Groundwork Somerville Results

While results of certain programs are hard to measure, some professors are tackling these concerns. A great article about Somerville Public schools and their civic programs explain the attempt to measure success.

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The Transfer of Important Life Knowledge Through Participating in Gardens and Nature

Introduction and Theoretical Background
Using gardening as a tool or framework to teach children about school subjects and to impart important life knowledge has been gaining ground in the United States. It has been suggested by some philosophers of education and developmental theorists that learning through practicing gardening is more suited to imparting knowledge to children than rote learning through normal classroom work. Also known as garden-based learning (GBL), it is “an instructional strategy that utilizes a garden as a teaching tool. The pedagogy is based on experiential education, which is applied in the living laboratory of the garden” (Desmond et al. 2004). We will look at three organizations as case studies that work with children and the local community to provide education in garden-based programs. First, we will discuss the theoretical background behind GBL and why it is a powerful tool to transfer knowledge. Read more here

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Bebop-a-rebop Rhubarb Pie

In my gardening adventures I have been looking to cultivate relationships as well as delicious edibles. One such relationship evolved from the borrowing of a pitchfork. I was working in the Fenway Victory Garden plot looking for something other than the tiny hand rake to turn the compost when I spied across the way a beautiful pitchfork leaning up against the outside fence of an adjacent garden plot.

With ulterior, more pitchfork related, motives in mind I approached and introduced myself. Suzanne, a welcoming woman with grandmotherly countenance, was more than happy to show me all that she was growing. She pointed out all manner of flora in her garden and started asking me what I was growing. We began sharing stories to the point where I almost forgot my initial intention for the pop in visit. On the way out I absent mindedly asked to borrow her pitchfork for a few moments and she effervescently agreed, passing on the wisdom that, ‘You only really need two tools in the garden, a good pitchfork and a good shovel. You just need to know how to use them.’

Upon returning the pitchfork, we struck up another conversation where she asked me if I was interested in Rhubarb. Not having much experience in eating it, let alone growing it, I cautiously accepted. Suzanne reassured me that ‘The Rhubarb will do most of the work. [I] just need to put it in the ground and remember to water it.’ So I transported the giant root with tiny little rhubarblets jutting out one side, gingerly wrapped in damp paper towels and transplanted it to a portion of my backyard. I was sure to select a spot based on Suzanne’s recommendations. ‘They’re not too picky, they’ll grow almost anywhere, but they tend to take over wherever they are so keep an eye out.’ With that in mind I found a tiny annex of quarantined soil by a measure of chain-link fence.

Artistic rendering of Rhubarb in my backyard

The next day on my way in to water I saw Suzanne in her garden again. I stopped in to tell her about the location that I selected and we began talking again. She started telling me more about planting techniques, and how to transplant cuttings and relocate deep rooted items. Today was her ‘moving around day’, where she was digging up some bushes and flowers to different areas of her garden. I asked if I she needed any help and she said I could grab a shovel and dig up a Spirea bush. While I was helping her she was giving me instruction on how to wield a shovel more effectively, and how deep to replant. It was only in retrospect that I realized I was learning from her. At the time, it just seemed like pleasant conversation between friends, which is what good learning should be.

Every time I pass by and see her in the garden I have gone in to speak with Suzanne.  She has lots of garden wisdom to impart from her years of experience. She mentioned the adage that ‘You need 10,000 hours of experience with something before you can be an expert at it, and I have put in my hours.’ Every morning when I wake up to water my garden at home I think of Suzanne and her impromptu lessons within our casual conversations. As I look at the growing rhubarb plant in the corner of my yard I am reminded of the cooperative nature of gardening, and when I am make that eventual rhubarb pie I will be sure to save a slice for Suzanne.

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Seasonal Produce and Urban Agriculture

When I moved from San Diego to Boston people thought that I was crazy for leaving “America’s Finest City”. Friends and family warned me of the long cold winters and the hot humid summers of New England. I bought a North Face jacket and packed my bags for the East Coast thinking I was ready for anything that urban life would throw my way. However, what people failed to warn me of was that outside sunny San Diego exists an entire nation void of fresh from the tree avocados, a staple in California cuisine. Anyone that has had the pleasure of picking avocados from their backyard tree to make fresh homemade guacamole knows what I’m talking about. Going to a restaurant in Boston and paying $7.00 for a side of “guacamole” makes me cringe. I remembered the puzzled look on my face when I asked the grocer, “What do you mean you don’t have avocados?”

 Aside from missing my fresh green fruit from California, I realized the realities of access to seasonal produce in urban areas and the benefits of local community gardens, farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Growing up with fresh fruits and veggies available year round, often from my own backyard, well, frankly made me spoiled. After living in the Northeast for the past two years, I have learned so much more about buying and pricing produce from my local grocery stores and farmer’s markets and the growing seasons of New England. In the absence of certain fruits and veggies (such as avocados) I have actually become more creative in my cooking and knowledge of seasonal produce. For example, I now have a love for fall and winter vegetables such as squash, potatoes and parsnips and enjoy experimenting with different veggies and spices in recipes. Adding leafy greens, such as kale, to stews and soups is a new spring time favorite. I would also like to start an herb garden in my kitchen window to have access to fresh basil and cilantro while I’m cooking.

 Relating this to my experiences in urban agriculture over the past few weeks, I am now more aware of the community gardens and farmer’s markets in my neighborhood. “Fresh from California” strawberries are not exactly a cheap, or fresh, addition to a fruit salad when they have traveled from 3,000 miles away. As we have read and discussed in class, community gardens provide people with an opportunity to grow accessible healthy food. For some, it is a way to grow food that is important in their culture and diet. For urban dwellers without a backyard or balcony, finding an open green space to garden is truly an asset. CSAs and farmer’s market also provide opportunities to buy and sell local seasonal produce, which may be unavailable or expensive in stores. While I do miss California avocados,  New England offers an abundance of fresh delicious produce, which encourages me to buy local seasonal produce and think more critically of the environmental and social justice aspects of community gardening in urban areas.

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Discovering Green Spaces

Last weekend my girlfriend and I went on the Highland Park Garden Walk that was organized by Discover Roxbury, which celebrates the history and culture of Roxbury through tours, events, and supporting community activities.  On the tour we visited a half-dozen different gardens all within about a half-mile of each other: community gardens, private home gardens, and a woman in the business of urban farming.  It was a wonderful example of the different styles of gardening and the different purposes one could garden for.  It spanned the gamut from urban agriculture (growing vegetables) to flower gardens to urban livestock — an unexpected surprise.  It opened my eyes to the possibilities of what our garden could be like and the hard work of our neighbors just around the corner.

Cooper Community Garden

The tour began at the Cooper Educational Center and Community Gardens on 34 Linwood Street, where we met our guide, Thomas Plant (real name) and learned a little bit about the community gardens we were about to visit.  A memorial rose garden faces Linwood Street with the community gardens behind in several dozen plots.  After walking through the upper garden we walked down a short slope behind the Cooper Educational Center to the Cedar Street Garden and the Allan Crite Community Garden.  Our guide pointed out some dwarf apple trees and a peach tree that grow on the gardens next to Cedar Street.  These were the primary “community” gardens that we visited on the walk, and it was interesting to note that vegetables and herbs were the main plantings here, as contrasted with the next few (private) gardens we saw.

Cedar Park garden

Crossing Cedar Street and moving on to Cedar Park, we visited a private residence with a beautiful landscaped flower garden next to the house.  The owner had purchased the vacant lot next to her house and had built in stone retaining walls between the plantings to create steps up to a rock outcropping below St. Margaret’s Convent.  Without rain, she said it took her four hours of watering a day to keep it looking so amazingly green and lush.  Across the street from her house was an enormous garden with a lawn, beehive, bat roost, water feature with a waterfall, and even a small area for vegetables.  This land was all privately owned and it was impressive what had been done to it.

Roses on the pergola

After walking a few minutes past the Fort Hill monument, we came to a very different garden space: behind a building with a historic marble face that had been made into condos, residents had their own outdoor area.  Rodney, our host, had a pergola that was covered in roses and a number of potted plants.  Interestingly, he did not have many plants actually in the ground (the walkway was gravel) and only planted something that he knew would do well where it was.  He had a table and chairs under the pergola that clearly made it a place where he could come to relax.

Roxbury urban farm

Our last stop on the garden walk had the most surprises.  Patti Moreno raises chickens, rabbits, and sometimes goats, grows water celery, and has several raised beds where she grows different varieties of basil, lettuce, and Native American vegetables.  (It was hard to keep track of it all.)  Despite the Spring rain settling in at this point in the tour, our group gamely followed her to the raised beds, potted plants, and lawn plantings made up her “urban farm.”  My imagination of an urban farm is more like traditional row crops (a line of corn going into the distance) surrounded by high-rise apartment buildings — perhaps if Le Corbusier had been a locavore.  I realize that my conceptions need to accommodate all the different variations of a single idea.  It should not be strange that urban farms take a different form than the fields of grain of the midwest.

Discover Roxbury has many other events (walking tours, biking tours, art series) that are not garden-related, but it was great to see the recognition of gardens as an important element of the character of Roxbury.  From community gardens to urban farms, everyone seems to be interacting with the land in the city.

-Daniel Amstutz

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So…What To Plant?

After digging, stapling, filling and many more steps in between, the Cape Cod garden was ready for planting. I knew what vegetables, fruits, and herbs that I desired to be in the garden, but I had no idea if these plants would survive the Cape Cod climate. So I turned to the Internet. Hundreds upon hundreds of sites appeared listing tips, lists, and information of when, what and how to plant in the New England area. But, as a novice gardener, I needed a site to hold my hand and walk me through the whole process.

I came across – I signed up for the trial and began to explore the site. is an online garden planner, which enables you to virtually draw out your garden size and shape.

Cape Cod Garden

The site automatically calculates by zip code the frost dates, and provides details about when to plant and harvest certain crops based on the location. Furthermore, the site automatically spaces out the plants by type, their needed growth area, and has details about each crop such as the type of soil, companion plants, position, frost tolerance, feeding and how to sow and plant. With my plan in place, now I was ready to plant.

Due to my late start in the whole garden process this season, I opted to buy some started plants to make up for the missed time.


At a local farm, I purchased butternut squash, summer squash, three varieties of tomato plants, green peppers, and eggplant. I sowed carrot seeds, beet seeds, lettuce seeds, pole pea seeds and cucumber seeds in the garden. In a separate container I planted herbs that I started a few weeks earlier—rosemary, cilantro, basil, and flat leaf parsley.


The planting part was easy—dig a hole, break up the roots of the purchased plants, place in hole and fill. My garden is well on its way and hopefully in a couple months time—or sooner—I will be enjoying the fruits of my labor.

Cilantro, Rosemary, Parsley

Not even a couple hours after I finished planting the garden, I suggested to my boyfriend’s parents (since it is their backyard) blueberry bushes to add to the garden. There is plenty of space and plus they are annuals so they will produce berries year after year. They are a great source of vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber and manganese. Having a lack of knowledge about blueberry bushes, my boyfriend and I took a ride to a local farm in Orleans, MA to inquire more information. We met our informant Billy who told us the ins and outs of blueberry bushes.

Blueberries do very well in the New England, Cape Cod area since they are a native species enjoyed by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. However, they take years to reach their prime and need tending to in their earlier years. The first years, the bushes need plenty of water and sunlight and will not produce an abundant amount of berries. Billy recommends buying a five-year-old bush, since they are stronger and can survive the winters better. Most blueberry bushes are started in doors and kept in a green house to protect them against the harsh New England winters. Plus, in about two years they will be producing their full yield.

Billy suggests that I should plant a few different blueberry varieties so that their fruits do not all come at once and that if one plant suffers one year there still be plenty of berries from the other varieties. Furthermore, to ensure cross-pollination there needs to be at least two varieties that overlap during their bloom. Early season varieties are Earliblu, Bluetta, Collins and Blueray. Midseason varieties are Bluecrop, Berkeley, Darrow, and Herbert. Late season varieties are Jersey, Coville and Lateblue. More information about, soil preparation, fertilizing, planting, mulching, watering, weed control, first season care, pruning, pests and disease symptoms and harvesting can be found at I have yet to plant blueberry bushes but maybe in a couple weeks!

By Nicole Leavenworth

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What exactly is hydroponic gardening?

I’ve heard of growing plants using the hydroponic method, which judging from the name (hydro) uses water, but I never really knew what it was all about. So, I decided to research it a bit and find out.  According to one of my gardening books, hydroponically grown plants grow bigger and faster than ones grown in soil. Although it does not explain why, my assumption is that the nutrients are being fed directly to the plant roots, which allows for a quicker and perhaps better absorption.

Apparently, plants can grow in almost any other material besides soil. These include sand, gravel, rocks, or the water solution itself. Seeds can be started in those materials, but for the water solution method, seedlings must be started beforehand and transplanted later to a homemade or bought hydroponic container.

The key to hydroponics is getting nutrient solution mixed just right. The most important are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, followed by magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron, sulfur, calcium, molybdenum, boron, oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. As long as the nutrients are well-balanced and plants are fed regularly, hydroponic plants should grow just fine.  There are commercially available hydroponic solutions and nutrient mixes, which make it easy for those inexperienced with this gardening method. However, you can mix your own by buying nutrients a la cart. A webpage from the University of Illinois site suggests that gardeners experiment with different nutrient quantity combinations and find what works best for each plant variety. It also warns that the pH balance in the solution can change as the plants use and release nutrients and chemicals, so it is important to stay aware and re-balance it if necessary.

There are several techniques of the hydroponic method. With the flooding method, the growing medium is submerged a couple times during the day from 30 minutes to 2 hours and is then drained. The wick method provides water and nutrients constantly by connecting the nutrient solution to the growing medium via a wick. The drip method employs an irrigation system that allows a small amount of nutrient solution into the growing medium continuously. The standing solution method is simply using the nutrient solution as the growing medium. However, bubbles must be pumped into the water to provide oxygen to the roots.

The downside to hydroponics is that some of the ready-made hydroponic systems are expensive. All methods use a lot of water, which although is reusable, requires space for storage. This could be difficult in an urban environment but possible with the use of rooftops, which would make hydroponics convenient because bags of soil need not be hauled up to the top of a building, and the roof is a good place to collect rain water.

The upside to using this method is that the water and solid material can be recycled and typical plant problems such as insects and disease can be held at bay. Problems of soil contamination, acidity, nutrient depletion, erosion, etc. can be one reason to turn to hydroponic gardening. Of course, hydroponic plants need a good source of water, fresh air, light, and proper temperature usually between 60º and 80ºF. These plants can be grown inside or outside, which could be useful if outdoor space is limited such as in urban areas.

The prospects of this growing technique are great. It seems as though this method could be designed as an extensive vertical farm and take up less space horizontally. The plant containers could be built in towers with space in between for light, ventilation, and growing space. The possibilities could be endless with the right implementation.

Courter, J.W., John M. Gerber, and James C. Schmidt. “Hydroponics as a Hobby”, <>  (May 31 2011)

Newcomb, Duane, and Karen Newcomb. The Complete Vegetable Gardener’s Sourcebook, Prentice Hall Press: New York, 1989. p119-120.



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