Princess Peach, Mango Tango and Stephen Universe are a few of the fruit trees with names and a new home at the Truman Street Community Garden in New Haven. Leslie and Gilbert Radcliff, Truman Street youth and the New Haven Land Trust are coordinating the creation of this urban orchard that will be full of fruit trees, grapes, hardy kiwi, and medicinal and culinary herbs.
Ecosystem services provided by perennial planting rather than annual gardening include carbon sequestration, less soil disruption and tree cover. The educational opportunities present in this urban orchard, however, are perhaps the most exciting. During the three workdays that have occurred so far, children ate and prepared fruit salads consisting of grapes, apples, peaches, cherries and plums – all fruits they are now growing and will eventually harvest in later years. Hearing some of the children’s excitement when they learned that these fruits come from trees, and that fruit will come from trees they planted such as Princess Peach, has been a wonderful part of this project. Each tree seems to hold a different lesson. Youth learned about their grafted apple and the concept of binding two trees together for desired results. The pawpaw trees, Asimina triloba, are a delicious fruit with a short shelf life. A short shelf life makes the pawpaw commercial unviable on an industrial scale and therefore a hands on lesson in explaining fruit ripeness and some advantages of growing local food. The Egyptian Onions, also known as walking onion, demonstrate different plant propagation strategies (and is just super neat).
In time, each tree will grow and develop, presenting unique challenges and lessons for the youth gardeners, as they also grow. Lead poses a challenge to urban gardening projects in New Haven. Lead tests for Truman Street show a risk for greens and root crops, but according to researchers, fruit will not uptake lead in the parts per million range of the soil at Truman Street. Nevertheless, wetting the soil down before digging, removing a large area of soil and replacing it with imported garden soil near the roots and adding organic material all minimize lead risks. Smaller plants, such as one of the already planted grapes, are planted in a pot to act as an additional buffer. The high pH of Truman Street, which is in the mid 7s, also encourages lead binding that further decreases risks. Culinary and medicinal herbs would pose a lead risk if directly planted and utilized, so gardeners are building a raised spiral brick garden for the herbs. This structure creates microclimates within a small area and uses all imported clean soil and landscaping fabric. Like other aspects of the orchard project, this spiral garden has repurposed materials by using old bricks, cardboard, and extra wood chips.
Besides the educational, repurposing and health benefits, the New Haven Land Trust Garden at Truman Street is a step towards trees providing both services, such as storm water runoff mitigation, soil development and heat cooling, yet also yielding products such as fruit or lumber in areas where people live. The applications therefore, of pushing urban forestry towards services and production of goods in urban gardens and vacant lots are enormous.
Support for this project has also come from Van Wilgen’s Nursery, Tripple Brook Farm and Michael Calhoun in Bethany CT who have generously donated plants. In addition, Michael Calhoun, the staff at Tripple Brook Farm, Julius Pasay, Dawn Pettinelli, Semi Semi-Dikoko and others have all provided advice and encouragement.