It looks like a farm, smells like a farm and feels like a farm—in fact, for a few hours, I almost forgot we were in the heart of Boston. This morning, I toured Patti Moreno’s organic farm, located in Boston’s infamous Roxbury neighborhood (which was enormously appealing, by the way). Moreno is the host of Garden Girl TV, an online portal to all things gardening and growing in urban settings. Her philosophy? “It’s all about experimenting and trying new things. If you fail, then you fail. But at least you tried it. Then you try something else next year.”
(That's the gray farmhouse behind the graffitied brick wall.) A small group of retailers and manufacturers and I walked among the 30, or so, raised garden beds to the soundtrack of uniformed children playing in the concrete schoolyard at the adjacent Nathan Lane School. We palled around with Moreno’s cat, Dirt; tasted stevia; talked a lot about worms; and saw the smallest livable house—which Moreno calls the “excuse me” house—I’ve ever seen. It couldn’t have been more pastoral … or city. And I picked up plenty of tips to apply to my own urban garden and compost system. (Square-foot planting, three sisters planting, marigolds for insect control, etc.) Check out these photos from the tour…
The main house was built in 1794 by a shipping captain; the surrounding property has been a working farm ever since.
Raised beds are 4x8 feet and are arranged by cuisine type: American Salads (cucumbers, radishes, carrots, nasturtium); French Kitchen (mesclun greens, Parisien pickling cucumbers, finger carrots); Latin-Caribbean (tomatoes, cilantro, onions); Italian Herb (sage, oregano, parsley).
Moreno gathers an egg a day from each of the 10 birds in the chicken house and sells the multicolored bounty to people in the neighborhood. Chickens are also used to till soil and eat scraps.
Some of the day’s best conversation centered around worms, like this red wiggler, used in vermicomposting. Moreno flushes the vermicompost with water and uses the “worm juice” in her drip irrigation system to bring additional nutrients to soil. Did you know that Charles Darwin studied worms for 38 years? Here is a link to his book “The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms.”
I, for one, had no idea that German angora rabbits, which Moreno raises for their uber-soft wool, are quadruple the size of normal bunnies. Moreno uses rabbits like the one below to turn her raised beds; the manure is gentler on plant roots than other types of fertilizer.
The Tiny Tumbleweed House—aka the “excuse me” house—is 8 feet by 12 feet and has a kitchen, loft and livingroom.
The 7,000-gallon pond is home to fish and duckweed—the world’s smallest flowering plant—which makes up 25 percent of Moreno’s chickens’ feed thanks to its high protein content. “You can eat it; I don’t because I don’t like the taste of pond,” she says.