Spring is here!

This week The Real Dirt features a guest post from Kaitlin McCafferty, our wonderful Community Gardens Intern.  Originally from Ohio, Kaitlin is a current graduate student at the University of Montana pursuing her M.S. in Environmental Studies and has a B.S. in Marketing from Fordham University. She can be reached at kaitlin@gardencityharvest.org.

St. Rose's Garden
St. Rose's Garden

Hello Community Gardeners!

I am so excited to join the GCH team as this season’s Community Gardens Intern. I cannot wait to get digging and to get to know all of you! But first, a bit about me:

I am a current graduate student at the University of Montana, enrolled in the Environmental Studies program focusing on Sustainable Food and Farming. I am new to Missoula’s agriculture scene, but I did spend the last seven years living, learning, working and gardening in New York City.

My journey with gardening began when I joined the community garden pictured above on Fordham University’s campus in the Bronx, Saint Rose’s Garden.  The garden introduced me to the world of local food systems, including urban agriculture, food pantries, community-run farmers markets and community supported agriculture programs. What I found most impactful was the sense of belonging and personal improvement I felt as a member of the garden, and I instantly connected with the welcoming and nourishing environment.

After college I moved to Manhattan and joined my new neighborhood’s garden, Suffolk Street Community Garden. At Suffolk Street, along with maintaining my own plot, I participated in garden-wide projects like building tree-guards for all the newly planted trees in our neighborhood.  I also began to take courses in Urban Agriculture from Farm School NYC, an organization with the mission to build self-reliant communities and inspire positive local action around food access and social, economic, and racial justice issues. I took courses in food justice, botany, carpentry, propagation, and growing soils. I was immersed in how local food systems can take a multi-faceted approach to strengthening communities.

Suffolk Garden
Suffolk Garden
The Brooklyn Grange
The Brooklyn Grange

All of these experiences contributed to my love and connection to community gardens, which led me to apply to the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana, and soon after, an internship with Garden City Harvest. During my short time here, I have already been inspired and energized by the community gardeners in Missoula. This truly is a special place.

Now enough about me, let’s get digging! Here are a few gardening tips I’ve learned over the years to help you all get started:

Sun: Check out your garden and note how many hours of sun it gets and if any sections are particularly shady. Pick your crops based on the amount of sun your plot gets, and the amount the crops need. (P.S. don’t be discouraged if your plot is shady. Leafy greens are a shady plot’s best friends. Think kale, arugula, chard, spinach; these crops will do great in partial sun. So will many herbs!)

Soil: Once you’ve got your plants it’s time to turn your soil and add compost! Compost adds nutrients and turning the soil mixes all those nutrients in and breaks up soil clumps to make room for roots. Not sure where to get your hands on compost? Never fear, Garden City Harvest supplies some compost for all its gardens! Just ask a fellow gardener or staffer and they will point you to the pile. Not a community gardener? Most of the nurseries around town should have both bagged and loose compost (you’ll need a pickup truck for the loose compost). It is important to know where your compost comes from and that it is food safe. The Organic Material Review Institute (OMRI) has a list of approvedsuppliers, but the nursery should be able to help you locate a good brand as well.

Water: The younger the crop, the more water it needs, especially if you are direct-seeding. Also, I’d recommend watering in the morning, especially once hot summer temperature kicks in. This way, you can avoid water evaporation caused by mid-day heat.

Friends: Meet your fellow gardeners! First, they are the biggest resource for garden-specific knowledge.  Second, forming a relationship with fellow gardeners is half the fun of (and my #1 reason for) joining a community garden. Gardens are a unique space for fostering relationships between neighbors who otherwise would not mingle. They are welcoming space to exchange resources and support the ideas of all its community members, a powerful combination to make for a fantastic, and maybe even life changing, experience!

I hope these tips help. Thanks for tuning into my story, and I can’t wait to see you all outside!

Building tree guards
Building tree guards