Guest Post: The Digital Garden on Leetsdale

This guest post comes our way via WGY ally Leo Kacenjar, a DU graduate student developing a community garden that will be informed in equal measures by digital media and permaculture. If you’re intrigued by the concepts he presents, be sure to check out one of the upcoming events listed at the bottom, or visit digitalgardenleetsdale.com.

Human environmental interaction, public health and accessibility of technology are some of the most formidable social problems of the twenty-first century. Community gardens and metropolitan agriculture initiatives lower the rate at which food and supplies must be introduced into a city, provide an abundance of nourishing produce, and empower individuals to become engaged citizens.

The last two decades have also ushered in the creation of faster, lighter, more agile, ever connected, and cheaper technologies. Digital media offer the possibility for new realms of public discourse and participation. To optimistically read these changes, posits new realms of digital democratic public dialogue. Despite technologies’ reduction in price, not everyone can afford them. In addition, our nascent digital devices are worthless without ubiquitous connectivity, or the necessary media literacy to effectively and critically engage with media. The result of the digital divide is a discourse, which has not reached its full potential.

The Digital Garden on Leetsdale is an experimental space that works to combine the positive environmental and individually empowering effects of a community garden with the discursive potential of digital media. The goal will be that digital installations like a wireless hub, computing lab, online communal space (content management system) and various thematic digital art pieces, in combination with a working sustainability park and community garden, will bolster dialogue. Sustainable structures, serving as common area and storage will be functional testaments to environmentally friendly building techniques. The conversational potential of this juxtaposition promises to be beneficial and unique. Topics like sustainable design, networked civic engagement, and urban reclamation will all arise in context of the green space.

The project will work with Kinda Collective – a Denver area artists’ collective – and their immediate community to build a teeming collaborative gardening environment that is informed by the digital media. The gardens will improve the urban environment, provide fresh, locally grown foods, bring the diverse groups of the neighborhood together, and empower its participants.

In combination with this person-to-person and environmental interaction, the digital media will grant anyone opportunities to bridge the site-specific conversations into the digital realm, where greater human/environmental themes might be discussed. The free connectivity, computers, and literacy training through on-site classes and the community website will ensure that no one is left out of the dialogue. The digital art installations will pose questions about human-environmental interaction, though sensorial experiences.

The space will also work to demonstrate alternative lifestyle, building, and food production practices to the community by example. The weekly gardening routine and exposure to the space will suggest a lifestyle symbiotically connected to the environment. The straw bale buildings and construction workshops will teach beneficial home sustainability tactics. The permaculture-steeped community gardens will inform the community about new modalities of agriculture.

Free programming throughout the life of the project will include topics like gardening, sustainable living, environmental, community organizing, digital art, and technological literacy. These elements will make the sustainability park a thriving and vital community resource.

The Digital Garden on Leetsdale has two events coming up that are free and open to the public:

Community Meeting

March 31st 2010, 7pm

4500 Leetsdale

Join us for a community meeting to learn more about the space, discuss what you could get out of the garden and what’s at stake for the local community. Garden plot and permaculture guild applications will be available. There will also be free dinner.

Sheet Mulching Workshop

April 10th 2010, 10am

4500 Leetsdale

Learn the basics of sheet mulching first hand as we prepare the Digital Garden for planting. We will transition the workshop into a potluck BBQ and lawn games as the day progresses.

For more information, visit digitalgardenleetsdale.com.

Permaculture Potluck and Panel, 3/18

“What is Permaculture?” A Free Potluck and Info Session

Thursday, 3/18, 6:00 – 8:30 PM

Green Spaces Denver, 1368 26th St

6:00 pm “Zero Forks” Potluck (Finger Food/BYO napkin), live music

7:15pm Permaculture Panel

RSVP on facebook

Heard about permaculture but not quite sure what it is? Want to connect with other people practicing permaculture in the area? Join us for a potluck and panel discussion with some of the area’s premier practitioners of this unique system of sustainable design. The teaching team at Willow Way Wellness, a permaculture site in North Boulder, will provide an introduction to permaculture and discuss some of the some of the cutting-edge projects they’re involved with in the Denver/Boulder area.

Topics will include:
~ Upcoming Permaculture classes and design courses in the Front Range
~ Ecological building
~ Extending the growing season
~ Purification of water & soil using biological processes
~ Beneficial uses of Fungi
~ Permaculture business models
~ Connecting with plant wisdom
~ The Permaculture design proces

Garden design resources: Planting Calendar & Polyculture Web

As the skies clear over the Front Range and the air begins to warm (at least for now) my thoughts are turning increasingly to designing my garden for this year. My housemates and I have already created sheet-mulched sunken beds to start the soil-building process, and now we’re starting to figure out what we want to grow and where to plant it. And while we’re eager to continue experimenting with unusual, locally-adapted species like currant, sunchoke, and quinoa, a good portion of the garden will be dedicated to traditional annual garden vegetables.

Fortunately, there’s a ton of information out there about how to get the best yield with a minimum of maintenance and resource use. Unfortunately, that info isn’t always organized in the best way for visual learners like myself – so I’ve decided to create a couple tools to simplify the garden planning process.

The first is a Denver-specific planting calendar for some of the most common garden vegetables. It’s intended to make the often-arduous process of figuring out which seeds to start indoors and when to plant them a little bit easier.

.

.

The second is a web of companion plants to aid in designing polycultures – groupings of species that mutually aid each other. The arrows in the web point towards the plants that are helped, and the thickness of the line indicates the number of sources I found that mentioned a positive association. Red lines are plants that are suggested NOT to plant together.

Enjoy – and don’t forget to check out the Wild Green Yonder’s two-part Ecological Garden Design class this March for many more in-depth resources and ideas!

Freegan Sheet Mulching for Beginners

The following account of sheet-mulching a hell strip is from Denver permie and Wild Green Yonder affiliate Jonathan Hontz. Enjoy!

I have a love/hate relationship with my tree lawn.  It used to be  a 15 x 24 foot strip of weedy, sun-baked, and compacted land that neither the City nor I wanted to spend any time maintaining.  My lady Sabrina and I don’t really do much out there.  Our relationship to this lawn is predominantly visual: we’re almost always just looking at the space and not walking around within it.

My first attempt at landscaping the lawn was a half-hearted shot at making it into a wildflower meadow.  I bought some yarrow, grama grass, lamb’s ear, and blanket flower, planting them at intervals amongst the weeds.  I bootlegged and planted some sunflowers from a highway median to see if they’d like it better in our tree lawn.  After planting, I just let the weeds go, and to be honest, it was a beautiful front lawn, even if it was more wild than flower.  The weeds filled in around the plantings nicely, and created a very lush habitat for hundreds of spiders, grasshoppers, and crickets.  We had a green, healthy, if a bit alternative front lawn that I could look at with a smile.

Then the City inspector came and cited us for having our weeds taller than 6 inches.  I debated whether or not to dispute their definition of “weed”, knowing full well that any definition presented would be easy to circumvent.  In the end, though, I chose to sheet mulch the lawn to bring it into compliance. Sheet mulching, also known as lasagna composting, is a permaculture technique of building soil in place by putting down a weed barrier, layering various components of organic matter and letting them decompose naturally. I’d heard that it was a great way to bring a disturbed or neglected area to life in a short period of time, and was curious to see for myself what the process was like.

After a quick phone conversation with the inspector, who was very pleasant, I had some basic guidelines for what was allowed out in the lawn.  It’s a pretty simple matrix: keep the streets and sidewalks clear, make sure it looks as if it’s maintained, and keep the vegetation low enough around the edges that car doors can be opened without crashing through undergrowth.  Fair enough.

1. Mow and edge

Picture 1I mowed the lawn down to almost bare soil around the plantings and rounded up the materials I’d need.  Adam Brock tipped me off to a pile of brick rubble in his neighborhood that was waiting to be disposed of, and after hauling some home and laying it out, I dug out a bit of a trench to hold the bricks on end as a border for the mulched area.  We didn’t want any of the mulch spilling out into the street or onto the sidewalk, and the brick serves as our woodchip dam in addition to adding a bit of urban flavor to the area.

2. Weed barrier and carbon layer

 

Picture 4Next, I had an opportunity to use some weed-blocking fabric that we had leftover from another project.  Sabrina had acquired several garbage bags full of shredded office paper and some mulched up leaves, which form the bulk of the mulch for the project.  After cutting the brick trench out, I started spreading the office paper down, mixing in lots of the leaf matter to a depth of 3-4 inches, and then covering it up with the fabric.  I cut around the existing plantings and left room to develop small plant guilds around them next year.  The fabric lasted longer than I expected, going all around the perimeter, and even a strip into the center of the lawn.

3.Top Mulch

Picture 7The next day, each layer of mulch got a thorough soaking to help the breakdown of the materials. Our neighbor’s landlord had a few cubic yards of woodchips to get rid of, and this is what I used for the top layer.  I hauled it over in our recycling bin, and laid it down about 2 inches thick on top of everything else The look of the finished lawn is quite sparse – I’d like to eventually figure out how to integrate something edible.

Reflections

Of note here is that this process differs from most recommendations for sheet-mulching in one significant way: I have no compost/organic matter layer.  I’ve instead opted to use the (hopefully) decaying weeds and leaves as a green mulch, along with all the waste paper and cardboard.  Some may cringe at my use of office paper, but it is a significant carbon source in my compost pile, and breaks down very well there.  Most printed materials now use soy-based inks, so I’m not concerned about contamination.

Also notable is that this project cost exactly nothing but time and labor for me to do.  All the materials were either on hand (the fabric), reclaimed (the brick), gifted (the woodchips), or waste (the paper and cardboard).  It fits with the character of the house and the rest of the landscape, and will never need mowing or watering.  It’s also interesting that these projects are typically tried in the spring months, but without a ready supply of leaf mulch blowing around and accumulating everywhere, the project may have been more difficult.  Something to keep in mind if you’re planning on waiting until spring.

Autumn’s Invitation

GS-Newsletter-Autumn-photoFall has never been my favorite season. Going back to school, shivering in the first snowfall, darker and darker evenings, watching the trees become stripped and gangly… it all seemed so depressing. But as I’ve slowly learned to listen to nature’s patterns, I’m starting to see autumn as a time of precarious abundance, a time when we can live off summer’s bounty as we re-assess our past year and prepare for the cold months.

Sure, I’d rather be biking to work in a t-shirt than a down coat, and I’ll take peaches fresh off the branch over homemade preserves any day. But when I’m surrounded by a culture addicted to perpetual growth, the end of the harvest gives me a much-needed reminder that contraction is just as important as expansion. Indeed, it’s the way all life operates. Without dead leaves rotting on the ground, the soil would eventually be robbed of its nutrients. Without fallen trees, there would be no light on the forest floor for new seedlings to sprout. And without a nightly dose of sleep, our bodies and minds would lose touch with reality and crash.

Still, as an entrepreneur, putting that understanding into practice can be mighty tough. When I’m on a roll with the Wild Green Yonder, I’m almost constantly pushing past my own limits: sending one more email to that awesome contact I just met at a conference, composing one more tweet about a revolutionary gardening technique, promoting my classes in one more place.

To be sure, success in a new venture depends on being ridiculously dedicated and thorough. But paradoxically, I’ve found that my biggest insights, my most creative moments, come when I force myself to unplug. Like fallen leaves breaking down into rich humus, the fertile grounds of innovation are only nurtured when we drop our temporary commitments, take a deep breath, and reflect on the larger picture of which our current situation is a part.

To me, that larger picture would seem to place our cultural zeitgeist in an October of sorts, as well: though we continue to reap the fruits of the great fossil fuel harvest, the first of chills of a different season are here. Does the coming winter of energy descent spell the end of the good times? Certainly not. It merely invites us to use our foresight and maturity to with the roll with the changing season, and preserve the precarious abundance we’ve gathered for the future.

In the meantime, though, there’s still leaves on the trees, and the sun is warm on my shoulders. I’m called to put away my laptop, take a deep breath – and marvel at the bounty.