Summer’s official arrival means budding plants, fresh fruit and crisp vegetables, and Lindsay Heights neighbors took a short course in “Gardening 101” at Walnut Way’s Neighbor Night. The non-profit community organization held the event at its 17th street garden as part of its monthly Neighbor Night series.
About a dozen area residents dined on lasagna and salad before taking a tour of the garden, led by Jeremy Davis, Walnut Way’s environmental specialist. The hands-on adventure allowed residents to ask questions while exploring a well-maintained city garden, full of peach trees, strawberry and raspberry bushes, cilantro, greens and more.
The mixed crowd—some gardening experts, others novices—learned that season, sun and space are important factors in starting a home garden.
“Asparagus (plants) can grow between four and five feet tall, for example,” Davis explained. “Tomatoes and peppers need six hours of sun. You’ll want to make sure you have the right amount of space and sun for what you want to grow.”
After choosing an in-ground, raised or patio layout, gardeners should make sure they have the proper irrigation system to keep plants and food hydrated. Irrigation options include buckets, soaker hoses, drip irrigation and garden hoses.
“Rain water is the best water for plants,” Davis said. “You will notice a difference in your garden after a season of using rain water.”
Residents can obtain 55-gallon rain barrels that catch rainwater from the homeowner’s rooftop for gardening use through the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s Rain Barrel Program.
Davis said there are a variety of organic pesticides and insecticidal soaps to keep pests like flea beetles away, but admits keeping hungry squirrels out can be a challenge.
“Try planting cayenne peppers in various parts of the garden,” he offered. “Sometimes they remember the parts of the garden where they had a bad experience and don’t come back.”
Residents saw Walnut Way’s 1,200-gallon cistern in action during the tour, and saw—and smelled—the new compost pile used to fertilize the garden.
“This is the best fertilizer you can use,” Davis said. “You can use egg shells, watermelon hulls, corn on the cob—anything natural—in your compost.”
Both new and experienced gardeners found the tips useful, and 10-year-old Shavez Boster found a new hobby. Shavez and her grandmother, both of whom live walking distance from Walnut Way, attended the event together.
“I really want to start a garden of my own now,” Shavez said. “I learned that you have to test the soil and that you can’t cut plants from the top.”
Shavez asked several questions and volunteered to come back and help tend to Walnut Way’s garden this summer.
Tyler Atkinson, a 22-year-old recent Marquette University graduate, said he plans to open an agriculture center and learned a lot from Davis.
“I didn’t know that rain water was better than using treated municipal water,” Atkinson said.
Walnut Way will offer more events on gardening and rain barrel use this summer. Check the website or Facebook page for details.