Friday, March 13, 2009

Making SIPs at Chicago's Greenhouses of Hope

There's so much to say about Chicago's remarkable Nance Klehm, who invited us to meet her yesterday at the Pacific Garden Mission shelter to make SIPs with her resident staff. In the sunny Greenhouses of Hope, she oversees worm composting, seed-starting, and what can only be described as the shared joy of being around growing things.

As Nance says at her website, Spontaneous Vegetation: The greenhouses grow soil, food and people.

Take a look at the slideshow at this Chicago Public Radio link for an expanded view of the greenhouses and its resident gardeners.

When we stepped inside we left behind the bitterly cold day and entered a world of warm worm bins, seed starts, and a blooming pasture of greens, whose seed they'll capture for the next round of plants.

We got right to work on the food-grade buckets that would become SIPs, first cutting out the central hole for the wicking chamber...

...and drilling the many holes that enable air to flow into the area between the bottom of the roots and the water reservoir. The design of the official Earthbox™ has plenty of science behind it and letting the roots "breathe" is one of the ideas that produces a healthier, more productive plant.

The resident gardeners at the Greenhouses of Hope clearly love what they do and we had great fun making SIPs with them. They gave us a detailed tour of the worm bins they create and the vermicomposting (composting with worms) process and components, including food scraps from the mission kitchen, newspaper, and, naturally, worms.

The worms produce nutrient rich worm castings, which are in turn used to grow the next generation of plants. This means that there's no need to pay for food waste disposal or to buy expensive fertilizer for new plantings. More importantly the program gives the residents a place to shine.

We're planting a young avocado tree--oops, too deep! Nance steps in to guide us.

After watering in the transplant, it's time to fill the reservoir.

The "shower cap," made from a garbage bag, goes on top, is secured with string, and voila: the first container finished.

We're thrilled to be able to pass on this technique and can't wait to go back to help build more. Thanks for asking us to participate Nance!

Check out Nance's site for info on purchasing worms and vermicomposting bins from the Pacific Garden Mission.

Updated 6.5.2009 -- Bruce went back to PGM and built trellises for the SIPs that were placed on the roof of the building.  Check out the cool pics.

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