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Creative Urban Gardens: Spreading the Love

This blog is dedicated to Mel Hansen and the North Stockton Rotary District #5220‘s Seeds of Hope program, who have provided the seeds (literally) of change for this project, along with our school garden projects.

The warmer weather of March allowed for abundant growth in Semilla Nueva´s urban rooftop garden. The first harvests of fresh greens and radishes have provided a nutritious addition to our meals and it won´t be long before we´re awash with carrots, peas and brassicas. With thriving veggies enlivening our increasingly vibrant concrete rooftop, late March seemed an ideal time for our first urban garden workshop.

On March 25th, at the Semilla Nueva office in Xela, we hosted 15 aspiring urban gardeners to display our small rooftop oasis and to walk them through the process of creating their own urban “foodtopias.” This initial 2 hour workshop was structured as a step-by-step overview of our own garden construction process. We also sought to encourage a “lluvia de ideas,” from our enthusiastic participants. Given that our workshop attendees have been around Xela for much longer than we, they are an invaluable resource for knowledge regarding Xela´s climate, the availability of gardening materials and other community connections.

The first and most important step in starting an urban garden is creating a rich and fertile growing medium. Prior to the construction of our garden in January, Semilla Nueva set up worm compost bins at our office. Worm composting is a rapid method of transforming food scraps and other organic material into an essential garden additive. We began the workshop by describing our worm compost system and displaying some freshly harvested, nutrient-rich worm compost. As our audience ran their hands through the fertile byproduct of our worms´ labors, we explained the importance of having a continuous supply of compost in order to produce healthy vegetables.

From here, we moved into reviewing each step of the construction of our 2 styles of garden bed. Our larger “shallow bed” is a raised bed built from lumber and our more basic tire garden features vegetables growing in 6 used tires. In describing the materials involved in the garden construction we made a point of reiterating the philosophy that guided this project, which was to use only cheap, local materials that are accessible by anyone. If urban gardening is to blossom here in Xela, it is essential that cost is not an exclusionary factor.

After construction of the beds themselves, the obvious next step is filling them with a rich growing medium. Urban gardening requires the sometimes laborious task of importing growing medium from elsewhere. However, it also offers the advantage of instantly creating a rich soil by combining a carefully considered mix of organic materials. Our growing medium utilized a layered mix of leaves, coconut husks, poma (volcanic rock), sand, soil, compost and egg shells. During the workshop we explained our layering process but also spent time as a group discussing possible alternative materials that might be easily accessed in and around Xela.

Finally, to reinforce the principles of the workshop we collectively constructed a tire bed and filled it layer-by-layer with growing medium. This hands-on portion of the workshop gave everyone the chance to see the process from start to finish and covered aspects of the workshop that were quickly glossed over during the discussion.

An altogether satisfying afternoon culminated with a casual discussion while enjoying the delights of a fresh green salad from our garden. The enthusiasm among the group was palpable and there was genuine excitement about going home and getting started. We hope that by providing tools and knowledge, we´ll soon see urban gardens sprouting up on rooftops throughout Xela.


~Sam Whitridge

Sam spent the months of February and March volunteering with Semilla Nueva. Using his green thumb and his experience with environmental education, Sam helped get the Urban Program up and running, hosting our first successful educational workshop in the end of March. The workshops will continue on a monthly basis, providing the steps and guidance for successful urban gardens and community outreach in Xela!


For instructions on how to do some of your own urban gardening, visit our previous blogs:

Creative Urban Gardens part I: The Shallow Bed Garden

Creative Urban Gardens part II: The Tire Garden

Other valuable online resources:


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