Last week our Plants class visited Grassroots Garden, a local non-profit here in Eugene that grows food for the needy. We did some volunteer work that morning planting carrots in the morning sunshine and learning some interesting things about soil amendments.

The garden itself is humming right now, making my own backyard look a little sleepy. They are situated on a couple acres of land that began with hard, compacted clay soil. Over the last ten years, they have added tons of compost, dried leaves and organic soil amendments to build up good tilth. The soil we were working was amazing – very spongy, dark and rich smelling.

We began by adding in some organic soil amendments:

  • lime – neutralizes the acidic soil
  • alfalfa meal – adds nitrogen which encourages leaf growth and photosynthesis
  • rock phosphate – adds phosphorous to encourage root development and flower blooms
  • greensand – bi product of ancient sea kelp beds that washes up on shore, adding potassium for all around plant health

I do not typically add soil amendments, but pretty much stick to compost for increasing the soil health. They are so focused on production though, since there are lots of hungry people to feed, so it was interesting to learn about the various organic amendment options. Since most of these are being trucked across the country to Oregon, I do wonder about the sustainability of that.

After turning in the soil amendments, we began to plant carrots by carving out a “V” shape into the mound bed lengthwise. We lightly sprinkled in lines of carrots and gently dusted soil back over them.

The soil remained somewhat mounded on either side of the long carrot rows. The folks at the garden will mound the soil back over the carrots little by little as they grow in. They were saying carrots pop up above the soil as they grow, leading to green tops and odd flavor. They avoid this by burying them periodically as they grow in.

I am taking my Urban Farm students to one of their other locations early next week for a field trip and some volunteer time. They are a really cool organization and I certainly learned a few things working there. Being surrounded by healthy, vigorous vegetables always puts me in a good mood and sends me home with ideas for my own little space.

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Written by Renee Wilkinson