April blooms

April blooms

April is coming in with a bang this year. Not only am I living in a new home with new challenges, I am also attempting to balance out my time by redefining how I can sustain volunteer interests in the community while I develop my own plans transitioning as a recent graduate and working as an artist and entreprenuer. It’s challenging to keep a pace up that inspires me and puts me into contact with others of similar mindsets so we can inspire one another and create relationships leading to meaningful or unexpected opportunities.

Volunteering in the community is one way I can learn more about a specific interest and also develop relationships simultaneously. About a year ago an old pal of mine – from my early days in Bloomington (circa 1990s), that I had reacquainted myself with told me about a site in Bloomington that she is involved with called BRI Hinkle-Garton Farmstead. Another friend recently wrote about the Farmstead on the Sustainable Indiana 2016 site here excerpted:

“In 2004, Daisy Garton, a long-time resident of Bloomington, donated her property to Bloomington Restoration, Inc. The farmstead, now on the National Register of Historic Places, covers over 11 acres, has two homes, four farm outbuildings, and a thriving organic garden and orchard. In addition to offering volunteers opportunities to understand the needs and participate in the care of an organic garden and orchard, they may assist in the harvesting and processing of maple syrup from the farmstead’s trees.”

It was those majestic Maples and the 2013 syrup season that drew me into the site through an overview class offered by the site’s programming. Current programming includes heirloom gardening, a historical museum with monthly open days, ongoing initiatives with Indiana University programs in archeology, and much more.

This Saturday (April 12), the Farmstead will participate in a community gardening event that will feature local garden groups coming together to offer demonstrations to the public in the Spring into Gardening 2014 event at Indiana University Hilltop Garden:

“Learn about growing your own fresh produce in a community garden or helping grow food for others in need. Try out some of the hands-on gardening demonstrations, like growing micro greens with Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard…”

However, last Saturday was a workday onsite at the Farmstead and I was asked to supervise a group of IU students in this year’s syrup season clean-up. Here is my team of robust volunteers posing for me with some of the 5 gallon buckets used to collect sap during the tapping process, all clean and drying in the sunshine thanks to their service.

IU student volunteers

IU student volunteers

Back at home I was able to break out some of the potted herb perennials that were fortunate enough to make the move with me last December. This past weekend was the first time many of my plants could transition outdoors.

I recently gave away a branch of my Rosemary to some free-cyclers from Texas. None of their plants survived the Bloomington winter and they are hoping to propagate some more and make another attempt at local growing- this time with container gardening. I have had many successful starts off my mother Rosemary plant and have more taking root through propagation now. I wished my fellow free-cyclers well and gave them a few tips for this locale.

my proud Rosemary 2014

my proud Rosemary 2014

Tuesday night I saw Will Allen of Growing Power lecture at the university as part of SustainIU week. I couldn’t be more inspired! I will tell you just one reason why? Because my gardening ventures are more about sustainable yet easily attainable means, I am always in need of learning ways to meet challenging conditions- like rental properties for instance with unseen issues.

Even as a renter, there are opportunities for growing by negotiating with your property owner.

Besides the closed loop systems, Will spoke about a technique that allows the growers to take urban asphalt surfaces or previously farmed fields with obviously unwanted issues (such as previous agricultural chemicals) and build up the growing surface by starting off with ten inches of wood chips. Growing Power grows soil through composting and vermaculture and those are areas I am learning more about as well. I plan to study Will’s now successful techniques and would like to attend a field outing to a site at some time in the near future.

At home we have a very low waste household generating only one standard size bin of ‘garbage’ for removal since December of 2013. Composting helps us accomplish that. Growing soil is something I plan to continue doing through food and yard waste recycling. I got started here.

Speaking of the yard at home-  a 20th Century Bungalow, I was prepared to have the soil tested. Now I am thinking through the season and considering Will’s techniques. I know that ground soil can be a place where many contaminates exist and Bloomington had a very public and messy episode of contaminants many years ago. There was an extensive clean-up and to my knowledge no contaminated sites are still exposed.

There are many types of run-off toxins and heavy metals that can contaminate soil. My neighborhood, called McDoel Gardens has gone through many incarnations over time including a revival of sorts that more recently have the B-line Trail, created through an old rail switchyard, passing through it and it has become zoned as a preservation district, upgraded from a conservation one.

Keeping all this in mind, Bloomington was once a rural community that now is home to a thriving and major Big Ten campus with tens of thousands of students. However, in not so faraway times, people used their property to burn their garbage and landfill that was used to develop areas may have included trash. On the inside, this cozy little home with two bedrooms and spacious living, dining and  kitchen rooms is charming. Yet take a look at the items (below) I have found in my the back yard without even doing any digging so far.

Found objects from my yard

Found objects from my yard

I’m not planning as many edibles at home this season as some gardeners may be, but it is still very useful to consider soil issues in any new environment.

Wednesday brings me to my second local growing site that I will be learning from this season as one of four interns. The Schooner Creek Farms await me in the lovely rolling hills of Brown County Indiana. Interns at the site will be able to obtain percentages of produce and plant CSA shares depending upon the time invested. I’m really looking forward to spending time in the country and learning more about specific edibles and growing techniques.

Hoop house at Schooner Creek farm

Hoop house at Schooner Creek farm




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