I know people who can’t wait to get into their garden each spring. Getting their hands in dirt is a soulful experience.
In Boston, you don’t have to have your own plot to experience the rewards of gardening. From community gardens to pots on a deck, urban dwellers have a variety of choices.
If you’re new the gardening or looking to grow your skills, Boston Natural Areas Network, an affiliate of the Trustees of Reservations, offers classes, such as Vegetable Gardening 101, Water-Wise Gardening (next one is June 7 in Roxbury), and Garden Mixology (June 14 in JP).
For those who have some patch of dirt to call their own, many enjoy making use of backyard soil for flower beds alongside vegetable patches.
If you’re growing food, consider the makeup of the soil your food is growing in. Soil testing can tell you about your soil’s nutrient levels, acidity, and any toxins that may have leached into soil. The UMass Amherst Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory can test soil: it’s just $15 for a routine analysis, and advanced testing is available.
Alternatively, you can build raised beds and add soil. Though this is more expensive initially than sowing directly into the ground, it is typically less expensive than removing toxins from your soil. Just be sure to use wood that has not been treated.
Those interested in expanding beyond plants might consider hosting backyard chickens or beehives.
Roxbury-based permaculturist and urban homesteader, Allison Meierding, has had as many as five chickens in her backyard coop. “It’s more eggs than you can really eat,” she says. “But they make fantastic gifts because it’s such an unusual thing to give people.”
Newcomers to hen-keeping can consult with who can help homeowners with education, logistics, and sourcing.
Those with deck space can make excellent use of the outdoor square footage with potted vegetables and herbs. Using pots you can move allows homesteaders to adapt to sun exposure and New England’s unpredictable weather.
The mix of plantings best for decks depends on sun exposure, but good container plants include:
Feeding the soil
Compost added to commercial soil mixtures helps retain moisture and enhances soil’s nutritional profile. Bootstrap Compost offers rich compost made from its Boston subscribers’ food waste for $12 per 30 pounds, plus a $5 delivery fee to non-subscribers.
If you’re looking for soil to cultivate away from your home, here are several options that will accomplish everything from simple garden plots to immersion in permaculture and issues of food justice.
Community garden plots
Community gardens in Boston are part of a larger network of community gardens, but typically organized individually. For instance, the Trustees oversees thirteen community gardens in Jamaica Plain. Eleven gardens along Southwest Corridor Park are maintained by Southwest Corridor Park Conservancy.
Many community gardens have applications for a plot on their website but the Boston office of the Trustees Boston also keeps contact info of all the garden coordinators.
The BFFC is “nourishing relationships between neighbors, land, and food in the city.” With hundreds of volunteers, aspiring homesteaders have many opportunities to learn, and to grow. Forest gardens include the Egleston Community Orchard, Boston Nature Center, Italian Home for Children, and more.
Mainly based in Somerville and Cambridge, the League of Urban Canners harvest fruit from trees throughout the city. Homeowners with fruit trees give permission for LUrC members to harvest fruit in exchange for a share in the preserves.
Borrow a plot from the Southwest Corridor Park and design a space using native and/or edible plants while taking care to avoid invasive species.
Supporting local bees
Gardening is good for the human body and soul, but the mere presence of gardens also helps sustain local bee populations, providing sources of food. If you’re interested in planting bee-friendly plants, the Boston Natural Areas Network offers a workshop on Native [Plants] for Pollinators.
You may want to take it one step further and maintain a beehive. Decks, rooftops, and backyards can all be possible hosts to beehives. The Boston Area Bee Association offers Bee School at Urbano Project in the Brewery Complex building to teach “newbees” (their term) about responsible beekeeping practices.