Friday, October 22, 2010

18Broadway Garden: High Profile City Block Demonstrates an Urban Ecosystem That Feeds the Hungry

A new garden is growing out of a vacant block owned by DST Systems just one block south of the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts near downtown Kansas City.  DST is transforming land it owns at 18th and Broadway into a working demonstration site where the public can learn about environmentally sustainable urban development and food production. 

The site, named 18Broadway, includes a rain garden perimeter and agricultural interior that together cover about 2/3 of a city block.  The rainwater collected from the site irrigates the garden where food grows to feed Kansas City’s hungry.

For over 15 years, DST has operated a community garden at 10th and Jefferson in downtown Kansas City. DST employees volunteer to tend this garden and donate the produce to feeding programs for the hungry. The 18Broadway project expands these efforts to grow food for the hungry and also includes an educational component.

At 18Broadway, the interior garden has been planted entirely with edibles and includes both a demonstration area and a high-production area.  The demonstration area encourages visitors to consider the benefits of growing some of their own fruits and vegetables and shows different approaches. It features in-ground gardens as well as a variety of raised beds, including raised beds at wheelchair heights. Freestanding pots show it’s possible to grow vegetables or herbs—or even miniature fruit trees—in a limited space, such as a patio or balcony. 

Plants include familiar favorites such as peppers and greens but also incorporate less familiar varieties such as hardy kiwi, figs and yard long beans. Cherry trees, pear trees and apple trees are also part of the garden.

Fresh produce from the volunteer-tended 18Broadway Garden is donated to Harvesters – the Community Food Network.  The opening of the garden coincides with an unprecedented need for hunger relief.  A just released hunger study showed more than 37 percent of households are experiencing very low food security—or hunger—in Harvesters’ 26-county service area in eastern Kansas and western Missouri.  The USDA reports that Missouri ranks 6th in the nation in food insecurity and Kansas ranks 8th.  

18Broadway demonstrates a wide range of practical solutions for building and living in a healthy environment. Since the Crossroads area has limited green space, the beauty of the 18Broadway Garden adds welcomed sustenance for the soul - as well as needed sustenance for Kansas City’s hungry.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Preparing the Garden for Winter

Our garden continued to produce a bounty of veggies in September but begins to wind down in October.  Last Saturday, a large work crew prepared the garden for closing for the season.  

Closing the garden for the season means planning for next spring. Because we had a wet spring this year, we were not able to get compost into the garden.  So we took advantage of the dry, sunny weather in October to have 3 cubic yards of compost delivered and then spread it to a depth of 1 1/2 to 2 inches over the garden.  We'll till it in next spring although it would have been fine to till it in this fall.  Next year, our plants will appreciate the nutrients and improved soil structure that compost provides.

Three cubic yards doesn't sound like much, but it's a lot as you can see in this picture. It's best to spend some time doing the math anytime you order garden materials by the cubic yard.  There are several bulk material calculators available online; we used our compost supplier's at

Before we spread the compost, we removed the plants that were done for the season and took them to the compost pile.  But because tomatoes can harbor diseases that can wipe out our crop next season, we took them elsewhere for composting.  The tomato vines are also slow to compost which is another reason to not put them in your garden compost pile.  

Many of our cool season crops will continue to produce through the light frosts of fall.  The broccoli and cabbages we planted in early August are not quite ready but the mustard greens we planted in the heat of summer have been prolific for several weeks.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Okra - Happy In Heat and Drought

In these dog days of summer, okra seems to be the happiest plant in the garden.  The tomato plants are  stressed from the heat and the squash plants dead from squash bugs, but the okra plants need to be picked several times a week.

The Jack-in-the-Beanstalk story may have been inspired by the growth rate of okra pods as they reach full size within 6 days of flowering!  The pods are most tender when they're 2-4" long.  Larger pods become stringy and tough but may still be tender and edible in good growing conditions

Okra is a tropical plant that loves the heat and tolerates brief periods of drought.  It's relatively problem free and any pests bother the leaves, not the pods.  The only growing challenge is getting the seeds to sprout as okra seeds don't germinate well in cool soils.

One of the downsides to okra is the prickly spines on the plant. Gloves and long sleeves make harvesting more pleasant as do scissors or pruners to cut off the pods.  Okra does does not store well so use it within two or three days.

Okra's beautiful flowers resemble hibiscus as it's in the same family.  It grows to over six feet tall with leaves and structure that look similar to a schefflera house plant.  In winter, the stalks add nice structure to the barren vegetable garden.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's August - Time to Plant for Fall Harvests

Despite our hot August weather this week, it's time to plant for the fall garden. On Saturday at the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, we planted seeds for cilantro, bush beans and mustard greens.  We planted seedlings of cabbage and broccoli.

Most of these vegetables will take 60 days to mature so we'll be harvesting them in early October.  "Cole" crops like mustard greens, broccoli and cabbage will tolerate a light frost.  Another member of the cole family, collards, has been producing all summer long at our garden and will continue to provide collard greens through the fall.

Cilantro is another excellent fall crop as it likes cool weather better than hot weather. Many gardeners who plant cilantro in the spring think they have a failed crop when the weather warms up. Their cilantro fails to thrive because heat causes cilantro to flower.  When it flowers, it doesn't produce large green leaves for picking.

For a detailed planting calendar for what you can plant now, visit on the website of the Kansas City Community Gardens.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Basil Begs for Butchering

Harvesting basil too little is one of the most common mistakes made by gardeners.  Cutting the plant back produces lots more basil by encouraging branching and more leaves.  More importantly, frequent harvesting keep the flavor of the basil sweet by preventing  flowering.  Once basil plants begin to bud or flower, the leaves turn bitter and rather unpleasant.

You can cut basil very quickly (as shown here) by grasping the leaves at the top and cutting several stems at once. Harvesting basil can resemble butchering as long as fingers and dog noses are out of the way!

At the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, we cut the basil nearly every week in July and August to make sure we don't get flowering.  Wait to start harvesting until you have at least three sets of leaves so the plant will survive. You need to leave at least 2 sets of leaves so the plant can regrow.

Some gardeners even use shears to cut their basil.  You'll want to cut often enough that you're only cutting about 1/3 of the plant at a time.  However, a healthy basil plant readily forgives the aggressive cutting we did this morning in the photo above.

We sowed basil seed directly into the garden this year around Mother's Day. If you want a slightly earlier crop, set out basil plants once the weather is consistently warm (mid-May in Kansas City). Basil can easily die if you plant too early since cool weather readily damages it.  Plant in full sun unless you'll be satisfied with spindly and wimpy plants.

One basil plant can produce a 12-20 cups of leaves through the season.  Use a bountiful crop for pesto to flavor a variety of dishes or as a topping for pasta.

Basic Pesto 

4 cups basil (without stems)
½ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
6 sprigs parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup fresh-grated Parmesan

Place the basic in a blender or food processor.  Add the oil, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, and pine nuts. Blend until all are chipped very fine.  Remove from the blender and add the cheese.

Makes about 2 cups

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Vegetable Valedictorians

At the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, we grow a variety of vegetables to inspire Kansas Citians to grow food for the hungry. Through the seasons, three vegetables have proved so outstanding that they deserve to be named “Vegetable Valedictorians.”

Swiss Chard, Gypsy Peppers and Sweet Potatoes are all easy-to-grow, prolific and nutritious. And if you think a prolific vegetable must be something you need to hide behind the garage, think again about these vegetable valedictorians.  These three aren’t dowdy dweebs but beautiful babes that look great all season and require minimal maintenance.   

We pick bags and bags of Swiss Chard all season long.  Rabbits don’t seem to like it and it tolerates heat, inattention and mild freezes.  You can buy varieties with red, yellow or green stems or a mix of all three like “Bright Lights.”

It's incredibly hardy. Here's a photo of a "volunteer" Swiss Chard plant that survived last winter in the Harvesters Garden.

Swiss Chard is vitamin rich and you can eat both the stalk and leaves.  It’s much easier to grow than spinach but you can cook it similarly.  Sauté it with onion and garlic or mix it with scrambled eggs.  With its tolerant attitude in the garden and its nutrition on the table, Swiss Chard is probably the most under appreciated of all vegetables.

Gypsy Pepper is a very prolific frying pepper that also goes great in fresh salads.  It’s a beautiful plant with a mix of red, orange and yellow-green peppers ripening at different stages. The peppers taste sweet and zesty with a hint of floral aspect.  The Gypsy Pepper earned its name because no other pepper changes color as quickly as the Gypsy.
The only extra care required is to stake the Gypsy Pepper plants. A voluptuous valedictorian, they appreciate some support because the sheer quantity of peppers can make the stems droop.

Of our three vegetable valedictorians, Sweet Potatoes are the most productive in pounds produced. Last year at the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, each Sweet Potato plant produced over five pounds of Sweet Potatoes.  Beautiful green vines trailed broadly and choked out all weeds with the help of a little mulch.

Plant Sweet Potatoes in early summer and forget about them until fall when you dig the mother lode full of vitamins and antioxidants.  It’s always an adventure to see what you dig up.  Sometimes they look like a potato, being short and blocky with rounded ends; while other times it they resemble your grandfather’s big nose!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mulch Madness

Most gardeners become “mad about mulch” because it saves many hours of back-bending labor.

Mulch has so many benefits:

  • · Mulch reduces weeds by making it hard for weeds to sprout and emerge
  • · It retains moisture in the soil and helps water slowly and steadily get to the roots
  • · Mulch prevents soil from splashing on plants. This helps reduce the spread of soil-born diseases and keeps your vegetables cleaner
  • · Mulch helps prevent soil erosion (we’ve seen this in Kansas City gardens recently with heavy rains)
  • · Mulch can lower soil temperature by as much as 20-25 degrees which helps cool season plants keep producing.

We spread 2-3 inches of straw as mulch throughout the Harvesters Demonstration Garden this month. You can also use shredded leaves or newspaper as mulch in vegetable gardens. Grass clippings work well as long as you avoid grass full of seed heads or clippings treated this season with a herbicide. (Don’t spread grass clippings more than 2 inches thick as they are likely to stink! They're also unpleasant if you don't spread them within about a day after cutting the lawn.)

In the container gardens at the Harvesters Demonstration Garden, we use wood chips as mulch because wood chips stay in place better than straw. Avoid using wood chips in areas which you’ll till next season since they don’t decompose quickly.

Apply mulch after the soil warms up and plants are 4 inches or taller. Late May or June are great times to put down mulch in our climate so you minimize weeding and watering.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Salad Days: Greens Galore!

Early June in Kansas City is prime harvest time for greens planted in March, including lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, mustard and beet greens. Here's part of our harvest today from the Harvesters Demonstration Garden.

To harvest lettuce, you can harvest the entire lettuce plant or cut off the leaves so it will grow again. You can harvest only the outer leaves, but it's faster to just grab the lettuce and cut off everything above the lowest leaves. If you leave some lettuce just above the root, everything will grow back. You can do this several times until the leaves start to taste a little bitter, which starts to happen with hot weather. At that point, it time to pull up the whole plant and put in the compost.
DST employees harvested lettuce last week at their group garden at 10th and Jefferson in downtown Kansas City. Approximately 100 DST employees volunteer to tend over 50 raised beds in the garden.

The DST garden produces nearly a ton of donated vegetables each season to feed the hungry through the Kansas City Community Kitchen at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.

The group garden at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Brookside is bursting with greens this week, including lettuce and swiss chard. The garden provides fresh vegetables to families in need through the church's food pantry.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Warm Season Vegetables Planted at Harvesters Garden

It's Mother's Day, the traditional weekend for planting tomatoes and other warm season vegetables in our area. Tomatoes need minimum soil temperatures of 50-55 degrees. Peppers like it even warmer.

Planting tomato seedlings outdoors too early can cause the plants to lag behind tomatoes planted later. That's because the plants will fail to set blossoms, or they will set and then most likely drop the blossoms. This may be a case where the early bird doesn't get the worm!

At the Harvesters Garden, we planted a variety of tomatoes in a row with plants 2-3 feet apart. We buried several inches of the stem of each tomato plant to boost the root system; tomatoes are one of the few plants that will root from the stem.

We'll mulch the tomatoes in a few weeks; mulching now would prevent the soil from warming up.
We also planted many kinds of squash in "hills" of about 7 seeds. Varieties included butternut, yellow straightneck and zucchini.
A row of pole beans was planted next to a trellis. The trellis is a "cattle panel" which we purchased at a local farm store. It's very sturdy so will easily support the pole beans that will climb on it.
This photo of the entire garden shows how the cool season plants we put in a month ago have really taken off. This weekend, we harvested lettuce for the first time this season!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Opening Day At Harvesters Demonstration Garden

Many volunteers helped weed, till and plant the Harvesters Demonstration Garden today. Located at the Harvesters facility at 3801 Topping in Kansas City, Mo, the garden is intended to make individuals or agencies say “I can do that!” All food in the garden is used in Harvesters nutrition education programs.When we arrived at 9am, the garden was full of weeds and dead leaves and needed a lot of help!
The garden needs helpers besides humans; look where the finger points to see the bumblebee who pollinated our apple tree.
First, we dug out all the weeds and put them on the compost pile.
We then tilled the soil to create a nice bed for seeds to easily germinate. The garden had been weeded and tilled by 11:30am!
We created our own potting soil for our containers by mixing perlite, compost and soil together in equal amounts.
We planted "cool season" crops that can withstand a light frost as our average last frost date in Kansas City is April 15. We planted seeds of lettuce, spinach, cilantro, swiss chard, turnips, mustard greens, parsley, beets, carrots and peas. We also planted onion sets, seed potatoes (which are parts of or whole potatoes) and plants which had been started a few weeks ago in the greenhouse: lettuce, brussel sprouts, cabbage (red and green), broccoli and collards.

We'll plant "warm season" vegetables around Mother's Day, including tomatoes, peppers and beans.