escalante Community Garden Coordinator Alyssa Brooke-Gay sat down with Escalante Community Garden Member Carol Kronoff to talk about the garden.  This interview will be the first of many ECG Member interviews.  Enjoy!

Interview with Carol Kronoff, Escalante Community Garden Member

How did you hear about the Escalante Community Garden (ECG)?
I attend the Escalante Senior Center and a fellow-participant Terry Brewer told me about it, and it sounded fun so I showed up, and I’ve been a member ever since.

What is your gardening background, if any?
When I was little I remember planting sweet peas under the trees in the backyard, and always wanting to plant more.  Then, when I finally had my own place, I always had a garden when I could.  I had a really big garden once when I lived in Oregon; my husband had to rent a tractor for that one.  Now that I live in an apartment, I’ve really only been to have house plants and tomato plants.

What is your favorite part about the ECG?
The belonging, the being apart of.  I’ve got to say that’s even more important to me than playing in the dirt.  Like Cheer’s, the Escalante Community Garden is the place where everybody knows your name.

Has the ECG benefitted you, and if so how?
It’s benefitted me by giving me a focus.  Right now, I’m past working and just living on social security, and the garden is something that’s been getting me out of my apartment.  It’s something that I can talk about with my family, including my daughter that’s in Ireland.  I’ve wanted to have a local garden for a long time; I’ve read about it in magazines, and now that I actually have one just past my back fence, I’ve jumped on it.  I’ve contributed with the planning committee, which is empowering.  I’ve made suggestions that are considered valuable, and that’s something that’s been very good for me.  It makes me feel like there’s something I can do, that makes me feel like I matter and can still contribute. There’s something about connecting with the earth that’s very therapeutic for me.

What advice would you give to other individuals looking to start community gardens in their neighborhoods?
Do it!

What veggies are you excited about growing at the ECG?
Tomatoes, and broccoli

What is your favorite section in the garden?
That there is green stuff coming out of the ground, and how wonderful it smells.

What are your hopes for the ECG?
That is grows and evolves for as long as there are people living in Tempe, because gardens aren’t static, there are always things to do and grow in a garden.  I’m looking forward to installing our cactus garden, and to educating children that really haven’t had any opportunities with the land and gardening.  I can imagine kids coming to the Escalante Center Pool this summer and seeing at the garden and wanting to become involved and that excites me.  I’d also like to see a children’s garden filled with quick growing plants like sunflowers and radishes.  Also, a fragrance garden, and hummingbird garden would be fun!

How would our society be different if every community had a Community Garden?
There are the obvious benefits of allowing people access to fresh vegetables and healthier food and teaching people that vegetables don’t grow in stores.  Also, the opportunity for like-minded people to work together and build something together is great.  Community gardens are such a good opportunity for people to connect with the earth, to connect with their inner Adam and Eve.  Community gardens also provide an alternative to such a mechanized/digitalized society.  Even if someone isn’t directly involved with a community garden, they can come sit in it and smell it and feel the breeze.  Community gardens give everybody an opportunity to get back to nature.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Escalante Community Garden Reading List

There are tons of books about community gardening/organic gardening, but we think these are some of the best... Happy Reading!
  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden All-Region Guides Community Gardening, Ellen Kirby and Elizabeth Peters, Editors
  • Burpee Complete Gardener: A Comprehensive, Up-To-Date, Fully Illustrated Reference For Gardeners At all Levels, Allan Armitage, Maureen Heffernan, Chela Kleiber, Holly H. Shimizu
  • City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America, Laura J. Lawson
  • Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food and Community, Thomas A. Lyson
  • Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty, Mark Winne
  • Community Nutrition, Nweze Nnakwe
  • Grace from the Garden: Changing the World One Garden at a Time, Debra Landwehr Engle
  • Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Learning from Seattle’s Urban Community Gardens, Jeffrey Hou, Julie M. Johnson and Laura J. Lawson

  • Growing a Garden City: How Farmers, First Graders, Counselors, Troubled Teens, Foodies, a Homeless Shelter Chef, Single Mothers and More are Transforming Themselves and their Neighborhoods through the Intersection of Local Agriculture and Community-and How You Can Too, Jeremy N. Smith

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    People We Love: Humble Seed

    One of the many wonderful things about community gardens is their innate ability to foster long-lasting relationships between our gardens and other community businesses/organizations.  In March 2011, the Escalante Community Garden contacted Humble Seed, a Scottsdale-based online seed company that is “dedicated to providing the highest quality heirloom, non-GMO, non-hybrid, and organic seed varieties to those who choose to start from seed”.  After hearing about the Escalante Community Garden (ECG), Humble Seed was so excited about the vision of the ECG that they decided to partner with our garden by donating 30,000 seeds to the project.  More importantly, Jim and Kristen Mitchell, the owners of Humble Seed are interested in forging a deeply entrenched partnership with the ECG, and are planning on visiting the garden to check-in, attending community build days, and continuing to support the growth of the ECG.

    Earth Day 2011 will mark the first birthday of Humble Seed, but we know they are in for many more celebrations because of their commitment to our community, sustainability, and growin’ only the most delicious veggies and herbs J

    For more information on Humble Seed, visit their Website, Facebook, Twitter, or Email them.  Also, check out this recently published article about Humble Seed and their partnership with the Escalante Community Garden!

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Growing Hope: Dave Tally and the Escalante Community Garden

    Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops... at all.  ~Emily Dickinson

    In November 2010, Dave Tally, a participant in Tempe Community Action Agency’s Interfaith-Homeless Emergency Lodging Program made a decision that changed his life.  While at a Tempe Light Rail stop, Dave found a backpack containing $3,300.  For Dave, a homeless individual, that money could have bought many things, including a new bike because his had just broken; however, Dave returned the money to the owner, an Arizona State University student.  Dave’s decision to return the backpack struck a chord with Tempe community members, and people across the country, who all sent donations to Dave, including Eli from Connecticut, who mailed Dave $4.00, his allowance for that week.

    The outpouring of financial and emotional support Dave received since November changed his life in unimaginable ways.  The money allowed Dave the chance to move into his own apartment in Tempe.  Also, through this incident, Tempe Community Action Agency staff members learned that Dave had a background in horticulture and landscaping, and hired him to be the Escalante Community Garden Coordinator.  Dave now has a sustainable source of income, and is doing work he absolutely loves.

    As the ECG Coordinator, Dave works alongside the community to manage volunteers in the garden, coordinate all of the agricultural projects in the garden, and act as a spokesperson for the garden.  About his new job, Dave says: “I love watching things grow, seeing how the plants mature and produce, and being around people that have the same interests as I do.  I feel beyond fortunate.”

    Let this inspiring story be an important lesson for people working in community gardens everywhere; all around us are people with skills, hopes, dreams, and values.  It is our duty as citizens of this ever-abundant world to help every person achieve their most beautiful dreams for their lives.  We can do this by making our gardens inclusive spaces where all community members are welcome to participate.  Also, we can begin offering small stipends for homeless community members in good-standing who work in our gardens to help them achieve self-sufficiency.  Furthermore, we can always reach our hands out to people like Mr. Tally, who just need to know that there is hope for us all.

    Dave holding some of our very first seedlings

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Fun at the ECG!


    Greetings from the Garden!

    Hello Bloggers!

    The Escalante Community Garden is starting a blog to keep a record of our events, network with other community gardeners and share our garden's successes and flops with the blogging world. To get started, here's our story:

    In August 2010, Tempe Community Action Agency (a 501 (c)(3) in Tempe, Arizona) held three focus groups to determine our local neighborhood's interest in starting a community garden. During those gatherings, we filled meeting rooms with community members that were bursting with excitement at the prospect of starting a community garden in our neighborhood. Due to the initial fervor at these meetings, TCAA began hosting bi-weekly community meetings to support the growth of this project. These meetings proved to be very effective in galvanizing our local community, and since then, our garden has flourished.

    Since August 2010, a lot happened that we are all very grateful for. Firstly, this Fall, the ECG garnered the support of Tempe Leadership Class XXVI, an organization of Tempe professionals who chose our garden at their 10 month community service project. Also, the ECG was fortunate to be assisted by two local community members: Raul Puente-Martinez, the Curator of the Living Collection and Research Botanist at the Desert Botanical Garden and Sophia Meger from the local architecture firm, Architekton. Raul was able to articulate a beautiful vision for the garden, and Sophia was able to translate that vision into architectural plans, and in January 2011, those plans got approved through the City of Tempe, and the ECG finally gained a home! Finally, the garden has received an abundance of human and financial support from a variety of community organizations and businesses, including: Arizona State University, Bethany Christian Church, the Boeing Corporation, Grace Community Church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Desert Church, the Homeschooled Girl Scouts of Tempe, Architekton, EcoScraps, Home Depot Tempe, Humble Seed, Paul's Ace Hardware Tempe, Phoenix Fence, and Sun Belt Rentals.

    At this point, you're probably wondering... who is going to get all of the luscious produce grown in our garden? Our community, of course! The model for the Escalante Community Garden is a truly communal model. A portion of the produce grown at the ECG will go to our volunteer members (membership is free, members just have to volunteer at least 2 hours a week for the garden), a portion will go to Tempe Community Action Agency's "Cooking on a Budget" Classes and Food Pantry, and the remainder will eventually be sold, with the profits being reinvested into the garden.

    For the past 4 months, our community has been working endlessly to turn our dreams and visions into a fully functioning garden. Throughout the next year we hope to install the following items in our garden: an ADA raised table-bed garden, a series of 25 raised beds constructed of various materials, a cactus garden, an herb garden, a fruit tree orchard, a community gathering area and a community composting demonstration area. For more information about how you can help us achieve this goal, visit our Wish List!

    We like what we're doing in our wonderful neighborhood in Tempe, Arizona, and we hope you do too! If you have questions about the ECG, feel free to contact Alyssa at or 480-350-5830.