MANCHESTER — The first crop harvested in the urban greenhouse next to New Horizons was spinach for use Thanksgiving Day in salads and on paninis. It was the first of what are expected to be regular harvests of vegetables grown both inside the new greenhouse and, starting in the spring, outside the structure in raised beds.
New Horizons Executive Director Charlie Sherman admits up front that he is not a gardener. But Sherman is nonetheless excited about the greenhouse and what's going to grow in and around it.
Thinking about the money to be saved on vegetables and used for other purposes makes Sherman's smile even broader. "We spent $21,000 through August," he said.
"We make 300 salads a day," he said. Thanks to decisions and seed donations, there are a variety of vegetables already growing, including kale, swiss chard, green onions, broccoli, sugar snap and snow peas, radishes and beets, just for starters.
Sherman said many of the people who dine at New Horizons are not shelter residents, but are families whose budgets just don't stretch far enough for nourishing, well-balanced meals at home.
Sherman said donations and volunteer efforts have been key in getting the greenhouse project to this point and there are more to come.
Board member Paul Hansen of Mann Advertising covered the excavation costs for the 30-by-72-foot structure. He credits Rimol Greenhouse systems in Hooksett for the actual structure and Timberland employees for building the planter beds. He said the city water department and workers "gave us a huge assist on the water hookups," he said, and Bill Trombly Plumbing and Heating performed critical work on the project.
Thanks to all the donations and volunteer work, Sherman said, "the most expensive thing around here is going to be the fence." That's the black steel fence that is supposed to start going up next week, with help from Citizens Bank and a break on the price from American Fence in Hooksett.
"It's a really nice community venture," he said. And while the gardening itself is currently being done by about 15 volunteers, many of them members of the Manchester Grange, Sherman hopes some of the clients at New Horizons and Angie's Place will become involved.
"It can benefit clients and the community," he said.
If the clients work in the greenhouse and become involved in not just growing food but also in participating in the weekly farmers market during the summer season, they can develop skills and confidence that can be helpful in finding employment.
There will be plenty of opportunity to work on the garden, according to master gardener Emily Sandblade, who said, "They were looking for a master gardener and I was kind of looking for a project."
Sandblade said the beds were built 30 inches high, easy to work on.
"It makes them more efficient," she said.
Starting next week, she said, one-foot-wide bins will be built that will fit under the beds and can be used for plants that don't need as much light.
Raised beds are planned for outside the greenhouse.
"It will increase our growing space by 50 percent," she said. There will also be hanging pots inside the greenhouse. There will be a lot of pots, she said, to take advantage of "every beam of light we're going to capture."
Right now, all the beds in the greenhouse are covered with white fabric stretched over hoop supports. "We just covered it last week," she said, when the temperature plummeted. Sandblade used Frost Guard, but there are other fabrics, including Reemay, that can provide up to eight degrees of protection, although they permit water and light to penetrate.
Sherman said: "Everything was fine until the temperature dropped." That put the peas at risk, he said, and Sandblade sent him out to buy a propane heater to supplement the protection afforded by the fabric, which Sandblade said reminds many people of covered wagons.
The seeds used so far have all been donated, except for the bunching green onion seeds Sandblade purchased.
"We're going to be seed saving," she said, except for the plants in the brassica family, which includes arugula and broccoli. Those plants will be covered outside to avoid cross fertilization that provides unwanted hybrids.
"They are rather promiscuous," she said with a laugh.
Seeds will be purchased for cucumbers and certain other vegetables, but most of the vegetables will be grown from their own seeds. Seeds only remain viable for a limited period, so there are no carrots in this first round of planting, as the donated seeds were too old. That doesn't mean there won't be carrots in the future, though.
Sandblade said there will be various kinds of lettuce grown, but iceberg will not be one of them.
"We are trying to optimize nutrition," she said.
Sherman said he's learning about vegetable gardening with the greenhouse project, but he's a little apprehensive about having bees brought in for pollination purposes.
Sherman hopes the community will continue to respect what is being done in the greenhouse/vegetable garden project and what it is designed to accomplish. So far, so good, he said, and he's optimistic that will continue.