Monday, August 6, 2007

Trenton Soil

Trenton's soil is some of the best in the state; certainly in all of Mercer County. I took Mercer County's/Rutger's Master Gardener class in 2005-2006, and our teacher, the fantastic Barbara J. Bromley told us so. There were only two Trenton residents in my class, but we took pride when our soil sample test results came back with decent news. I heard a lot of "You live WHERE? Are you crazy?" in my class, but hey, my soil is the envy of the county! Another perk to living in the city is that we don't have the deer problems that seem to plague residents elsewhere in the county. I'd gladly trade a couple deer (or even bear!) for some knuckleheads, though!

So, you'd think with this great soil, and the extensive training I received from the Master Gardener program, gardening in this city should be easier. I know that Isles, Inc. does a great job in this area, and so do some other home gardeners in this city. My soil may be fantastic, pH-wise, and in its consistency (not too much sand, not too much clay) but it doesn't tell the whole story...we have weird light issues. Our northern side gets roasted (which is typically the darkest side of a property, but that's not the case here). Our other exposures have either too many trees or other buildings; the result is a very small, but consistently sunny patch behind our garage. And that "soil," if you could call it that when we found it, was loaded up with broken tiles and an improperly removed tree stump, thanks to one of the former owners of the property. Also, we have a fairly large stray/feral cat population in our vicinity who had, prior to our arrival, used our garage as a giant litterbox; and after we moved in and closed the doors on the garage, the cats started to use the area behind the garage, and that certainly does not help at all. But we worked it...and worked it...and now, we have a fairly successful tomato patch, along with one thriving cucumber plant and one vigorously growing birdhouse gourd vine, framing the back of the small patch.

Other challenges to gardening in the city, is the city itself. Some background: the Master Gardener program is a huge commitment that first year (but I recommend it if you like plants or bugs, and have the time). When the academic portion is complete, a student must donate 70 hours of his/her time to get certified. The volunteer commitment requires helping county residents with their gardening/landscape problems, at the extension office on Spruce Street, next to the Trenton Farmers Market. The rest of the volunteer hours are spent getting involved in one of the MG established committees, or project in the community. If you don't have the time for the class, but have ideas that will beautify the city, contact the Master Gardeners to see about getting some volunteers over to help you with your project...the key is that the project has to be in a public space. My first year, I had hoped to be able to give my time to the city. I approached my councilman, Gino Melone, about it and he was all for it, and also had some project ideas. I also spoke with another member of the community, who wanted to get city support/approval her project idea: she wanted to do some plantings along sections of South Broad Street, and clean up the disheveled Belgium block from the tree wells (many of the trees had outgrown their wells, or had died since the block and wells were installed). My friend simply wanted to plant some annuals and/or bulbs in those abandoned tree pits along Broad Street, and get the city to remove the old block, but Jean Shaddow, natural resources director of Trenton, shot down those ideas. She said the flowers would not enhance the streetscape, and would most likely get trampled. I don't know how true that is; it's certainly a possibility, but it's not a guaranteed outcome. The goal was to get the neighborhood involved, and with that comes community pride, and the ultimate result is fewer trampled flowers.

I'm not in the Broad Street area, but in a high traffic area nonetheless: we're in between the high school and a grade school. We get some of the worst pedestrians: children! I'm not trying to put down kids, it's just they have a tendency to not care as much about plants as adults do. Last fall, I planted daffodils bulbs on my corner, and they bloomed nicely this spring, and were not trampled or picked by the kids, or anyone else passing by. A couple of months ago, I put in a small blueberry bush and some asters, and they too, have been left alone (they currently need some TLC, but that's on me!). So, I hope Jean Shaddow and others in the city will reconsider, and put some energy into using flowers and plants as a way to quietly revitalize this city. And if the city continues to say no, maybe you can put some flowers or herbs or small shrubs out in front of your house. Some neighborhoods are more problematic for plant theft, but keep trying...it WILL make a difference!

If you rent or don't have the inclination to do a planting in the front yard, you should definitely consider growing your own edibles in your back yard (or in a pot on a sunny porch) -- soil and temperature here in Trenton makes the growing reasonably easy (as long as your patch isn't loaded with broken tile or cat poo). I work from home, so I can't wait for summer when I can have my lunch outside; once the days warm up in the spring, I envision picking fresh vegetables and eating them for lunch...our yard is small, and the garden even smaller, so each veggie is a special offering from nature! I haven't had much luck until today: I was able to make a salad from a couple of small cucumbers and scant handful of perfect cherry tomatoes, all homegrown. I garnished the salad with mint (also grown in my yard) and toasted pine nuts, and made a simple dressing out of equal parts balsamic vinegar, honey, and olive oil (thanks to my sister-in-law, Clair, for that idea, though she makes it with maple syrup...she's Canadian, after all!). The mint is a joyous burst of flavor, paired with cucumbers (my friend Bill [a former Trenton resident] is a huge fan of mint too; check out his blog). If you don't already, I would definitely recommend gardening your city yard -- our soil here is fertile.

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