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Falvey Feature: Luisa Cywinski, Director of Access Services, Grows Her Own Grub

Image of Luisa Cywinski's garden.

Photo courtesy of Luisa Cywinski.

By Kallie Stahl 

Luisa Cywinski, Director of Access Services, brings homegrown strawberries to Falvey Library. Staff enjoy the fresh produce, so I thought I’d ask Cywinski about her garden. She shared helpful tips and resources for gardeners of all experience levels.

“When I started gardening, I had four goals: I wanted to eat my own food, share my crops, provide a wildlife habitat, and repurpose as much as I possibly could,” Cywinski shares.

Repurpose, Reuse, Recycle 

Cywinski had always been interested in gardening, but once she moved to a location with more land, she began expanding her yard. “I started building my own raised beds out of upcycled wood. I had to learn how to use power tools (which I had never used before),” says Cywinski. Almost everything in her garden is upcycled. “You can get soil for free (or at reduced prices) from people looking to share excess soil or mulch on Facebook Marketplace and Buy Nothing groups. There are a lot of great local resources.”

Specifically, Cywinski uses mushroom soil, and there are a few local organic mushroom farms that give away their spent mushroom compost. “Whatever you take away, you put back in,” says Cywinski. “Compost everything. Keep it out of the landfill. I source additional plant materials for my compost from local farmers markets and produce stands. Even florists will give me their cuttings.  I also source coffee grounds from local coffee shops (and Starbucks); they are happy to share.”

For those unfamiliar with composting, there are plenty of helpful resources to explore. Locally, Cywinski recommends Mother Compost. “If anyone is having problems with composting they can contact Mother Compost. The company also does composting for people. They give you a bucket, you fill it with scraps, they take it away, then in the spring they bring you your compost. They company is local so they understand the local climate. I also follow Charles Dowding’s No Dig Gardening channel on YouTube. He’s my gardening and composting guru.”

Tips to Dig Into 

Cardboard is a staple in Cywinski’s garden. “I use the no dig method. I put the cardboard on top of any weeds or grass, and at the bottom of my raised beds. Next, I add the compost and mushroom soil. Cardboard is biodegradable and the worms love it.” With extra cardboard, Cywinski suggests making paths in your garden. “Instead of using manufactured materials, get creative and construct projects with the stuff you already have.”

She also uses sheep’s wool. “Wool is naturally pest repellent. Slugs and snails don’t like the feel of it, so they won’t crawl over it. Just put a ring of raw wool around your plants and it will keep insects at bay.” In hopes of deterring animals from eating her plants, Cywinski uses cages, garden gates, play yards, chicken wire, etc. to construct fencing. “Don’t make the fences too high because you’ll have to climb over them to tend to your crops.”

Grow What You Love 

Image of Luisa Cywinski's garden.

Photo courtesy of Luisa Cywinski.

Vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs…Cywinski has a bit of everything in her garden. She plants in stages starting with cool weather crops. “Broccoli and Brussel sprouts can be planted in April, but tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, and corn are more hot weather plants, so you don’t want to put those in the soil until late May or early June. You can start growing seedlings in the house with containers.” Cywinski suggests container gardening for those that don’t have a yard. The Gardeners’ World (a television show on BBC) provides a lot of helpful tips for container gardening. “I’m growing kale, peppers, basil, and carrots in containers…anything can grow in a container as long as you give it what it needs.”

When watering her garden, Cywinski prefers using rainwater. Attending a rain barrel workshop with the Pennsylvania Resource Council (PRC), she learned helpful tips on water conservation. The PRC offers multiple workshops for residents statewide. Cywinski enjoys growing strawberries and heirloom tomatoes. She cooks and bakes with her harvest, freezing many crops to use in the fall and winter.

If you’re just starting your gardening adventure, Cywinski urges patience. “Don’t try to get everything done in one year. My garden projects have been five years in the making. Just start and add on as you go.” As for what to plant? “Grow what you like to eat,” she says. “Put all your thought, all your energy, all your creativity into growing food that you love…because then you’ll really want it to work.”

Dig deeper and explore the resources below:

Kallie Stahl ’17 MA is Communication and Marketing Specialist at Falvey Library. 





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Friday Outlook: Growing and Thriving

West Goshen, PA—Spring has sprung in the garlic bed and the garden soil was delivered today! Homemade compost bins are thriving, too! Compare this view with the meetings that seem to sprout out of my computer with great regularity. We will be ready to tackle our team goals for the coming year when we return to campus! —Luisa Cywinski, Director of Access Services

What’s your personal #FridayOutlook? We want to see the view from where you are! Send it along to or message it (@villanovalibrary on Instagram and @FalveyLibrary on Twitter.)

Luisa Cywinski is Director of Access Service at Falvey Memorial Library. 






Last Modified: April 3, 2020

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