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Using Soil and Soil Mixes

Well prepared garden soil is great for growing things in the ground but when it comes to growing things in containers the soil is different.

Soils for containers need to be well aerated and well drained while still being able to retain enough moisture for plant growth.  So when choosing what to use to fill containers, never use garden soil by itself.

Container soils are often referred to as soilless or artificial media, because they contain no soil at all, often composed of peat, vermiculite, bark, coir fiberin a variety of recipes depending on the type of plant being grown. Succulents, herbs, and perennials tend to prefer well drained soils, media that are coarser in texture containing more bark, perlite or sand. For tropicals and foliage plants, more peat and finer material as these plants tend to prefer moisture growing conditions.

Garden soil needs to be modified or amended. An acceptable soil based mix can be made by using one part garden soil, one part peat moss and one part perlite or coarse builders sand.

Over the course of time, the organic materials that the soilless media is made from break down and decompose to the point where you will loose the drainage and aeration properties that are inherent in soilless container medias. When that happens, discard the media to the compost pile or to the garden and refill the container with fresh media.

When filling containers with media, don’t fill the pot to the top. Leave about a one inch space between the top of the soil and rim of the pot. This will help make watering the pot easier as it provides a place to “put water” and not have it run over the edge.

Filling very large containers can be costly especially when using commercially prepared media. To reduce the cost and also the weight of the container consider adding “filler” to the bottom of the container with something that is inert, able to take up space and not break down over the course of the growing season. Items such as crushed aluminum cans, plastic milk jugs, and non-biodegradable “packing peanuts” are usually readily available. Lay a piece of landscape fabric over the top of the material and fill the rest of the container with media.

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Using Soil and Soil Mixes

“People Eat More Veggies When They Take Part In Gardening”


Sundari Kraft is the founder of Sustainable Food Denver, founding co-chair of the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council, and founder of one of Denver’s first multi-plot urban farms.


FT: One of your legislative successes is a policy to allow Denver residents to raise chickens, ducks, and dwarf goats within the city limits. How practical is this in an urban setting and how do you hope this will benefit individual health?

SK: Anytime someone is considering raising an animal—whether it’s a chicken or a dog—they need to make sure that they have the appropriate space, tools, and time to adequately care for that animal. That being said, city-appropriate food-producing animals can absolutely be raised successfully in an urban backyard. These animals are no more difficult to care for than the pets that we’re used to seeing in cities (like dogs and cats)—it’s just that most of us haven’t grown up with them and we’ve lost the knowledge of how to care for them. Luckily, there are a number of books focused on urban homesteading, as well as classes in some cities focused on backyard chickens or goats.

Food producing animals offer families an accessible source of healthy protein, and the typical surplus of milk that you can get from a dwarf goat allows people to experiment with things like homemade yogurt and cheese. Anything you make from scratch in your home will be less processed than 90 percent of the comparable products you can find in the store, and generally will be healthier for you. It is important for families raising goats to research pasteurization and make informed decisions about how to use their goat’s milk safely.

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Interview with Sundari Kraft: “People eat more veggies when they take part in gardening”


In Washington School Gardens Are No Longer A Rarity

Horace Mann Elementary School has a rooftop garden. After leafy vegetables are planted and cared for, students harvest the crops, chop them up and serve them to more than 400 of their peers for lunch.

Jagodnik’s third-floor classroom, which is filled with seedlings and outfitted with a small kitchen, opens directly to the school’s rooftop garden. It’s there where a class of third-graders pick parsley and pak choi from commercial-grade garden towers on Monday mornings.

Architect Michael Marshall designed the rooftop farm, one of several gardens at Horace Mann, during the school’s renovation three years ago.

“The connection to the exterior is not an accident in this design. A lot of these young kids, when they grow up, rooftop gardens are going to be very common as far as sustainability and urban living. Why not prepare them?” Marshall said.

Once the greens are gathered and washed, they’re hand-chopped and thrown into large stainless steel bowls, where they’re tossed in a simple dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and sugar.

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: In Washington School Gardens Are No Longer A Rarity


Is Urban Farming For Rich Hipsters?

Making urban grown produce affordable “This is a real challenge,” says Kate Hofman, CEO and co-founder of London-based aquaponics enterprise GrowUp Urban Farms, which produces fish, salads and herbs in unused city spaces to sell wholesale.

“Food is a commodity, and we have to make the business work. Of course, we are growing more expensive things with a bigger margin for a customer who has more to spend, but we are trying to grow other affordable things like mixed salad, and get those into retailers that are widely accessible,” says Hofman.

Workforce diversity Swiss aquaponics enterprise Urban Farmers – which sells its urban growing system and raises tilapia, micro-greens, salads and herbs – has taken over the rooftop floors of De Schilde, a former Philips TV and phone set factory in The Hague.

Tycho Vermeulen – a horticulture researcher from Wageningen University who has worked to attract more urban agriculture enterprises to become tenants of De Schilde – is concerned about diversity of the urban farming workforce.

Urban Farms Under the sea: the underwater farms growing basil, strawberries and lettuce Wider inequalities in the food system For some the challenges around equality in urban agriculture are simply a reflection of the global food system’s wider issues.

Patrick Holden, founding director and CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, says, for example, that many of those working in the food sector are paid poorly and as a result, “The people who produce our food can’t afford good food”.

“There’s a whole generation for whom urban food growing is becoming a major interest. These kinds of food revolutions tend to be led by people who have more information, and maybe more disposable income, but that’s not to say they’re not tapping into something of interest to all sections of society,” he says.

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Is urban farming only for rich hipsters? | Guardian Sustainable Business | The Guardian


Michigan Ornamental Growers Are Adding Greenhouse Vegetables


Looking to take advantage of the increased demand for locally-grown and a better quality product, ornamental plant growers in Michigan are adding a variety of greenhouse vegetable crops.

Michigan State University Extension greenhouse and floriculture outreach specialist W. Garrett Owen said he works with ornamental growers who produce bedding plants, vegetable transplants for field production and retail sales and who also finish vegetables for retail sales.

Michigan ornamental plant growers are using a variety of production methods to grow greenhouse vegetables including using large nursery containers filled with the same substrate used to produce ornamental crops.

Even though these ornamental growers were growing vegetable transplants for field production and retail sales, Owen said they faced some challenges when trying to finish the vegetables under greenhouse conditions.

Owen said one of the biggest challenges these growers faced was trying to grow greenhouse vegetables in the same growing mixes they were using for ornamental plants.

“Trying to grow a greenhouse crop like tomatoes for months in the same ornamental growing mix caused some issues. For example, with a peat-perlite mix settling occurs and the particle size degrades over time. The chemical and physical properties are going to be altered, including air space and container capacity. Some of the air space in the substrate is lost from settling or compaction. Just because a substrate can be used to grow ornamentals in a short crop time, there are challenges using the same mix for longer-term greenhouse vegetables.”

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Michigan ornamental growers extend season with greenhouse vegetables

Singapore: Learning To Grow Own Food In Urban Setting

Mr Cheng, 30, a co-founder of a creative consultancy, says: “Most of the time, we don’t know where our fresh produce is imported from and if it is free from pesticides or chemical fertilisers. I became interested in having more control of what I put on my plate by growing my own food.”

Mr Cheng is one of many people here who have signed up for urban farming courses to learn how to grow their own food.

Besides running courses on various urban farming topics, including aquaponics, hydroponics and mushroom growing, Citizen Farm will also be running an agriculture course here later this year.

Mr Darren Ho, 28, head of Citizen Farm, says: “We want to build a pool of people who are passionate about urban agriculture and farming and let this talent pool be the bedrock of the agriculture industry in Singapore.”

The Plant Story, an urban gardening lifestyle company founded in 2009 by Ms Cath Lim, 43, a certified horticulturist, started offering urban farming workshops two years ago when “Many customers, mostly working adults and families with young children, came to us wanting to grow their own food”.

Gardens With Purpose, an urban organic gardening company founded in 2010 by Ms Joanne Ng, 54, leads trips to Chiang Mai in Thailand for participants to learn more about organic farming.

Says Ms Ng: “A lot of gardeners here wanted to see how organic farming was done hundreds of years ago, using mainly fermenting and composting. They also like Thailand and the food there. So I decided to combine the two.”

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Singapore: More sign up for lessons to grow own food in urban setting

Chicago: When Farm to Table Is Just A Few Blocks Away

Urban farming alive and well at site of former Robert Taylor Homes.

It’s one of many lessons Rosenthal has learned in the two years she’s been growing produce at Legends Farm, a training site for urban farmers through the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Windy City Harvest program.

Today, where chain-link fences once stood and concrete covered the ground, Legends Farm is alive and green.

Legends Farm supplies produce to restaurants and wholesalers in the Chicago area and provides hands-on training for graduates of Windy City Harvest’s nine-month apprenticeship in sustainable urban farming.

It’s going so well that next year, the farm is scheduled to begin moving just south of where it now stands to a permanent home within the development, says Angela Mason, associate vice president of urban agriculture at Chicago Botanic Garden and head of Windy City Harvest.

Shortly after Windy City Harvest’s apprenticeship program began in 2008, Mason says, students started asking the same question again and again: “We want to start a small farm-could you help us find land?” In 2011, Mason and Kelly Larsen, director of operations at Windy City Harvest, started investigating urban incubator farm programs, visiting locations in Massachusetts, Washington and California.

“Urban farming like this is still in its infancy, and the support that Windy City Harvest gives is unmatched.”

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Chicago: When farm to table is just a few blocks away

Urban Farm Startups Are Growing the Future

Bowery is the latest of a handful of urban farm startups attempting to reinvent how people, specifically city dwellers, get their food.

Even AeroFarms, a New Jersey farm startup that waters its plants with patented aeroponic misting apparatus and is the most established U.S. company of its kind, describes its progress in terms of traditional software release iterations.

The Brooklyn-based company Gotham Greens is a successful test case for shrinking the greenhouse farm format to fit smaller metropolitan spaces, but still harvest enough produce to turn a profit.

It’s currently renovating a former steel supply company building half a mile away from its current headquarters, creating what will be its third major farm and a symbolic gesture of rehabilitation for the city.

“They’ve looked at our history, they’ve looked at our operating costs, and they’ve seen what the demand is,” cofounder Marc Oshima told me when I visited the farm.

The true question of Silicon Valley investors is almost always: Can a business scale up? Is it a Foursquare or an Uber? The question is particularly tricky for something as intricately designed and finicky as a farm, which can’t simply be revamped by overhauling a portion of code or redesigning its user experience.

The inventor’s secret sauce is a proprietary nozzle used to mist a plant’s roots with with nutrient-rich water, a method called aeroponics that cofounder Oshima says uses 95 percent less water than traditional farming, which is even less than hydroponic farming uses - and less than the average aeroponic farm uses.

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Buying the Farm – The Ringer

10 Companies Feeding The Urban Farming Boom


With more reports sounding alarms about looming food scarcity issues, there is a boom in agriculture tech, breeding companies offering everything from unorthodox growing setups to soil sensors, hydroponics and all manner of crop data analytics.

Alongside the boom in urban ag startups is the growing number of grassroots nonprofit community groups looking to turn vacant lots into local food production hot spots, often marrying issues of nutrition with economic development.

Just look at Urban Tilth, City Slicker Farms or the Green Bronx Machine, which all grow affordable, high-quality food on underused land — and manage to create job or help alleviate food deserts in the process.

Cities also are starting to play along, with officials in California cities such as Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco actually moving to ease regulatory requirements or add incentives for urban farming.

Of course, there are lots of potential pitfalls in all of this.

Figuring out how to regulate urban farms — even putting into place checks for food safety and other basic processes — is one issue. In markets with high costs of living and intense competition for expensive land, such as San Francisco, it’s also a tough judgement call to grow food on large lots instead of building housing for residents facing $3,500-a-month rents.

With one United Nations report even noting that one-fifth of the world’s food is grown in urban areas — everywhere from informal backyard plots to high-tech vertical farms — one overarching concern is avoiding ills such as cost-cutting, dependence on toxic fertilizers and ecosystem degradation that have plagued the industrial food system.

Even fundamental issues such as the size of farms become more pronounced in urban environments.

From new variations on greenhouses to farms designed to grow up instead of out, here’s a look at the companies leading the urban ag charge.

1. Freight Farms

The company’s signature product, the “Leafy Green Machine,” is a ready-made hydroponic farm inside a 40-foot-by-8-foot-by-9.5-foot shipping container that uses LED lights and drip irrigation. The company also created an app, farmhand, that allows customers to remotely track conditions inside the container, such as temperatures that are crucial for food safety.

2. AeroFarms

Rather than framing food grown on farms as an equal replacement for field-grown crops, AeroFarms (like several of its competitors) emphasizes year-round availability and capabilities for growing finicky foods that carefully must be monitored. In addition to better water efficiency and the appeal of pesticide-free produce, the company also plays up the trend toward local supply chains, stressing fewer transportation miles traveled and closer ties to communities.

3. BrightFarms

The company’s first few farms in Kansas City, Missouri, and northern Virginia certainly don’t operate in the densest of cities, but BrightFarms is pushing the boundaries of sustainable agriculture. With its Bucks County, Pennsylvania, operation, the company inked a first-of-its kind, long-term “Produce Purchase Agreement” with independent grocer McCaffrey’s.

4. Edenworks

The Brooklyn-based company builds rooftop aquaponic greenhouses that grow organic greens, mushrooms and herbs with the help of manure from tilapia and prawns also grown in the mini-farm. Sensors within the greenhouse also collect data on environmental conditions and the wastewater from the sea creatures, providing information to growers about which operation components need attention.

5. Detroit Dirt

Detroit Dirt functions as the middle man between businesses that generate lots of waste (such as restaurants and the city’s zoo), taking that waste and processing it at a 2.5-acre composting facility before selling it back to urban farmers in need of nutrient-rich soil. Detroit Dirt also works directly with corporations to launch community farms.

6. SproutsIO

According to a recent report by Wired, the company aims to provide both hydroponic and aeroponic systems, a data log to monitor the health of plants and when they will be ready to harvest, as well as a way to interact with other customers growing their own food.

7. Fujitsu

One of the few large companies to wade head-first into its own ag tech venture is Japanese IT company Fujitsu, which has received notoriety for its endeavors growing lettuce in large-scale vertical structures.

8. Grove Labs

While many urban ag startups favor aluminum racks and other more industrial touches, Grove has folded its indoor farming technology within furniture designed to blend in with apartment decor. The company is accepting refundable $100 deposits for the first batch of products expected to ship this winter and sell for less than $5,000.

9. Garden Fresh Farms

In addition to developing a patent-pending cylindrical growing structure, the company advertises its capacity to advise those looking to establish their own indoor farms on everything from market research and real estate search to CAD design, installation of equipment, training and food distribution.

10. Growtainer

Growtainer sells either 20- or 40-foot shipping container farms equipped with modular racks for growing food.The operation is controlled by a “Growtroller” PC-based sensor system that monitors and regulates humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide and pH levels.

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: 10 companies feeding the urban farming boom | GreenBiz

Dirty Hands, Happy Students


On the first day of school last week, students in Steven Schultz’s high-school agriculture class in Lacombe, Alta., toured their greenhouse and edible gardens, harvesting gooseberries, cherries and grapes for a canning project. After school, the beekeeping club conducted a postsummer hive inspection, harvesting 60 kilograms of honey from just one of its three hives.

These tasks are part of Lacombe Composite High School’s EcoVision Club, designed 13 years ago to inspire young leaders to make an environmental difference. Science teacher Schultz has been with the project since the beginning, when a student approached him after class.

“She said, ‘We can talk about the environment until we’re blue in the face, but unless we take action, it’s kind of useless,'” he recalls. The club’s first project was a rooftop solar-panel system, which reduced the school’s energy use by about 5 per cent.

In Toronto, Paul Taylor is the executive director of FoodShare, which facilitates public-school food and urban agriculture programs as well as community food-security initiatives. It’s independently run and funded, and dedicated to helping local schools overcome these problems.

Students have grown and harvested more than 13,000 kilograms of produce on school lawns and rooftops through School Grown, FoodShare’s schoolyard gardening project. There’s also a new pilot project, the Good Food Machine, which allows the most urban of youth to participate using aeroponics, mobile kitchen carts and digital learning tools.

Selling the fruits of students’ labour also helps fund the Alpine Edibles program run by the Canadian Rockies Public Schools board in Alberta. There, gardening expert Christian Wright works with teachers to incorporate edible gardens into different aspects of its curriculum.

Inside Schultz’s classroom, Mason jars are lined on book shelves, each containing a large, slimy SCOBY – a symbiotic culture of bacteria used to make effervescent fermented kombucha beverage. In a hallway beside the cafeteria, an urban cultivator resembling a brightly lit refrigerator with glass doors houses rows of sprouts and microgreens.

Schultz turns each project into courses and classes in order to keep them going, and sustainable. He tries to make sure each new project can be completed with a three-year time frame – the typical span of a high-school student.

“Capture their dreams in Grade 10 and help them fulfill their dreams – make them a reality – by Grade 12,” he says. “It’s all about them – they do everything.”

This is an autogenerated summary from a published source: Dirty Hands, Happy Students