Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Water Harvesting: Industrial to Residential

It is no accident that Milwaukee is located on three rivers and alongside one of the few fresh water sources in the world.  This location requires that we better understand the impact that we have on the water and, especially, how our urban environment impacts water flow.

The Clock Shadow Building, in addition to housing our beautiful rooftop production garden, is also home to a rainwater harvesting system that collects water from the rooftop, stores it in a 5,000 gallon underground tank, and distributes it throughout the four stories of the building to flush the toilets.  This harvesting system includes multiple filtration steps, as well as a sensor that measure how much water is needed and only pumps what is required to flush the number of toilets in use.  

Storage tank pre-filter.  Photo courtesy of WaterTronics.

Water Control panels located onsite. Photo courtesy of Watertronics

By capturing grey water for toilet flushing, we're able to decrease the amount of rainwater flooding the sewer system after rainfall, resulting in fewer sewage overflow events - each of which release tons of human waste in to the lake. This, along with the green roof which captures 1-2 inches of rain fall in the soil, is an important way our building supports the health of Milwaukee's waterways. 

Interested in water harvesting for your home?  Most people think of rainbarrels, but you can also consider a greywater harvesting system for your home.  Major sources of greywater in your home include your washing machine, bathroom sink, and shower/bathtub.  The most recent edition of Urban Farm magazine shares some tips tricks for utilizing home grey water in your urban farm or backyard garden:
  • Use grey water within 24 hours of harvesting - if left too long the water can breed bacteria and bad smells. 
  • Seedlings should NOT receive your grey water - they can't handle the soaps/detergents that might be present. 
  • Apply your greywater directly to the soil - do not use on root crops or leafy green vegetables where the edible part may come in contact with the water.  Grey water is best for fruiting aboveground vegetables (tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc). 
  • Alternate grey water application with fresh water - the sodium salts from the grey water will raise the pH of the soil over time. 
  • No more than 1/2 gallon per square foot each week - University of Massachusetts Extension Service also recommends shower or bathtub water being best for your garden, followed by bathroom sink and washing machine.  Some sources recommend AGAINST using kitchen sink water because of the food particles and grease residues which can encourage bacterial growth. 
The Enact WI blog also has a great article on grey water irrigation systems for home toilet flushing.  If you're not interested in investing in a large irrigation system, consider using buckets to capture water from your washing machine or bathtub and using it to flush your toilet! 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Foto Friday: Tower Garden Update

The Tower Garden grows!  We'll be getting some grow lights set up in the next few weeks, to make sure growth continues throughout the winter months.  Can't wait for that first February (or sooner!) harvest. 

Tomatoes are slowly starting to 'fill out.' 

Lettuce leaves growing

The TowerGarden sits right outside of CORE's movement studio so all can enjoy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Inexpensive Nitrogen source: Snow

Winter season is upon us. Temperature drops, everyone bundles up, and gardens lay dormant. Fortunately, this also means that there is a very inexpensive source of nitrogen available. SNOW!

            Nitrogen is present in large amounts in the air but it is difficult to get it into the soil. As water falls through the air and freezes, each snowflake forms around airborne particles including soot, dust, and minerals. The snow is capable of picking up substances like nitrates, potassium, and calcium as they fall to the ground. As the snow thaws, the substances are released into the soil raising the total substance content. However, the proportions of theses substances in snow are small and vary from region to region. Snow in particular has been observed to add 5 to 10 pounds of nitrogen per acre in the winter season. Snow has less nitrogen then rain. However, rain tends to saturate the soil and run off, whereas snow tends to melts slower and give the soil enough time to adsorb more over time.

            One more reason to enjoy the season!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Foto Friday: Weather Station

We recently installed a weather station on the rooftop. This will give us a more accurate understanding of the weather around the surrounding area. the weather station measures wind direction, Barometric pressure (in mmHg), Temperature (C or F), rain fall (weekly and monthly), Humidity, and Windchill.
Mounted Weather Station

Handheld component
(wireless data receiver; stores data and works as a USB)
Computer program will graph all measurements individually and on chosen days!
(Temp. in Celsius)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Bringing the Bees Indoors

During many of CORE/El Centro's movement classes, the room next to the dance studio is bustling with children, 3-10 years old, who are engaging in creative play, movement activities, crafts, and team building exercises.  This is the Children's Activities room, part of CORE's Children's Wellness program.

The Children's Activities project focuses on building healthy relationships, healthy bodies, and a healthy environment.  This week, our Garden and Nutrition Assistant, Dulay, was in the children's room engaging the youth in activities focused on honeybees.

During the winter, our rooftop honeybees are working hard to keep their Beepod at 90 degrees, helping the queen to survive the winter. So we don't want to give them more work by opening the hive and peeking in on them, especially when the temperature is near freezing.  So instead of bringing the children out to see the bees, we decided to bring some bee-themed activities in to them!  Youth made bee bookmarks, out of plastic spoons that had been bent in half, enjoyed honey with their snack, and learned about honeybees' incredible sense of direction with a 'follow the leader' activity.

As our Garden and Nutrition program continues to grow and expand, we look forward to more intra-program collaborations at CORE/El Centro!

Staff and volunteers help the children create Bee Bookmarks out of plastic spoons.

The spoons were bent, creating a bee body to which head, eyes, antennae and wings were attached.

A felt pipe cleaner in the shape of a "V" makes two antennae.

Some participants made two bees - to share with family/friends.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Foto Friday: Indoor gardening through winter

We recently installed a Tower Garden at CORE/El Centro - an aeroponic growing system that is growing in popularity around the U.S. Stay tuned for updates as our basil, cilantro,  lettuce and tomato plants grow through the winter!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Blue Corn: from seed to table

This past summer we planted blue corn on CORE/El Centro’s rooftop. We used a traditional method of interplanting it with beans and squash known as the Three Sisters Garden. The Corn gives a stalk for the bean to grow while the beans replenish the soil with nitrogen for the corn. The corn also gives sufficient shade for the squash to grow.

The Blue Corn we received from Seeds of Change came from the Hopi tribe, located in Arizona.
The Blue corn, to the Hopi Tribe, is sacred. The corn, is not just food but a symbol of life and tradition. The belief is that corn was given to them from their gods. For this reason, they perform ceremonies to honor their gods and pray for longevity for their way of life. The corn is used in different religious ceremonies, traditions and everyday activities. One traditional use for the blue corn is in wedding. It is customary for Hopi women to make Piki bread from several pounds of blue corn to the spouse’s family before the wedding. For the Hopi, learning traditional recipes is a blessing from mother to daughter.

Ready to grind Corn
Hand grind to produce dough.
We decided to use the Blue corn to make tortillas. To start we had to leave the ear of corn on the stalk until it dried out. After harvesting the ear of corn, we continued to let it sit for significant amount of time until we were certain it was completely dry. Afterwards, we had to boil the kernels for 2 to 3 hours until the kernel bulges.
We then took the kernels from and mashed them with a grinder until it was dough-like.
Then there were to ways to make the shape of the tortilla.
The first is to do it mechanically with a tortilla press. The other is to do it manually. Afterwards we would heat the tortilla and enjoy!
Add salsa and enjoy!
Tortilla press for convenient
and uniform tortillas

Friday, November 22, 2013

Foto Friday - Garlic planting!

Thanks to our dear friend David, we utilized the vodka/compost pre-planting wash with garlic from his farm.  Crossing our fingers we have excellent germination next spring!

Each clove gets a quick 'dunk' in the vodka/compost mixture before planting

Garlic should be planted at least 2 inches under ground, with pointy end up.

Cover garlic with a good amount (6-12") of mulch to protect it through the winter. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Foto Friday

As winter approaches it's important to ensure our rooftop tenants have a warm home!
We moved the Beepod to the other side of the rooftop, utilizing the building as a windblock.
Recycled materials were then used to create a homemade 'box' to keep the hive protected from piercing winter winds.

Our ladies are safe and snug ready for the Wisconsin winter on the rooftop

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Partnerships for After School Education

Thanks to the leadership of Sixteenth Street Community Health Center's Healthy Choices Program, CORE/El Centro is partnering with Alba Elementary school to provide after-school nutrition and gardening education to students 3-10 years old.  Parents receive nutrition education from the Healthy Choices community leaders during the same time the children are working with CORE staff. 

This project is currently in pilot stage, with classes once a month during the school year (eight months total).  With the help of funding from the HWPP grant program through the Medical College of WI, CORE/El Centro and SSCHC will be able to offer the family education program for eight consecutive weeks, in addition to working on school food policy initiatives. 

Students brainstorm fruits and vegetables of different color categories as Stephanie records their answers on the board.

This program offers multiple levels of support - parent-to-parent, parent-and-child, and family-to-family. 

Each session ends with a healthy snack - shared as a family.

Last month, roles were switched as the children tried to get their parents to eat vegetables! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Foto Friday

Stay tuned for information and pictures on our indoor gardening efforts thanks to a donated Tower Garden!

Swiss chard was quick to emerge but just now starting to show first 'true' leaves
Cilantro getting ready for a new - and bigger - home. 

Lettuce seeds emerging from the rock wool pods - these greens will soon have a new home in CORE/El Centro's Tower Garden

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mulching for Plant Health

In our last post, we mentioned mulching. Mulching is when you add a certain material to the base of your vegetation for protection. Mulching materials that can be used are leaves, sawdust, hay, straw, etc. In our case we used straw.  

One of the effects of mulch is to maintain soil temperature. So in the warm season this means extra moisture for the plants by preventing quick water evaporation. Consequently, it will also reduce the amount of time you would spend watering. In cold seasons, the mulch will insulate the soil from the cold and cause frost damage to the roots. In both cases this will prolong the life of your vegetation.

Additionally, by covering the soil around the base of the plants will also prevent light from reaching weed seedlings. For this purpose it is better to use at least 4 to 6 inches of mulch.

Summary: Mulch = less weeds, less watering, and healthier plants!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Eating with Diabetes: Healthy Cooking Class

Do you know the amount of 'added sugars' that adults can consume per day?  

Women = 24 g (6 cubes or sugar packets). Men = 36g (9 cubes or sugar packets)

Participants in our Healthy Cooking class last week learned this as much more as Renee Scampini, RD, talked sugars, sugar substitutes, and carbs.

Zucchini-Flax Pecan bread is loaded with fiber, omega-3's and protein to help your body digest the sugar that is sprinkled throughout.  Renee's tip if you're trying to reduce sugar in a baking recipe - cut the sugar by 1/3 to keep the consistency. 

From foreground to background: Tofu Fiesta Scrambler, Lentil Curry Tomato Stew, Cumin Kale chips.

Renee discusses sugar content of popular beverages while class participants enjoy the feast! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Foto Friday

Extending our harvest. Currently have spinach, lettuce, and radish under the cold frames. Kale, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and Swiss chard at the moment.

Brussels sprouts and kale have been mulched to protect the roots from early frost
When mulching, make sure to use straw not hay. Hay can produce weeds later in the season.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Growing into the Winter

This past Tuesday, CORE/El Centro hosted a workshop on Gardening through the Winter.  Part of the class focused on the use of cold frames as a easy way to extend the fall harvest and get an early start in the spring!

Materials include: Wood for frame, old windows, hinges, hammer and nails.

Prepping the materials, Lander cuts angled pieces for the sides of the frames.
Our cold frames are 7" in front and 10" in back - slightly angled to capture more of the fall sunlight.

Screwing hinges to the back to hold the window to the frame.
Locking hinges on the inside will hold the frame open on warm winter days.

Workshop participants look on as volunteers put together the second rooftop cold frame.