Thursday, September 26, 2013

History of MC/SB

In the late 70s the Tilth Garden property was managed by the Seattle Parks Department. With the input of neighbors, Parks set aside ½ acre space for a community garden. Before the p-patch, before the beautiful and rich demonstration garden and greenhouse, there was asphalt and concrete. Tennis courts and basketball courts at the Good Shepherd Center had to be removed and hauled away. In 1980 Parks brought in heavy machinery to remove the pavement (in winter – think compaction!). It seemed impossible to grow anything other than weeds that first year.
In 1981 an old gardener’s cottage on the GSC grounds was moved to the new community garden space. With a grant of $15k from Department of Neighborhoods Seattle Tilth was lined up to fix it up as a greenhouse, cooking demo area and caretaker’s loft, but arson took the cottage. The existing greenhouse was built instead.
The Love Family’s contribution of a truckload of composted manure  was the first addition of organic matter to the new demonstration garden (see for more information on the history of Tilth).
Six two-yard bins were built to compost on site. Fresh material was brought in weekly, and Carl Woestwin was making 1 yard of finished compost a week by 1981.
That same year Seattle Tilth received a $5k grant to demo cold frames and to explore food gardening in a scientific way using a public demonstration garden. The SPU/Seattle Tilth partnership began with the Master Composter Program. 

Formation of MC/SB

The city put out a Request for Proposal, (RFP) in 1985 to develop curriculum and deliver what was then called the Community Composting Education Program. The first class met in 1986, taught by Craig Benton, Jeff Gage, and Carl Woestwin. It was the first Master Composter program in the country, with 40 hours of training and 40 hours of outreach.
As part of the RFP, the Compost Hotline was created, which has turned into the Garden Hotline we have today.
Jeff Gage went on to start the ZooDoo program at Woodland Park Zoo. Craig Benton sells compost systems worldwide. And Carl Woestwin just retired from 24 years of service at Seattle Public Utilities.
Happy Retirement, Carl!
Carl Woestwin started out as a groundskeeper at the Good Shepherd Center in 1977, when Tilth was formed. He helped build the demo garden, demonstrate the viability of community composting, and eventually was part of the first team of educators to teach MC/SB. His vision for Seattle Tilth: To show the viability of urban agriculture in a scientific way; to support local food systems; to help reduce waste. In June he retired from SPU.

The Wonders of Mycorrhizae

Photo from J.R. Leake University of 
Sheffield United Kingdom 2001

Mycorrhizae works tirelessly beneath the soil and is often undervalued in favor of its fruiting body, the mushroom. But what makes mycorrhizae so phenomenal is that it acts as a network of arms (or "hyphae") reaching from the root zone or rhizosphere of a plant and out into the soil. It is my favorite part of the soil ecosystem.
This network of hyphae is reaching for water and nutrients for plants, and in return the mycorrhizae get a constant source of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates, or mucigel, is a gelatinous substance created and excreted by plant roots. This mutualistic form of symbiosis between the roots of the plant and the fungus allows both the plant and the mycorrhizae to get the things they need in a highly efficient manner.
Around the roots of our vegetables, there are areas called Nutrient Depletion Zones that quickly become devoid of nutrients as the vegetable sucks up available water, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen, and other minerals in the immediate area. Without mycorrhizae to extend the surface area of the root, there would be a lack of nutrients for the plant to absorb. 
One type of mycorrhiza can actually grow on the inside of rocks where it aids in mineral weatherization. The nutrients gathered here would be impossible for a plant to have access to without the help of mycorrhizae. 
Not all vegetables or plants can benefit from mycorrhizae. Here is a list of which plants need it and which ones do not (see Sources below). One other consideration is that there are two types of mycorrhizae. endomycorrhizal and ectomycorrhizal. One indicates a relationship formed outside of the plant's roots (ecto). And one indicates a relationship formed inside the plant's root cells (endo). This is important to note if you decide to inoculate your garden with this valuable fungus. You may need to inoculate for both!
Why you should care for your mycorrhizae and your soil:
- Mycorrhizae are present in all healthy soils, but they can be reduced or entirely absent when soils are over-tilled, allowed to lie fallow, allowed to become overrun with weeds, eroded, or compacted. So it's important to plant a cover crop, to turn your weeds under or pull them out, and to build up your soil over-time instead of tilling.
- Mycorrhizae help reduce your need to water . Because the network of hyphae can extend for miles, it is not necessary to water as frequently if your soil is healthy and full of this beneficial fungus.
- It also cuts down on your need to amend soils with fertilizer. The presence of mycorrhizae will help prospect the soil for nutrients that are normally inaccessible to your plants. This doesn't mean don't build up your soils or amend at all, but it does mean that if you inoculate and care for your soil, you shouldn't need to use as much fertilizer or amendments as you have in the past.