Casey and Angela Baker, participants with Birch Community Services, decided they wanted to do something to assist people in learning how to garden while helping to provide fresh garden produce to the families at BCS. They were planning on turning their city lot into a sustainable garden using permaculture gardening methods and chose to share this experience as a living learning lab with other participants at BCS — and the BCS Baker Garden was born.

The garden is located in the Parkrose area of NE Portland on a standard size lot, that will soon boast a harvest of asparagus, blueberries and fruit trees, along with many different types of vegetables, herbs and even chickens. The garden foundation is made up of planting beds created using a method called “sheet mulching”, and wood chip foot paths. Nearly everything that went into this garden was something recycled, another important lesson for our participants.

Businesses and friends in the community stepped up to help, donating soil amendments and other items needed to create the beds, which greatly helped in keeping the initial costs of construction to a manageable level. The next step was having the volunteers join together to help build the garden. This garden is maintained and harvested with consistent, scheduled help from BCS volunteers, and any of our participants are welcome to visit, learn and get involved. One of the most important facets of this garden is the ongoing garden learning opportunities through hands-on harvesting, planting parties and related classes. Our goal is for every family to have a garden — or at least a potted tomato plant on their patio.

The BCS Baker Garden is an exciting step in educating and helping the working poor in our community. We are blessed to have the Baker family’s generous help by supplying another garden for our participants to grow in.  The BG may look a little different than a traditional garden with rectangular raised-beds.  It is a permaculture garden.  Permaculture is a philosophy of permanent agriculture in which perennial and annual plants are grown in a style that attempts to mimic Mother Nature, thereby saving water and effort and decreasing disease and pests.

Plants here are all mixed together, but with a specific design. Flowering plants which feed predatory wasps and lacewings are planted near plants prone to insect pests. Flowers are grown amongst the blueberries to attract more pollinators. Pumpkins are grown in the edges of the garlic beds, so that when the garlic is harvested in June, the pumpkin vines can utilize the empty bed space. Because of this diverse mix of plants, the number one rule of the garden is: When in doubt, do not remove a plant. Just because it isn’t the same as a vegetable plant next to it, doesn’t mean it is a weed! It is better to leave a weed than accidentally remove a beneficial plant.

 

The Bakers list a few other guidelines for the garden:

(Starting in the front yard)

  • When you arrive at the garden, please keep in mind that this is my home.  I am homeschooling my kids, but if I am scheduled to help you during your shift, I will be out in the yard.
  • If you need to use the restroom for an emergency, please knock at the back door, and I can let you in to use our downstairs bathroom.
  • Please come dressed for your shift, and don’t expect to use the house to change in and out of work clothes. (This includes bringing gloves, although I do keep some spare pairs).
  • In the summer, portions of the yard are very sunny and hot.  Please being water and sunscreen or a hat if you need them.

If you have brought your children, please keep them in the section of the garden where you are working.  The long driveway down the side of our house is our neighbor’s, and isn’t a play area, and our street is a busline, so be aware of traffic when working with your kids in the front yard.

  • When you start your shift, come through the gate, making sure to close it behind you.  This is the shed, which is absolutely off limits to kids.  Heavy things and various not-kid-safe supplies, including garden machetes, are stored in here, and children may not enter.
  • Inside, you will find black harvesting crates and a Clean Box.  Inside the box are sharpies, rubber bands, zip lock bags, clamshell containers, and clean gloves and any supplies you might need for packaging cleaned produce.  Please make sure the inside of the box stays clean and free of dirt.
  • If supplies in the box are low, or we are low on black harvesting crates, please let me know.
  • my kids, neighbor kids, and volunteers tend to leave tools around the garden.  Ideally, please return all tools to the shed when you are finished with your shift.

There are Annual and fruit crop beds in the front, side and back yards.

  • You will receive an email or a printed paper (attached to the shed) explaining what is ready to harvest. I can help you in locating plants and determining ripeness and explain how to pick and package them.
  • I also hope to make some short videos on my phone and post them to You Tube, which will cover care and harvesting of specific crops.  I will send out the links before your shift. (Demonstrate with rhubarb and currant here)
  • When harvesting produce, always keep it in a shady spot as you continue to work. Chard and kale and such in particular will wilt quickly in the sun.
  • Some kinds of crops are quite dirty and will need to be washed at the faucet before being packed up. There are faucets on both sides of the house, and we will be adding a sink on one side later in the spring.

When working in the yard, please keep the poultry run closed and do not let the ducks and chickens loose. They are very friendly, but hard to catch!

At the end of your shift, please be prepared to deliver produce to BCS immediately. Produce left in your car for hours will wilt and not be of use to our families. I will not be driving in produce, and this is part of your shift. The warehouse is ten min from the Garden. I will be posting a Video explaining how to weigh and document harvests once you get to the warehouse.

Occasionally, I will have non-harvesting work to do, such as weeding, planting, or spreading wood chips. These tasks are equally important, if not as glamorous, and I hope you will take them on when they are available.

 

Thank you so much for volunteering here!  I want it to be a positive learning experience, and if there is anything I can do to facilitate that, please let me know!

Casey and Angela Baker

Volunteer Opportunities at BCS Gardens

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