Playa Potrero Garden Project, Part 3.

Written by Alexandra Carelli / Photography by Jonathan Katzenberg

This week we made incredible strides in the development of the Playa Potrero Garden Project. On Monday, we still had a borderline vacant lot with a few piles of stones, but by Saturday we were watering plants, turning compost, and building a beautiful stone path. Watching it come together piece by piece, and knowing that at one time this was little more than an idea floating around in my overzealous brain, was an absolutely enlightening experience.

Monday, Jonathan and I set out building the herb and vegetable beds out of rocks that we purchased and some that we collected. I had a vision of creating a free-form, organic space with winding paths and concentric circles filled with herbs, trees, and sprouting beans. Rocks were the perfect medium to execute this vision. They gave us the freedom to place beds in the patchy spots that sunlight hits and make the most out of otherwise unusable space. Since we are incorporating permaculture techniques into our garden project, I felt it important to work with the space we had in an organic manner and not force it into rigid grid-like structures.

Mini Permaculture Lesson: Building a permaculture garden is a lot easier than the name suggests. The premise is simple: plants in nature thrive off the remains of other flora, so we should mimic what happens in nature for a healthy, robust garden. This premise is based on an equally simple science: plants thrive on carbon, and dead plants and tree trunks provide carbon, thus when you plant near organic “waste” your plants will thrive. Many permaculture projects are large farms, with a lot of space to plant near organic waste or fallen trees. In our garden, there is a lot less space, so we have to mimic permaculture on a smaller scale. To do so, we are layering brown leaves and pieces of trees in our vegetable beds for the same effect. We will not be using any pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, and instead will make our own natural pesticides and use compost as a fertilizer. These tactics will allow us to grow fruits and vegetables that are truly part of a natural process, and are not subjected to the torture of contemporary agriculture practices.

On Thursday, we organized a “Waste Race” with one of our volunteers, Reshma, a sustainable designer from India. This project was meant to teach the kids the difference in organic and inorganic matter. We collected all different types of trash, and the kids had to race to put the pieces in the correct bin. At the end of the race, we ceremoniously brought all the organic waste to the compost area for a composting lesson where Brandon, an AM student, starting eating some of the rice we were trying to compost!

Between lessons and other every day duties, we spent the majority of this week bent over and dripping sweat from every limb, but by the time Friday rolled around it was completely worth it. The seeds that we planted in the plastic bottle planters had sprouted over the past couple weeks, and were strongly peeking their heads over the edges of their containers. So, we decided to have a planting day on Friday to transplant into the new beds. It was incredibly satisfying to finally be placing plants in the dirt after 2 months of talking, planning, and working to get the garden underway. Today, when I went to water the plants and sow some beans, I noticed that many of the cucumbers and radishes were shooting right up! Thankfully, we haven’t had any rain the past couple days, so the seedlings have had some time to take root and gather their strength for the storms that lay ahead.

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