Growing Organic Food for Whitewater Eco Rafters on the South Fork of the American River
When we established our original garden twenty years ago it was small and located next to the main kitchen. Occasionally the garden thrived, mostly it died, but the herbs, basically a form of weed after all, took over.
In 2007, as part of our Greenhouse Gas Action Plan (GAP), we decided to reinvent the garden. Eating organic, locally grown food makes more “green” sense now than ever and Scotty, who is a gardening enthusiast and majored in Botany at San Francisco State, took the lead. Last season the new eco garden was planted in hay bales (you can see the remnants of these behind Sarah and Scotty in the picture). Given the poor quality of the soil, this turned out to be a brilliant innovation! It worked exceptionally well because it provided a raised surface that gophers did not penetrate, made for excellent drainage, and almost entirely eliminated the need for soil preparation. Sarah contributed her knowledge of green argiculture practices acquired at Humboldt State University where she was involved in their eco composting program. Tomatoes and squash did well, but the bell peppers got too much sun and went down hard.
Building on last year’s effort, this season we have set the long term objective of achieving a “permaculture”. This increasingly popular concept combines organic farming techniques, such as composting and integrated crop selection, with green landscape architecture and eco farming techniques to achieve sustainability. Permaculture is more of a process than a destination and it will take several seasons and a big team effort to achieve substantial results.
Scotty is the leader of our eco permaculture team which now includes allies from the Garden Valley “Grange on Green” (see our blog article on this group for details). Two particularly knowledgeable Grange participants are the owners of Redbud Farms, Martha Cox (Master Gardener) and Dr. Dave Cox(retired UC Davis Ag Professor) who are hosts of a gardening show on KFOK 95.1 FM on Saturdays and are local experts with decades of experience. They did a site visit/consultation and suggested the size of the garden be many times greater than last season and be located in a more favorable location on an area of “Auburn sandy loam soil” with a ph of 6.1 (who knew?). Pass the lime please. Martha donated some seeds as well- Thanks!
Another helpful suggestion was made by Allen Carrozza, our ever energetic solar expert from Grange on Green. He donated solar panels that will heat water and circulate it under the garden to warm the root zones of the plants. This can increase the rate of growth by 140%. If you look carefully at the “American River Gothic” picture of Scotty and Sarah above, you will notice a large, black, rectangular object behind Scotty and Sarah- this is a plastic solar panel of the type commonly used to heat swimming pools. The round black object behind the panel is the 600 gallon tank that will not only serve as our rainwater recapture reservoir next winter, it will store the water heated by the solar panels and help keep it warm both because of its mass and also due to its passive “black body” solar energy collecting properties.
To help us get an earlier start next Spring, Danielle Fisher, the sparkplug of Grange on Green, has helped us locate a used 8′ x16′ solar greenhouse that we are planning to install on an old plywood living platform we had laying around. We plan to adapt this unit to use the recirculating solar hot water technique to extend the growing season this Fall.
For this season, Scotty has already begun raising seedlings from the seed Martha donated in egg-crates at his house. Colleen (who spent the Winter in Antarctica and is definitely ready to warm up) and Sarah are both enthusiastic to help Scotty get started and I’ve used the Kybota tractor to begin breaking ground for the expanded garden. We expect that soon our outdoor education students will benefit from seeing a working garden on campus and our rafters will enjoy its bounty as well. We will keep you posted as the project progresses. Feel free to visit the garden when you visit the River Center this season. It’s going to be fun to watch the garden grow!
See you in the River Center Permaculture Garden,
Scott, Scotty, Sarah, Martha, Dr. Dave, Danielle, Allen, Greg and the MaLode Green Team