Please enter the Bridge campus by the North Gate in the parking lot. Some one will be there to greet you and show you back to the garden.
If you or your friends have every been interested in volunteering at the Bridge, or in working in and learning about sustainable organic gardening, this is a perfect opportunity to see what we do at the Bridge and in our garden!
Every garden has a different microclimate, and every gardener wants to pay careful attention to how her/his garden is sited or, in other words, to the sun, shade, wind, and lay of the land.
Our Backyard Garden at the Bridge overlooks the E R L Thornton Freeway, and we get a strong wind from that southerly direction. The wind has been blasting North Texas recently, and it tends to dry out the soil very quickly.
We decided to put up sunshade cloth on the south side fencing around our garden (many thanks to Ron and friends for doing this!) to cut out some of the wind, but we also wanted to find a way to irrigate the beds. Now, we did get an extensive hose system donated to us to water the beds, for which we are grateful, but we have decided to hold off on installing it until later in the summer.
In the meantime, we are experimenting with an older traditional method of irrigation, and when we say old, we are talking about a system developed in China 2,000 years ago!
The method is the buried clay pot irrigation system. The idea, of this, is to use the natural capillary function of an unglazed porous clay pot buried in the bed to allow water to seep into the soil as the nearby plants need it.
This has a couple of advantages over hoses. The water can be put next to the plants which need it the most. In our photo, the pot is sunk in the ground next to the strawberries and onions. The nearby herbs (rosemary, thyme, & oregano) are perfectly happy without much water.
Putting the water near the plants means that the whole bed is not watered, and so weeds don’t get encouraged. Also, the clay filters the water which takes out chlorine and other chemicals in the water.
The clay pot’s drainage hole can be closed with a cork or rubber plug (we used cork stoppers available in the hardware section of Lowe’s) but we painted them with an acrylic paint that will keep them from disintegrating). The pot is buried into the soil, filled with water, and capped with a matching saucer. The saucer can also be painted to keep the water from evaporating off the top, or it can have a 1/4 inch hole drilled into it, so that when it rains the pot will fill with water. But make sure the pot itself is unpainted and porous. The idea for using buried clay pots comes from Gardening with Less Water, David A. Bainbridge’s super book on low-tech, low-cost techniques for conserving water in the garden!
In the photo above, you can see that the pot is buried next to the squash which need more water than the tomatoes. In fact, James Wong, in his great book Growing for Flavor, maintains that too much water dilutes the taste of the tomatoes. Note that we have also mulched the larger plants in order to keep evaporation down.
If you would like to see our garden in action, please join us for An Open House! at Our Backyard Garden at the Bridge, Saturday, 10am-12 noon, April 28th.
We are located close to the Dallas Farmers Market. Please come in the North Gate entrance, through the gated parking lot. Hosts will meet you there and show you the way to the Garden. Looking forward to your visit!
For this first season back, our backyard garden will be set up to work with Nature, integrating our garden with the natural world that surrounds us. Surprisingly, even here in downtown Dallas, there are a lot of wild plants and animals.
Our garden is bordered by undeveloped land that is filled with blooming wildflowers: dandelion, vetch, clover, wild mustard, wild geranium. All these wildflowers attract pollinators like bees & wasps and guarantee that our garden will also have them!
There are a couple of trees right outside our fence, and they are filled with mockingbirds, cowbirds, and ravens. The birds will be great in the garden both as insect eaters and as a free source of manure! However, we have bought bird netting to cover and protect the strawberries when the fruit comes in!
The worry about weed seeds getting into our garden is minimal as we are mulching our plants. In fact, we have vetch and clover in some of the raised beds, and we will be leaving them in place. Clover and vetch are both nitrogen fixers; they capture nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil. And they can also be used as a green mulch (or so I’ve read) so we will experiment with using them as a green cover crop in the hot pepper bed.
As we have mentioned before, this first season will be mainly about improving the soil; so, as we don’t boost the fertility artificially with commercial fertilizers, we are expecting the yield to be more modest this summer. Two of the beds will be turned into compost bins: by the Fall they should be a great place to put the colder- weather greens.
We are going to keep a journal of what we plant, when, and where, and pay close attention to what does well, and what we will want to change next time. We will post our experiences here, as well as charts and maps of the garden layout.
The past ten days were especially busy as we put every plant that Lowe’s donated into the soil, and planted seeds of sunflower, nasturtium, and pole beans!
We were careful not to plant the tomatoes in the same bed that they were in last year. It is an good practice to remember to do this as it keeps last year’s tomato diseases from attacking this year’s tomatoes, and also assures that the nutrients the tomatoes need are available in the new bed’s soil.
It is important to keep records of what is done in the garden so we can remember what went where! Those records can be found on this website on the Garden Journal page.
We also made sure to put the potatoes and the tomatoes in separate beds, as they don’t do well together. However, all the basil got planted near the tomatoes; and rosemary, thyme, oregano, lemon balm, and sage were interplanted among the vegetables as insect repellants and/or pollinator attractors. This is called companion planting, and if done correctly, goes a long way to eliminating the need for pesticides!
Using this idea of companion plantings, we added French dwarf marigolds to all the beds. Their scent is also an insect repellant. We have seeded sunflowers, nasturtiums, calendula, and zinnias also all through the beds. This, again, imitates the way that Nature intersperses different plants in her fields; monoculture is never seen in the natural world, nor are straight rows!
This past week had a couple of unusually cold days for Dallas as well as hail! So far everything in our garden looks good, except for the basil which was probably planted too early. Radish, beets, sunflowers, nasturtiums, and potatoes are coming up! Watermelon seeds got planted today in three mounds. Okra went in last week.
Many thanks again to Ron, Tim, and their friends for finishing the mulching of the paths and for putting up the fabric on the south fence which will cut the wind coming off the highway. The fabric also acts as a sunscreen so we will try a narrow bed of greens in its shade.
Beautiful weather all week…so you know where you can find us!
The first task, as we start the Spring garden at the Bridge (in March! how lovely is that?!!), is to revitalize the soil which means giving the microbes-fungi, protozoa, nematodes, etc. as much help as possible.
The reason that the Earth feeds us is because the microorganisms that live in the soil feed the plants that we eat. These little guys are living beings, and their habitat, much like the habitats of larger plants and animals, can be ruined and made uninhabitable. This happens when the soil is left uncovered (many of these soil dwellers are killed by the UV rays of the sun); or is filled with chemicals from industrial fertilizers or herbicides; or is dug up or tilled by heavy equipment that breaks the soil up or crushes it down. And when the soil is depleted of these important microscopic beings, the plants that live in and on the soil become undernourished and diseased.
So here we are: raring to go; wanting to dig up the weeds; till in some fertilizer; and (finally!) put in our transplants, seeds, and seedlings. But we will need to slow down and first feed the soil while protecting its tiny (fungi, bacteria, protozoa, etc.) and not so tiny (worms and insects) ecosystems.
The best way to do this is by not disturbing the microorganisms, especially the fungi, that are already in the soil. The fungi play a particularly pivotal part in soil fertility. Fungi are responsible for bringing nutrients and water to plant roots; and what is called the mycorrhizal network extends far beyond the reach of individual plant’s roots. So when weeds are pulled up, or tilled under, the mycorrhizal network that was in place is destroyed!
The solution to this is lasagna composting or sheet mulching. One way of doing this is as follows:
The weeds are covered with cardboard carefully overlapped so there is no place for the weeds to come through. This kills the plants but leaves the roots and fungi network in place; make sure to take off any plastic tape from the cardboard.
The cardboard is soaked so it is wet top to bottom;
(If you want to use sheet mulching to start a new planting bed, then put a layer of organic compost down next and water it. We only wanted to kill the weeds and encourage fungi underneath our paths so we skipped this step.)
And finally finish with a layer of mulch (chopped up leaves & wood chips work well) laid on top.
This “lasagna” garden should be left for awhile to allow the worms and insects to begin their work of eating through the cardboard and dead weeds. When the transplants and seedlings are ready to be put in, the mulch is pulled aside to expose the soil underneath.
Just be careful not to use wood mulch in beds where you are direct seeding. Pill bugs and other good predators will eat small seedlings, though they will leave larger ones alone. I have been told that wood chip mulch also can attract slugs. I am coming from a very different planting zone (5a!) so I will see if our wood chip mulch does, in fact, attract slugs.
Check out YouTube for videos about sheet or “lasagna” mulching and no-till gardening.
Two great books about the soil and microorganisms are Sir Albert Howard’s seminal The Soil and Health; and David Montgomery & Anne Bilké’s The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health.
The important points, again, are to treat the soil with respect; and the denizens of the tilth with gratitude and care.
We here at the Bridge Recovery Center would like to thank Lowe’s at 6011 Lemmon Avenue (https://www.lowes.com/store/TX-Dallas/2280) for their generosity in donating 30 seed packets and as many plants (tomatoes, peppers, cukes, strawberries, herbs, & more!) to Our Backyard Garden!
Special thanks to Cari & Randy for giving our organic garden this tremendous boost into Spring, & to Scotty for helping us at the store! We also greatly appreciate the discount Lowe’s gave us on all the tools we needed to get our show on the road!
The much needed new yellow wheelbarrow with two front wheels was already put to good use today moving the wood mulch from its pile to on top of the cardboard in the paths. Thanks to Ron & the mighty Cujo for their help!
If you would like to see the garden & watch it grow, you can look in at the bottom of Park Avenue. We are located at the south end of the building.
If you would like to volunteer in the garden, we would be delighted to have the help! We will be planting the transplants and putting in seeds the next two weeks, usually early in the morning or later (3 pm) in the afternoon.
Please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Our Backyard Garden (OBG) at the Bridge Recovery Center in downtown Dallas came about because we wanted to create a productive organic garden on the Bridge’s campus that would provide wholesome fresh food for our guests. We also wanted the garden to be a model of sustainable urban agriculture, using Texas cultivars grown without pesticides or herbicides.
OBG was launched in the summer of 2017. With the help of volunteers and donors, ten 4 feet by 8 feet raised beds were built and filled with soil, and an initial crop of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, carrots, and herbs was harvested.
For this year, we plan to set up an onsite composter as well as a vermiculture (worms!) bin to turn our kitchen’s scraps into organic fertilizer. Our kitchen is run by the Stewpot, a community outreach program of our neighbor, The First Presbyterian Church of Dallas. The Stewpot serves 1,000 meals a day, 7 days a week, so there is plenty to compost!
Through this blog, we will keep everyone updated on our progress as our garden evolves.
Please follow us! Your encouragement, donations, and advice are greatly appreciated!