How to Start Your Own Church Garden

If you found this blog through the article in the Austin American Statesman you are probably wondering two things 1) how can we at (your church name here) start a garden for good and for awesome and 2) what do Brussel Sprouts have to do with Brussels, Belgium? I can’t help you with question number two. OK, I probably could after a brief google search, but you could do that yourself, on your own time. We have important business to attend to here, so please stay on task.

To answer your first question, I have provided below a step by step guide to starting a vegetable garden at your church. But first, check the “Why to Start a Garden at Your Church” post, if you haven’t yet. OK, without further ado -

  1. You will need someone who really wants a garden at your church. It would help if this person was crazy. Since you read about this in the garden section and were interested enough to look up the blog, hopefully that person is you. You don’t have to be crazy, but I’m guessing you are, and that will help you out in the end.
  2. You need some land. Most churches already have some. (We didn’t, but it can be overcome – email me with questions on that) This land will need to be in at least six hours a day of sun. A good rule of thumb that I was taught is that if you are growing bermuda there, you can grow a garden there (courtesy Steven Hebbard).
  3. You need some water. A hose from the nearest spigot will do, or if you guys are rolling in it, hard plumb that garden.
  4. You need people. Churches are notoriously full of them. The trick is finding able bodied people who are interested in gardening and want to volunteer. This is one place where you being crazy will help a lot.
  5. Plan a build day. Pick a day, put it in the bulletin have the most persuasive pastor make an announcement about and get it promoted. Make a full fun day of it – like an old fashioned barn raising with lunch and fun for the kids.
  6. Do everything possible to organize the build day before hand. Plan the garden, gather materials, designate leaders.
  7. Build it!
  8. Plan for different groups to work the garden – the youth group, men’s bible study, ladies auxiliary (what is that, anyway?)
  9. harvest food
  10. Give food to the needy – this part can be hard. You need to find an outlet. Our partnership with Mobile Loaves and Fishes works for us. Check them out here. You might look into food pantries, children’s homes, homeless shelters. Find something your church will be passionate about (duh) and get on it!
  11. Praise the Lord for the opportunity, the land and for his hand in this City!

Why to Start a Garden at Your Church

If you read the Austin American Statesman article and then were interested enough to log on here, I hope it is because you want to start a garden at your church. And the first thing you might ask yourself is -why? What’s the point? What’s in it for us? Good (and the last one a little selfish, but honest) questions! This is why I think you need a garden at your church -

Here is a list of questions to which the answer is unequivocally YES- Are there hungry people in Austin (or your town/city)? Are there homeless there? Did Christ say that what we do to the least of us, we do to him? Are we called to love our neighbors as ourselves?

So, the above things being known and true, what are are we to do about it? I think probably many things can be done and if we all bent our minds, hearts and effort into it we would bring Christ love to this City in a powerful way. A garden at your church is one way and it is a way that I can tell you how to do. A garden at your church will provide some of the best nutrition (local, organic vegetables) to the people who need it most. It is simple and it works. You build a garden, grow food, give that food to those in need who then eat said food and are less hungry and more nourished.

There are also benefits to your church from growing a garden. Working in a garden together builds community and fellowship; having a garden outside your church makes a strong statement about who you are as a church and how you feel about the greater community – more so than that bermuda grass and a crepe myrtle I know you have out there currently does.

Not sold yet? Here are some common FAQ or FMS (frequently made statements)

  • Wouldn’t it be more effective to just collect money and buy food and give that to the needy?
    • Yes. If collecting money and / or buying groceries is your passion, get on it. There is a lot of good to be done out there.
  • I don’t want to give the needy food, I want to teach them to grow their own.
    • Well, I can’t agree with the first part, but I like the second. Check out Genesis Gardens for one program teaching the formerly homeless to garden. You can join in and we could use more programs like it. Again, get on it.
  • Aren’t vegetable gardens ugly? I like our lawn.
    • Au contraire mon frere. You can make them ugly if you want. They can also be wonders of landscape design. You can show the neighbors that a garden can look good and do good.
  • I actually don’t like and want to work with most of the other members of the church.
    • You might if you spent some time really working hard for something good side by side! You might not, too. Either way, you’ll know for sure after sweating with them for a bit.
  • If I work in the garden for those in need, but they aren’t there to see it, am I still doing good?
    • Wow. That is, like, profound. Yes, if you do good and no one knows, it is still good. (I quit seminary before even starting, but I think that is a theologically sound statement. Or at least basically so.)
  • Is it just me or are these questions getting more and more sarcastic and insensitive?
    • Yes, it is just you.

Now, I am not claiming a garden at your church will end hunger in Austin (but one at every church might? I don’t know, there is some work for a statistician there). What I am claiming is that a garden at your church would do this: feed the hungry, bring Christ love to this city, build community within your church and tell the community around your church something good about your church. That is pretty good return on investment from a couple of seeds and some sweat.

What Up With That – September 27th 2012 edition

What has been -

The Friesen small group came out and they worked! I mean to tell you, they worked  hard. Now, I am not going to tell you that the turn out for the garden was as good as the turn out for lunch, but still.

They (we) pulled out the mish-mash of random plants that was the olla bed. (who planted an azalea?!), pulled out the clemson spineless okra (cowardly plant), weeded, spread a load of mulch and manure (well rotted, of course) and planted more peas and carrots in beds 1 and 2. We also made little pea beds along the fence. Those snap peas will look great growing up that old fashioned garden fence.

Ben Marsh was out yesterday watering the newly planted beds and said we have seed sproutage in some. It is always amazing to me that planting seeds really works. Like faith – plant a seed and grow something awesome! Praise God! (I try not  to over-metaphor here on the garden blog, but this is the Truth. And had to be said. I am not sorry).

What is yet to be -

1st the awesome – Rain! Second, the not as awesome – maybe rescheduling of the Coehlo small group. Gardens need rain and gardeners, just not at the same time. We will see what happens over night.

What Up With That – September 15th 2012 edition

What Has Been -

The Denning / McAlister nation came out if full force this past Saturday and, let me tell you, they was open for business. They weeded, harvested, ripped out old tomatoes and okra and re-planted beds like the wild bunch of zealots we never suspected they were. In fact, they had to be restrained, or else future small groups would have nothing to do put hand water some seedlings.

Between them showing up and two plus inches of rain falling upon it, the garden had it’s best weekend in a long time. It looks rejuvenated.

What is yet to be -

The Friesen Small Group, of which I am a proud member, is showing up this Saturday. As you will recall, last time out, we didn’t quite work as hard as the Denning / McAlisters. More talking. But less working. This time we will do better! We will show how it is done! Or, at least we will again build community and have lunch.

To-Do

  • pray!
  • weed
  • harvest
  • rip out more old tomatoes
  • plant something – I think broccoli and cauliflower. I know, I kind of hate broccoli, as does George Bush (who was best parodied by Dana Carvey who famously hit the big time with “choppin’ broccoli!”, so I guess we’ve come full circle, late 80s style). But think of a nice helping of fresh carrots, snap peas, cauliflower and broccoli florets; all fresh from the garden. That will make anyone want to eat their veg.

How to Pickle Okra from the Garden

First, we should start by recognizing that okra is awesome. They grow in heat and drought. They have beautiful palmate leaves and stunning hibiscus-like flowers.

And fried okra! How do I love thee? So much that I wrote this Fried Okra haiku -

Fried Okra is the

absolute best side that I

know of at Lubys

But, alas, how would we give out fresh fried okra on the MLF trucks? And while I eat fresh okra raw, it is generally accepted that I am weird. So we are left with – pickling.

For a long while I thought that pickling was hard. That if done wrong, I would harm the very people I want to help. But it is canning that requires skill and special stuff. It is through canning that I can spread Botulism throughout the city. Not pickling, specifically refrigerator pickles.

So you start with okra -

The trick is, not too large. They get very fibrous. If you are in doubt of the toughness of an okra, cut some off and try it. Like my Mama always told me, “If you can’t chew it raw, pickling ain’t gonna help none, honey.” OK, she never said that or anything like it, but she would have been right if she did.

Rinse them off well and drain the water away. Then pack them in a jar, any clean jar. I use old jam and pickle jars. Add in one clove of garlic.

Then bring the following to a boil -

  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tablespoon dill seeds
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar

Pour the boiling mixture into the jar with Okra and garlic.

Put the caps on. Careful, still hot. Duh. Let cool on the counter.Then, when cool enough to hold, put them in the refrigerator overnight. Then, sometime soon, put them in a cooler and haul them to the MLF commissary –        903 South Capital of Texas Highway Austin, Texas 78746. Put them in the walk in cooler (don’t let the door close on you in there, what a way to go!) and let some one know they are there.

There you go. Instant spicy, sweet, okra goodness.

What Up With That – September 13th 2012 edition

What has been -

Ben and I went to the garden Saturday. It is, surprisingly, still hanging in there. If I had to be outside in the early September sun all day, I would have wilted and died a long time ago. Good thing I am not an okra plant. Ben and I went to Taco More on Riverside for lunch while the drip irrigation ran. Good stuff. 5 out of 5 stars. But be sure to take Ben to order for you in spanish, or they have to send over the interpreter lady and everyone will stare at you.

We watered, we harvested -

Why are my watermelon photos always blurry?

A few things of note about the watermelon. First, it looks like one of those old fashioned bombs. How quaint. I wonder if they ever really had bombs like that, or if they are just the invention of some Hanna-Barbera cartoonist. If they were real, I bet people didn’t find them charming back in the day. So everybody stop waxing nostalgic over explosive devices. Second, if the picture wasn’t so poor, you could see that the melon is covered in a sticky, opaque residue. Anyone who has parked under a Crepe Myrtle in the last month or so will recognize the residue. Aphid poop. You may recall, I have just given our watermelon plants over to aphids and, thankfully, they are holding there own and producing in spite of the little buggers.

One interesting thing about aphids. I saw fire ants on the watermelon plants and after some research, found out they like aphid poop, it being mostly sugar water. Interesting, huh? Ok, not really. But what is interesting is that fire ants will “herd” the aphids into one spot and then basically stand on the aphids and squeeze them to get more of the juice out. People say they are “milking” aphids. Just like they are dairy cows, they get herded up and milked. Pretty ingenious bunch of ants. Except that in the end, they are eating poop, so the joke is on them!

We had a good okra harvest. I am going to write a “how to” post on okra pickling today. I promise. Everyone will love it.

What is yet to be -

The Denning / McAlister group is coming out! Yes! Also, it is going to rain tonight! Yes! I am so excited over these two events that I do not know what to do. I am starting with smiling, adding whistling in a bit and just letting it go free form from there.

To-Do List

  • Water – Not if it has rained greater than an inch (come on, baby!, Rain!)
  • Weed – Yes! The major job of the weekend. Should be easier with moist soil (see rain comments)
  • Fertilize
  • Pray
  • Build community
  • We will evaluate all the plants and see who needs to go to make room for fall plantings. We might even rip some out. I am thinking the whole Olla bed was kind of a half-cocked affair and needs replanting. I am open to suggestions.
  • Pray again! Thank God for the garden, the workers, the work to do, pray for those who will receive.

What Up With That – September 3rd 2012

Seth Henry saves the day again. He did so without taking pictures and that is OK, because documenting your good deeds is not strictly necessary. But he was out there, trust me, I’ve seen to harvest with mine own eyes. And it was good. In fact I am pickling the okra from it tonight.

It may seem to you like the garden is slowing down. It is not. It is merely catching it’s breath to start up the fall garden season, which you can totally be involved in. Check out available dates here, then go to your Christ Church group and persuade them to join you in the garden to work on the date of your choosing. For those of you that are motivated but lack the power of persuasion, we gladly accept individual or family volunteers.