Monday, April 12, 2010

Out with the Old, In with the New!

Death and life pour into each other continuously in a garden! Many plants that you see in a garden are annuals, which means that they germinate and flower or bear fruit just once before going to seed and dying. The seed-to-seed life cycle of an annual can be as long as a year or as short as five weeks depending on the plant and growing conditions. Some annuals growing in the community garden at this time are corn, pea, lettuce, watermelon, marigold, bean, and zinnia. This week, university and elementary students will transplant tomato and basil plants into the bed where bolted broccoli was recently removed.

Bolting does not mean that plants run away; it is a gardener's term to describe a particular survival mechanism in plants. When the weather warms up quickly, a "switch" turns on in some plants that tells them to produce flowers and seeds as soon as possible. Our Broccoli looked like it was going to produce some heads of broccoli, but instead just produced masses of green leaves and then bolted very fast after the weather warmed up. These leafy greens were great to make green smoothies with!

The broccoli (tall green bushy plants, in the back row) bolted in response to the sudden increase in temperature.

When clearing the garden bed of broccoli, we sawed the plants at the root base and left the underground roots to break down in the soil. The leafy masses of greens were composted. Fresh compost was added to the bed, along with greensand (source of potassium) and phosphate rock. These materials were well integrated into the soil with a pitch fork, and then mulched over with hay.
Broccoli roots were left in the soil to decompose and add organic matter, while the soil was amended with organic nutrients and installed with bamboo ladders to support the next round of vegetable life - tomatoes and basil!

Camille Perrett and Matthew Bush, two UA students participating in an independent study at the Community Garden, guided a class of second graders through the garden this morning. The children took turns smelling and feeling fresh radishes as the birds sang over head. Nicole Ortega showed the class how the Native Americans grew the "three sisters" - corn, squash, and beans - for hundreds of years before the founding of the United States of America. This year, students are growing native Alabamian squash and blue corn with handed-down seeds from Kenny Robinson, an employee of the UA Arboretum.

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