New projects maximize water-wise growing in the campus gardens

From left to right: John Walker, irrigation tech specialist; Emma Wilson, garden steward; Marykate Glenn, garden coordinator; Sue Pope, facility manager for landscape and open space; Brad Christensen; irrigation crew leader; and Brett Petersen, project manager.

From left to right: John Walker, irrigation tech specialist; Emma Wilson, garden steward; Marykate Glenn, garden coordinator; Sue Pope, facility manager for landscape and open space; Brad Christensen; irrigation crew leader; and Brett Petersen, project manager.

By Erika Longino, Sustainability Resource Center

Improvements all around!

The Sill Garden, located east of the Union, has been in limbo. Construction has obstructed the prepping of lower grow beds. The Sill Center has had no running water, requiring faculty and staff in the building to talk to the Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities building just to use the bathroom. If that doesn’t cultivate an awareness of water use, I don’t know what does!

The overlap of the organic gardens and major construction projects has been a challenge, but as the new concrete dries, the pipe installation finishes, and the yellow tape gets rolled up, we can start to unpack the potential of the gardens again. Check out these upcoming water-wise projects:

  1. Keyhole bed design.

    Keyhole bed design.

    In the coming weeks, we will be planning, ordering, and installing drip irrigation in all of the garden beds. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the U of U facilities staff, we will no longer need to hand water these gardens using sink water from Caputos. (This is also a shout out to the Caputos’ employees who hooked us up when we direly needed to fill our watering cans and save the radish seedlings!)

  2. To create more arid-tolerant garden beds, we will be replacing many of our raised beds with sunken beds. They will be prepared using the “double dig” technique, wherein the soil is excavated deep into the soil, rather than raised up and out of the ground, less exposed and likely to dry out. We will also be creating keyhole beds in the lower section of the Sill Garden to maximize our growing capacity!
  3. Apple espalier: Wouldn't this be cool at the Sill Center?

    Apple espalier: Wouldn’t this be cool at the Sill Center?

    We have plans to create an espalier—fruit tree whose branches grow flat along a surface—along the west-facing side of the Sill Center wall. Growing fruit trees on campus is a tough maneuver, but we’re going out on a limb to make the best use of vertical space. Maximizing growing space really gets to the root of food injustice and grows appreciation for permaculture principles!

  4. Potato towers.

    Potato towers.

    Potato towers! We will be employing a technique of growing potatoes vertically—planting potatoes at the bottom of wire cylinders. As the plant grows, you pile soil around the base so that the root system grows vertically. When you’re ready to harvest, you simply pull the wire cylinder away and voila! A 4-foot long root system!

The water is available, let’s use it wisely and grow food! Come get involved and get your hands on some of these projects! Sign up for our weekly updates, which include volunteer opportunities. We’d love to see you!

Erika Longino is a garden steward with the Sustainability Resource Center’s Edible Campus Gardens.

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