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Urban Farming Resources

Bio Diesel

The grease your fries were cooked in can have another life! It can be used to make biodiesel. Biodiesel is simple to make, biodegradable, nontoxic, and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics. It’s the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. “The use of biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine results in substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter compared to emissions from diesel fuel.” For a quick course in how to, see our video.

Composting
We compost everything that we can; turning what could be seen as waste into an asset. Composting is a great way to add nutrient content to your garden soil and improve your soil structure. We recommend adding compost to your soil before planting and you can use it as a top dressing fertilizer during the growing season. You can also make a fermented compost tea which is used as a liquid fertilizer and a disease fighting agent.

We have a two tier compost method where we put raw food scraps and plant matter into our compost bin. The ideal composting ratio is 30 parts brown matter, carbon to 1 part green matter, nitrogen. Carbon matter is generally speaking things that are brown, straw, dried leaves, and green matter that serves as nitrogen can be fresh grass, food scraps. We pile our compost bins in layers and just let them set for several months as they break down about half way. Then we turn our piles into a larger open bin to finish which generally take another 2-3 months.

If you are looking for a way to compost your kitchen waste try vermiculture, more info below.

Composting Toilet

In 2009, Greensgrow Farms expanded our sustainability features with the addition of a solar composting toilet. Used for centuries throughout the world, composting toilets are simple and effective devices for dealing with human waste in a way that saves water, reduces waste and provides a useful finished product.

The Greensgrow design is based off a model developed by Larry Warnberg and further improved by the Dunton Family Farm in Oregon that uses a small passive solar greenhouse to accelerate the process of breaking down the waste into a finished sanitary product free of pathogens and bacteria. Each tub, or batch, will take about 3 months to decompose, at which point the finished compost can be used as fertilizer for our flower beds. We cure our compost for an additional 9 months to ensure complete digestion.

When properly used, composting toilets are odor and insect-free, and are a fantastic and more sustainable alternative to conventional plumbing. The end product is a homogenous and pathogen-free dry compost that does not in any way resemble the beginning product.

The Process

  • To begin a composting tub, or batch, we begin with a 4 inch layer of straw, finished compost and/or soil to introduce worms and other beneficial organisms into the mix.
  • After each “deposit” of human waste, a layer of wood shavings is added to the pile to cover the waste and balance the added nitrogen with an easily-digestible carbon source. The sawdust also helps to keep moisture – and therefore odor – minimized.
  • When the tub is full, a finish layer of sawdust and/or compost is added to the top and the lid is attached, and the batch is moved to the back of the chamber into the greenhouse for decomposition.
  • For the next three months, solar energy from the sun is used to keep the batch warm to facilitate microbial activity in the pile.
    At the end of the initial composting period, the batch is transferred to an open “curing” bin for at least a year before being used for non-edible crops.

 

Green Roofs

We have living roofs on many of our permanent structures. Living roofs or green roofs are plant-based systems that can capture and utilize rainwater at the point of first contact, the roof, while also increasing the insulation value of the structure.

In the city rainwater has few places to go since there is little soil to absorb the water. This is a particular problem in Philadelphia where the storm drains and sewers are connected in a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system. In times of heavy rain, there is too much water for the treatment plants to handle, sewage and other pollutants can end up directly in the river. Depending on the depth of the soil medium and the type of plant material, some living roofs can capture almost all of the rainfall that occurs in a storm. This means less water in the storm drain and less pollutants in the river.

The Greensgrow model uses plant trays and perlite as its main ingredients, on top of a primary layer of EPDM roofing, sheet plastic, and pea gravel. The top layers are a blend of compost, pine bark, perlite, and topsoil to provide suitable growing conditions. In the living layer, we have planted drought-tolerant sedums and grasses, plus native wildflowers to attract beneficial insects and wildlife.

Integrated Pest Management
Greensgrow Farms employs IPM, a pest management program that limits or eliminates the need for chemical pesticides. This system integrates knowledge of pest identity and biology with pest monitoring so that action, if needed, can be taken at just the right time. IPM uses a combination of management tactics that are more likely to be safe and effective. IPM is a perfect fit with Greensgrow’s philosophy of being a profitable, green business dedicated to growing the best products, being a good neighbor, and providing a healthy environment for people to work and shop.

Overuse of pesticides and using them inappropriately can be dangerous to workers in greenhouses. IPM/biological control system can replace traditional pesticides. Biological control, also known as biocontrol, involves using one organism to control another. Using biologically compatible pesticides combined with biological controls, growers can slow resistance in target pests, create a safer working environment, and maintain quality crops and be pesticide free.

The Pennsylvania IPM program is a collaboration between Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture aimed at promoting integrated pest management in both agricultural and urban situations. For more information, contact the program at (814) 865-2839 or click here.

Vermiculture

If you are looking for a way to compost your kitchen waste try vermicomposting. It is a good solution for those who do do not have the room for a compost pile or compost bin and/or do not have large amounts of dry/carbon matter.

Vermiculture is the process of using Redworms to compost your food waste. The resulting vermicompost [worm poop] is an extremely high quality organic soil amendment. It is a great method for indoor or small spaces where you may not have all of the room for a compost pile or have all of the brown matter required for regular composting.

Worms don’t do the job alone, they work with microorganisms in the soil. The microorganisms begin the decomposition process so that the worms can consume the organic matter. Worms also keep the pile well aerated and their castings create a rich environment for the soil microorganisms to thrive. One pound of worms can handle about a half pound of food scraps per day. Finished vermicompost can be used to make fermented compost tea – a great plant disease fighter and foliar feed. More info:

PA EPA: Worm Your Way Into Composting
Fertilizing with worm castings

Water Usage
Water is a major concern for the city of Philadelphia, and how we conserve and protect our water supply will only increase in importance in the future. Philadelphia maintains a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system throughout the city to deal with all the household sewers and street drains. A CSO system works very well during normal days, but in periods of heavy rain the system can be overloaded and discharge raw sewage into our rivers.

It’s critically important that we reduce the amount of water entering our sewer systems as much as possible. In fact, all new buildings constructed in Philadelphia are now required to produce a rainwater management plan that addresses runoff and water conservation. At Greensgrow Farms this issue is even more apparent because our entire farm sits on a slab of concrete, with very little natural drainage. We put a lot of thought into how to reduce and recycle our water and runoff.

When we grow lettuce hydroponically, we employa closed-loop water system with very little wasted water; water is continuously cycled – there is no runoff, only evaporation. We use green roofs, drip irrigation in the high tunnels, trees and plantings around the property all which conserve water.

As more and more news stories document the growing water shortages in various parts of the country, pay attention to how you use water at home and come check out some simple solutions that we have on display at the farm. Water is a precious resource and it will take all of us to protect it for future generations.