A couple of weeks ago, the Connecticut Community Gardening Association partnering with the community garden at Manchester Community College held a Summer Celebration of the gardens, the dedicated gardeners, their bounty, composting efforts and the desire to learn more about growing one’s own food. I just learned from an on-line article that only 5 % of Americans garden! That is really depressing to me (not only as a soils and horticulture educator) but because gardening affords me such a pleasant escape from my every day, real-world trials and tribulations. I look at it as free therapy – often with culinary benefits!

Manchester Community College Community Garden

Manchester Community College Community Garden

A moderate sized group of local, interested folks showed up for a tour of the gardens and an informal but insightful presentation by CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (CT DEEP) Sherill Baldwin. Some of the statistics that Ms. Baldwin presented us with were truly amazing. Food waste is apparently the largest component of municipal solid waste that goes to landfills and incinerators. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food wastes made up 21.3 % of the total national municipal solid wastes generated in 2011. Amazingly that amounts to 36.31 million tons of wasted food each year! This represents major inefficiencies in our food system!

Sheril Baldwin from CT DEEP

Sheril Baldwin from CT DEEP

Not only are our valuable natural resources (soil, water, nutrients, etc.) wasted when edible food products are tossed into the trash but there is a monetary loss (estimated $1,365 – $2,275) when food is discarded and not eaten and if food ends up in a landfill, methane gas is produced as the food decays underground and it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Even if the food waste is burned for energy, it still could often be put to better use, according to Ms. Baldwin.

Bob Halstead from CCGA and Bridgeport preparing a meal from locally harvested community gardens.

Bob Halstead from CCGA and Bridgeport preparing a meal from locally harvested community gardens.

A recent UConn study found that 12.7% of Connecticut residents from 2008 to 2010 were living in a household which was deemed ‘food insecure’. The USDA’s definition of food insecurity is ‘access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”.

So Connecticut gardeners, what can you do if you have extra produce to share? Actually there are a lot of options. Contact one of the following organizations:

http://site.foodshare.org/site/PageServer?pagename=index

http://www.ctfoodbank.org/

http://communityplates.org/

http://www.rockandwrapitup.org/

http://www.ctfoodbank.org/how-to-help/plant-a-row

http://www.ampleharvest.org/index.php

Or call 2-1-1  http://www.211ct.org/AboutUs/Default.asp

Many of us gardeners produce more that we can freeze/can/dry/giveaway before our harvest starts to lose its freshness and nutritional qualities. For those not able to grow food crops, think about planning meals to avoid waste and purchasing nutritious vegetables, fruits and meats produced locally.

Do consider finding a community garden in your community if gardening space is limited at your residence. The CT Community Gardening Association can help find suitable space in some areas of the state.

Charmaine Craig from Knox is the current president of CCGA, seen here with Steve Kovach, CCGA board member.

Charmaine Craig from Knox is the current president of CCGA, seen here with Steve Kovach, CCGA board member.

Growing one’s own food can provide a great deal of satisfaction and sustenance. While it can be challenging at times, acquiring knowledge at events like this one or contacting the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (860) 486-6271 or Master Gardener volunteers at your local Cooperative Extension Center will help you grow healthy and productive crops.

As far as what else to do with food waste, many gardeners add kitchen wastes to their compost piles. Composting is a time-honored method of disposing of a large amount of kitchen and yard wastes (no fats, grease or carnivorous animal droppings) and recycling these items into a wonderful soil amendment. Just so happens that UConn offers an annual Master Composter Program and this year it will be held in Stamford at the Bartlett Arboretum in October.

And on a totally different topic, I went to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield with a friend while on vacation and purchased a Monarch butterfly chrysalis thinking I could blog about it hatching. Well one vacation day another event was planned and I noticed the chrysalis becoming transparent. I left it attached to the porch railing in case the butterfly emerged before I got home and low and behold it did! So much for that idea, but some compensation. The next day was my sister’s birthday  (she lives a short distance from me) and she told me she was so excited to see a Monarch butterfly in her garden – the first one she saw all year. Maybe it was the one that emerged from my chrysalis. But even if not, I will wish it an uneventful journey to its Mexican wintering grounds.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis just before emergence.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis just before emergence.

Happy Harvesting! Keep on Gardening!

Dawn P.

This past weekend, I was invited to participate in the 2014 Great Park Pursuit Finale. For those who are not familiar with the Great Park Pursuit, it is part of the No Child Left Inside program launched by the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment (www.ct.gov/deep/) in 2006. According to CT DEEP, “No Child Left Inside® is a promise to introduce children to the wonder of nature – for their own health and well-being, for the future of environmental conservation, and for the preservation of the beauty, character and communities of the great State of Connecticut.”

In a nutshell, families and friends register for the Great Park Pursuit in April and for 7 consecutive weekends in May and June, meet at certain parks and state forests throughout the state for recreational opportunities and educational activities. If all events are attended and other prerequisites, like photos, submitted, families can receive state park season passes at the final event, which this year was held at UConn on June 21st.

So I was trying to come up with a hand’s on soil activity that would be suitable for young children, would not require lugging massive quantities of soil and would not be too ‘dirty’. One of the soils professors at UConn, Cristian Schulthess, had shown me some soil paintings that a few of his students had done as a class assignment and I remember how beautiful they were. He gave me instructions on making the paints and I started collecting soils to use.

Soil painting by Chelsey Putera, UConn student 2006

Soil painting by Chelsey Putera, UConn student 2006

The colors of soil are derived from both the minerals that make up the soil as well as organic materials in the soil. For instance the red soils in Connecticut are due to iron in an oxidized form – think rusty nail.

The next step took the longest – using a mortar and pestle to crush the soils and then putting them through a fine sieve. The directions said to put them through pantyhose but I wasn’t going to ruin a perfectly good pair of stockings! That gives you an idea though of how fine the soil needs to be.

Preparing soils for painting

Preparing soils for painting

To turn the soil into a medium for painting, it was mixed in small plastic cups with clear artist’s acrylic and thinned with a little water. I ended up using watercolor paper which was cut in half for the kids to paint on as regular copy paper got too wet and tore. Last Saturday was a beautiful day but a bit breezy for soil painting outdoors so I just made a lot of small batches so they would not dry out too fast!

GPP UConn Soil Painting, Photo by CT DEEP 2014

GPP UConn Soil Painting, Photo by CT DEEP 2014

All in all, 175 kids plus a few grown-ups came to the table to try their hand at soil painting. Not a bad turn out and hopefully a lesson that soil has many uses and we should appreciate all of them!

GPP UConn Soil Painting, Photo by CT DEEP 2014

GPP UConn Soil Painting, Photo by CT DEEP 2014

Good Gardening!

Dawn P.