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Tried and true farming techniques benefit Earth

The best technology for the job isn’t always something from The Jetsons. Sometimes Little House on the Prairie methods still work best.

White Violet Center for Eco-Justice Garden Manager Candace Minster works in the high tunnel. The use of solar heat in the high tunnel allows carrots, greens and more to be grown all winter long.

White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence, uses technology to grow vegetables, fruit and flowers offered in a Community Supported Agriculture program and for the Sisters of Providence kitchens at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. These efforts prevent the need to have the produce trucked as much as 2,500 miles and provides safe, organically grown vegetables, herbs and fruit for the sisters and to those in the surrounding community.

Saving water
The staff, interns and volunteers are excited about the new water station they will begin using this summer.

Already in the garden, a used restaurant sink connected to a tank allows the water used to wash vegetables to be reused when watering the plants.

“So the sink looks like any other sink, but the piping underneath goes over to a holding tank that has a sump pump in it,” explained Candace Minster, garden manager. “When we need to water we turn on the pump. It’s kind of like a rain barrel.”

Candace said it’s especially nice for vegetables like turnips, carrots, and beets that are pulled from the ground and very dirty. They will be cleaned first at the wash station in the garden and then go through a more refined wash back at the center.

Soil blocker tools are used for planting seedlings.

Soil blockers
Earlier in the growing season, handheld soil blocker tools are used while planting in the greenhouse. Potting mix is compacted into the soil blockers to create cubes of soil. The filled soil block maker is set into a tray before squeezing and releasing the cubes. There are small depressions in the tops of the soil blocks for seeds. About 90 percent of the vegetables and flowers grown at White Violet Center are planted with soil blockers.

“You end up getting a stronger root system,” Candace said. “And you don’t have the same transplant shock when moving them to the garden in the spring.”

She said using the soil blockers also saves a little time when planting in the field.

“Because you’re not trying to wriggle plants out of trays and pots,” she explained.

Soil blocker tools are used for planting seedlings.

High tunnels
Rather than a greenhouse, which utilizes a heating element, high tunnels are heated by the sun. This is called passive solar. White Violet Center has two high tunnels.

Candace said it’s 5 to 8 degrees warmer inside the high tunnel on a cold day. But if it’s a sunny day there could be a 10 to 20 degrees difference.

Crops are grown directly in the ground beneath the high tunnel that is made out of a layer of thick plastic. Row covers placed on the plants act like a blanket that roughly adds about three more degrees of warmth.

“This allows us to grow all winter long,” Candace said. “In the dead of winter we’re growing things like spinach, beats, kale, turnips, carrots and bok choy.”

So, as you can see, some of the technology used at White Violet Center has been working well for gardeners for many years. Using the appropriate technology for the job doesn’t always mean big, shiny and expensive. It can also be simple and smart.

(Originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Cheryl Casselman

Cheryl Casselman worked as a marketing manager for the Sisters of Providence for twenty years. She grew up in Camby, Indiana and now lives in Sullivan County, Indiana. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Indiana State University and master's degree in Leadership Development from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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