2016 Spring

When the spring cover crops reach their peak growth and bloom, it’s always hard to want to mow them down, but we’re grateful for the amazing work they do for our soil year-round. UACC is blessed to garden on some of the largest and most fertile open spaces in Charlottesville.

 

Hairy vetch, crimson clover, winter pea, and winter rye cover crops at Friendship Court.

Hairy vetch, crimson clover, winter pea, and winter rye cover crops at Friendship Court.

Jennifer Minor, UACC Farm Apprentice, mows the cover crops at 6th Street.

Jennifer Minor, UACC Farm Apprentice, mows the cover crops at 6th Street.

This year we’re taking a detour from our usual growing season. When we realized we didn’t have enough funding to hire additional staff to do all the work we hoped, we decided to make the best use of the resources at hand. We’ll be sowing most of the fields to warm season cover crops to protect and prepare the soil for a fall vegetable season. If you pass by Friendship Court this summer, you’ll see lots of tall sorghum Sudan grass and cowpeas along with a substantial sweet potato planting, which we’ll harvest in September. In the meantime, we’ve been working hard to finish the new community orchard at Friendship Court.

Volunteers backfill terraces and build walls during a Saturday morning volunteer day.

Volunteers backfill terraces and build walls during a Saturday morning volunteer day.

The community orchard project has been quite a learning experience. It’s brought out many new volunteers and has attracted new visitors and attention to UACC’s work. At the same time it’s taken a lot more time and labor than we ever imagined it would. As it turns out, building dry stack stone walls is really difficult, and building really sturdy dry stack stone walls is even more difficult!

Despite the steep learning curve, we’re getting really close to having the whole terrace system finished. Our current goal is to get the berry plants in the ground by the end of May. Speaking of berries, when we began planning this orchard with community members, we heard many requests for strawberries. About seven years ago we had a big patch of them at Friendship Court, and people have been asking us to replant them ever since. With the demand for veggies, space is always at a premium, so this spring we carved out a new spot for the strawberries.

In March, we prepared a new space for the strawberries by building raised beds.

In March, we prepared a new space for the strawberries by building raised beds.

In April, young people from the Friendship Court after school program planted over 100 strawberry plants.

In April, young people from the Friendship Court after school program planted over 100 strawberry plants.

A heavy layer of hay mulch and spring rains have gotten the berry plants off to a strong start.

A heavy layer of hay mulch and spring rains have gotten the berry plants off to a strong start.

Working with Center for Urban Habitats on our native plant and pollinator sanctuary has inspired us to plant more natives along the borders of our gardens. We’re learning the ins and outs of growing native plants from seed, which can be a bit more involved than growing vegetables. Some seeds need stratification (exposure to moisture and cold temperatures) for a month or more, some need to be scarified (having the outside seed coat scratched so that water can penetrate inside), and some seeds are so small you can barely see them. We learn a little more about them each time we experiment, and we have several thousand plants ready to go into the ground once the rains subside.

Native plants in the foreground and berries in the back await the ideal planting day.

Native plants in the foreground and berries in the back await the ideal planting day.

Crimson clover in full bloom in the foreground, our almost finished terraces in the middle, and a thriving native plant community at the top.

Crimson clover in full bloom in the foreground, our almost finished terraces in the middle, and a thriving native plant community at the top.

This year is one of contemplation and reflection at UACC, as we work with our many neighbors, friends, and volunteers to determine our long-term vision. While we are faced with many uncertainties, there’s still plenty of work to be done day to day, and we are grateful to everyone who continues to support our work and helps us plan for tomorrow with hope.

Anything is possible, and every effort matters, no matter the size.

Anything is possible, and every effort matters, no matter the size.

Todd Niemeier