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
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:
- Sustainable Gardening: Grow a ‘Greener’ Low-Maintenance Landscape with Fewer Resources (Simeone, 2021) *eBook
- Gardening to Eat: Connecting People and Plants (Dickinson, 2021) *eBook
- Gardening Complete: How to Best Grow Vegetables, Flowers, and Other Outdoor Plants (Editors of Cool Springs Press, 2018) *eBook
- Zero Waste Gardening: Maximize Space and Taste with Minimal Waste (Raskin, 2021) *eBook
- Micro Food Gardening: Project Plans and Plants for Growing Fruits and Veggies in Tiny Spaces (McGuiness, 2021) *eBook
- Modern Container Gardening: How to Create a Stylish Small-Space Garden Anywhere (Palmer, 2020) *eBook
- Raised-Bed Gardening: How to Grow More in Less Space (Akeroyd, 2013) *eBook
- Container Gardening Complete : Creative Projects for Growing Vegetables and Flowers in Small Spaces (Walliser, 2017) *eBook
- Charles Dowding Official Website (recommended by Cywinski)
- Mother Compost Official Website (recommended by Cywinski)
- Pennsylvania Resources Council Official Website (recommended by Cywinski)
- The Gardening Channel With James Prigioni (recommended by Cywinski)
Kallie Stahl ’17 MA is Communication and Marketing Specialist at Falvey Library.