Herman Harris inspects one of the 12 vertical planters.
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Names: Peggy Easterwood, housewife, South Toledo; Gordon Latta, retired, South Toledo; Herman Harris, retired, North Toledo; and Rose Gonzalez, interim manager of the Mayores Senior Center in South Toledo.
Garden specs: A fenced area behind the Mayores center on South Street has a vertical garden, consisting of 12 poles. Each pole holds four plastic-foam pots that are stacked on each other at a 45-degree angle. The pots are 9-by-9 inches, and 8 inches deep and filled with ground coconut-shell fiber (the growing medium). A vegetable is planted in each corner of each box, for a total of 192 plants. An adjacent barrel filled with water and fertilizer is pumped into a thin plastic pipe attached to the top of the poles; it drips into the top-most pot and excess moisture trickles to the pots below.
Rebecca Singer, vice president and director of agricultural programs at the Center for Innovative Food Technology, says large leafy greens such as collards often are planted into the top two (of four) pots on each pole. Tomatoes usually are limited to two per pot. And vining crops such as cukes and squash are tucked into the bottom pot so they can spread out onto the ground. Herbs do extremely well, she adds, but broccoli doesn't develop good heads.
When did you start gardening? We installed these in May.
What do you grow? Tomatoes, green and hot peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, celery, collard greens, red cabbage, strawberries. Also, some marigolds and geraniums.
Favorite plants: Tomatoes, green beans, and hot peppers.
Give us a gardening tip: Plenty of sunshine and water, and proper soil.
Hours spent gardening: About an hour a day to water and check on the plants.
Annual expense: $30 for young plants. The eight new stacks plus a water barrel, pump, and soil, cost $709 (federal money). In addition, we had four poles and 15 pots left from a 2009 program that were not used in 2010, so we installed them too. They aren't attached to the irrigation system so we water them by hand.
Challenges: Getting the irrigation system and its timer system to work properly.
We're proud of: Seeing the veggies begin to grow.
What I've learned gardening: You get to eat what you've grown and it tastes better. Gardening can be educational and fun.
Note: The Mayores Senior Center is one of 25 sites to receive vertical gardening systems, paid for by a $198,000 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant obtained by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) that's being managed by Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center. The goals are to provide people who live in the central city with fresh produce, as well as to support urban agriculture and new technology.
People at each site are expected to log the amount and weight of the produce they harvest. And they're asked to make at least a two-year commitment to the project, and to disassemble and store the equipment during the winter. At the Mayores Center, the produce will be used to make salads for lunches, and if there's excess, it may be given away to people who attend the center or who come there to receive government commodities.
The grant also will purchase two hoop houses (for Toledo Grows and Toledo Seagate Food Bank) and two freezers for groups that feed the hungry (the food bank and Cherry Street Mission).
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