Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Turning the Rye

A few weeks ago, on St. Patrick's Day, I began volunteering at Battery Park's Urban Farm just steps from the edge of Manhattan island. It is the first farm on the site since 1625, when the Dutch planted theirs. The garden was built in the shape of a wild turkey, designed after Zelda, the local turkey who mysteriously appeared one day and lives in the park. It is in a strange location, surrounded by skyscrapers, subway stations, the Hudson River, and Lady Liberty.

The majority of my day consisted of turing the rye. As I learned, rye is a common lush green cover crop (it looks like tall grass) that is "turned" using a pitchfork or shovel, or by hand, and then broken up, providing nutrients for the soil. This is a major step in preparing the garden prior to planting spring and summer vegetables.

Ryegrass is often planted in the fall and allowed to grow through the winter. Its major contributing factors keep the soil loose, minimizing compaction from rain and snow, and help to prevent soil erosion from wind. The rye is allowed to grow as long as possible before being turned under (dug up under the roots and then flipped, so the soil holding the roots is exposed) and then the soil, rye, and their roots are broken up using shovels. As the rye decomposes, it enriches the soil by giving off nitrogen, further improving its overall structure. It will be fun to see how the soil evolves over the coming months and transforms itself into a thriving garden.

I had a lovely morning, contributing in a small way to this wonderful community garden, grown in the most unlikely of places. Before I knew it, I was lost in the repetitive rhythm of turning the rye, you would think I was anywhere but Manhattan. That is until I was screamed at by a herd of drunken marauding souls dressed entirely in green yelling, "Happy St. Patrick's Day you f**king hippies! Thanks for saving the environment!" And with that, I was instantly brought back to reality and knew right where I was.

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