CC Cooperative Garden – June Update

Mulching freshly transplanted veggie starts.

The Cooperative Gardening Program meets nearly every Saturday during the growing season to practice organic growing techniques for vegetable production, preservation, and community sharing. Below is just a little update as to the goings-on of that group the past month.

True to form, we set up a cooperative watering schedule with each person on our 7-person team taking a different day of the week. We learned about how to check the top three inches of soil to see how much watering is needed. John Egbert leads the way with other instructors and students sharing knowledge and experience.

Weeding seems to be… endless! There is a lot of learning about how to identify weeds early. We have been noticing a lot of buckwheat in the beds, which was likely caused by a previous covercrop that went to seed before it was cut and put into the cold compost. It’s a good lesson in both identification, early intervention, and long-view strategies. For example, it helps to reinforce the need to cut down a grassy cover-crop before it goes to seed and also inspires us to utilize methods that sterilize unwanted seeds such as hot compost and compost tea.

The greenhouse has been integral in getting our starts growing in this Pacific Northwest climate. We are now planting out the summer crops like tomatoes, tomatillos, beans, squash, and cucumbers. Some of our beds are used for individual gardeners and some are demonstration plots in our Victory Garden, where the produce goes to those in need. It is a lot of fun to have both individual and demonstration plots as part of the program.

The cooperative approach to learning in this season-long program really shines through on a Saturday morning. We are constantly learning from each other, making observations, and experimenting! This past month, we experimented with different rabbit deterrents, which culminated in one epic rabbit round up at the end of a Garden Work Party. Imagine seven adults with long bamboo polls trying to corrall a well-fed but unwelcome bunny and lead him out of the garden gate. It was not entirely a success, but the reinforced rabbit fencing has been helpful. We also experimented with white remay cloth and how to use it as a lofty row cover for transplants, placed very near planted seeds, and even wrapped around staked plants. It is all about keeping the soil and the plants warm in these days nearing summer.

Even though, we haven’t undertaken any huge fertilization measures this past month, our compost tea bucket collection is growing. That is the great thing about many weeds. In many cases, they can become food for the next desirable plant!

I couldn’t give this update without telling about the magical man that approached us during one of our work days at the garden. He was dressed in a most brilliant costume and had shining jewels adorning his face. He seemingly came out of no where and started urgently calling out to us from the other side of the fence. This mysterious man spoke to us in a mysterious language, perhaps German? Even though there was a language barrier, it was evident that he wanted us to take this package he was carrying. Finally John did. The man seemed delighted and relieved that we understood. And just like that… he was gone!

When we opened up the package, we found all sorts of seed packets. And in a strange twist of fate, one of them was actually a seed packet that a fellow Chuckanut Center gardener Nancy had actually made up to share through local seed libraries! It was an unforgettable, magical encounter. We may never know who this costumed, bejeweled, mysterious visitor may be, but one thing is certain – you never know who you might inspire by working together to grow food collectively.

—Submitted by Ali Matthews