Thursday, February 11, 2010

Something From Nothing

This spring, I've been tasked with creating a one-acre farm for the Science Museum of Virginia. Ever since I was a child, I've been fascinated with growing plants. I still remember growing a bean in a wet paper towel wadded up into a baby food jar when I was in third grade. I remember my fourth grade teacher taking us to her parents' farm to visit on a field trip. It's experiences like these that I hope to be able to pass on to a new generation of students.

I'm excited and lucky that Richmond Public Schools will be growing plants for our garden. I'm still hammering out the details about which grade level to focus on and how many schools we'll have participate. I have, howevver, developed a proposal of what I'd like them to do. I'm hoping to do a small-ish demonstration "pizza garden" as part of our acre. They've been done before. I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel. It would be a 15- to 20-foot round bed divided into slices. Each slice would be an ingredient found on pizza. A slice of tomato plants, a slice of pepper plants, a slice of jalapeno pepper plants, a slice of onions, a slice of basil and a slice of oregano. There are 29 elementary schools in Richmond. I'd like to cover every third grade class in every school. We'll see what happens!

We've partnered with Tricycle Gardens to make this farm happen. Check them out at They're doing some pretty cool stuff throughout the city. I spoke with Lisa Taranto, our Tricycle Gardens contact, about what types of growing experiments we could potentially do in our garden. There was a brief discussion of permaculture gardening, which is similar to companion planting, but focuses more on planting some items that serve only to enrich the soil and cause a different crop to grow better (I think!). It sounds quite interesting.

So what does someone need to do to get an idea like this off the ground? Well money doesn't hurt! The museum has been lucky to receive a grant from the Gwathmey Trust for $30,000. We're hoping to build a small greenhouse onsite. We'll also need to purchase all the tools necessary to maintain a farm, as well as topsoil, manure, etc. For irrigation, we're using a rainwater harvesting cistern that will be constructed onsite thanks to a separate National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant. This system will harvest rainwater from the IMAX Dome and pump it out to the farm. I'm not sure of the date of completion for this system, so we may need to figure another watering system out in the meantime. I believe the first item on my plate, however, will be soil testing.

Today I bought a small "greenhouse" kit, some potting soil and seeds. Tomorrow I plan to get those started just to get myself in a growing frame of mind. This will also allow me to see how long it will take to germinate the various plants I hope the RPS kids will grow for us.

Guess that's all for now!