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Aug. 5, 2004

In the Garden

Open house in Shively



FOR THE LAST FEW YEARS, COLLEGE OF THE REDWOODS HAS gradually been improving and expanding its sustainable agriculture farm in Shively. Farmer John Bianchi left the property to the college in his will when he died in 1995. The 38-acre farm was overgrown with blackberry bramble, the fences needed repair, and the irrigation system needed serious upgrades. The college staff worked steadily on, and in 2001, Franz Rulofson was hired to manage the farm and oversee the educational programs for students. Now the public is invited to an open house to tour the farm and have a look at all they've accomplished.Photo of a tractorat Shively

[Photo courtesy of College of the Redwoods]

"We planted our first crop in 2002," he told me, "and we're now in our third season. We grow vegetables, we have a small orchard, and we're growing a crop of hay. We got our organic certification last year."

Three of CR's agricultural programs are centered around the Shively farm. There's an Enterprise Projects class that takes three seasons to complete, because students develop a business plan, plant a crop from seed, and see it through to harvest and sale. (And to think I spent my college career sitting in linguistics and poli sci classes.) They offer an independent field study course in which students develop an individual study plan focused on, say, equipment operation or orchard management, and then there's also a sustainable agricultural lab, in which students get to experience every aspect of operating a farm at once -- pruning, irrigation, equipment repair, and, with any luck, harvest. There are plans in the works for a sustainable livestock class as well.

The produce from the Shively farm travels to restaurant owners, wholesalers in the Bay Area, and it's sold on the CR campus near the bookstore every Thursday during harvest season. They also operate a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, in which customers purchase a share of the farm's production and get a box of produce every week. Shares run $375 for the season, and if you'd like to get in this year, you can -- they'll pro-rate the price for the remainder of the harvest. (If you've never participated in a CSA, I highly recommend it. It's a real joy to be so connected to the farm that grows your food, and you'll learn a million new ways to enjoy fresh, seasonal produce.)

The open house takes place on Saturday, Aug. 7, from noon to 4 p.m. Take the Shively Road exit off 101 about three miles south of Scotia, and follow the signs to the farm. It's about a 30-minute drive once you get off the highway. There will be tours, a walk through their young demonstration orchard that is planted with more than 50 varieties of apple trees, and they'll have produce and other goodies for sale. To find out more, give Franz a call at 722-4640.

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I've had a couple more questions about the use of wood chips in the garden. I just hauled 10 cubic feet of the stuff around my own garden, so while it's on my mind, I'll just remind you that wood, bark, and sawdust have all kinds of uses in the garden, but as they decompose, they take up nitrogen from the soil. Piling shredded bark or wood chips around your plants may look neat, but you could be robbing your plants of nutrients. (In fact, there is nothing that irritates me more than the sight of a planting strip around a gas station or a dentist's office that has two or three plants stuck in the ground and a bunch of shredded bark piled around. Talk about a band-aid solution.)

If you must use wood chips around plants, let them age in a pile first so that decomposition process can get underway before you use them. Consider adding a nitrogen source like blood meal to them while they age. And be sure that any plants that are surrounded by a wood product get a regular dose of fertilizer -- a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer, for example, would work well to correct the nitrogen imbalance.

Apart from this issue, wood chips make a great material for paths -- that's how I use them -- because they suppress weeds and last through several seasons. They are also easy to obtain around here as a sawmill by-product, and when you have a tree trimmed, the tree trimmers will often chip your branches on site and leave them for you. Some gardeners have even been known to chase a tree trimmer's truck down the street to beg for chips. Is that taking it too far? I'll let you be the judge of that.

 August Garden Checklist

  • Keep the vegetable garden upright. Tie sprawling vines, especially tomatoes, to their supports, and prune green leafy sucker growth to increase air circulation. Set newsprint or straw under winter squashes so that the underside ripens evenly.
  • If you have extra produce, Food for People would be happy to get it into the kitchens of families who really need it. Consider giving extra flowers away, too hospitals, convalescent homes, and even your doctor's office might appreciate a bouquet.
  • Break up lawn thatch to help it absorb water. There are special tools to aerate lawns; however, a pitchfork works nicely.
  • Daffodil and iris growers are taking advance orders for fall planting. The best varieties go fast, so consider ordering them now.
  • Sow sweet peas for fall blooms. Pre-soak seeds for 12 hours in water before planting to speed up germination, and feed them regularly with fish emulsion.

garden-related announcements and news to Amy Stewart.


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