Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Vertical Growing Techniques for Bountiful Urban Gardening

**Every year, we take on teacher candidate students from OISE for the month of May to help them complete their community placement hours. This year, our OISE staff were incredible as always, and we decided to ask some of them to contribute to our blog. Here is a post from Lise Garden about her time at Thistletown Collegiate.**

The month of May was a busy and exciting month in the garden. I had the privilege of completing my internship for my bachelor of education degree with PACT at the Thistletown Collegiate garden. After spending the long winter in a traditional classroom it was a delightful welcome to get outside and learn in an unconventional classroom like a schoolyard garden!

We have teachers, students, parents, and community members visiting the garden each day contributing hard work, treasures, advice, and conversation. The garden has a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. At Thistletown, the harvest is shared among students, the food bank, farmers markets, and the culinary program in the school. The garden benefits communities in countless ways. The social returns are immeasurable!

This incredible experience exposed me to the power and importance of getting students outside to learn valuable, hands-on skills. At Thistletown a core group of grade 12 students have worked and enjoyed the garden since grade 9. They love the garden and often speak of how much they will miss it when they are away at University next year. I share their sentiment. It is a magical space where you are able to enjoy, with all senses, the fruits of your labour.

Over the month of May, I have learned more about many interesting techniques, from an incredible composting system that quickly turns yard waste and kitchen scraps into rich soil for the plants at a balmy 100 degrees to the amazing cover crop called vetch which has the ability to lock nitrogen in the soil at its roots. When the roots are turned into the soil they create a great environment rich in nitrogen and organic matter for planting a new crop, and when the tops of the vetch plants are cleared, they can be used as a mulch around other plants.

I was blown away by the dedication and unique beauty that characterizes the space. Stepping into the garden is like entering a tranquil paradise full of learning opportunities for anyone who is curious and ready to get involved. Even students who are hesitant at first soon become engaged, unable to resist the alluring possibilities. One student at first uninterested in getting her hands dirty frequently returned to check on the status of her cabbage plant. 
We also practiced the traditional indigenous knowledge system of growing together corn, pole beans, and squash, often referred to as the three sisters. These crops thrive in a symbiotic relationship, supporting one another as they grow. The bean plants supply nitrogen to the corn, the prickly squash vines deter critters from snacking on the plants, and the corn provides a natural trellis for the beans to climb.

We also experimented with a technique for growing potatoes using a vertical tower method! To prepare and plant the towers, straw is used to create nests around inside the perimeter of each tower, which are then filled with vegetable compost and garden soil, and finally the organic seed potatoes are added. This technique is a great way to grow vertically and maximize growing space.

It has been remarkable to witness the change and growth in the garden. I am so privileged to have had such an amazing and enriching internship experience. Thank you PACT for this incredible experience.

Please visit our blog throughout the 2014 growing season for updates, and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at

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