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Not So Secret Gardens: Gardening Tips from LifeBridge Health Employees

Posted Jul 11 2012 6:00am

Despite what our favorite cartoon characters taught us, growing a garden isn’t as simple as tossing some seeds in the ground and waiting for the sun to (literally) smile down on them. You’ve got to find the perfect location, dig the precise depth for the seeds, cover them with the right kind of soil and water them every day. Even if you do everything right, you’re still beholden to that fickle mistress, Mother Nature. Though she ultimately decides whether to shower your carrots and cucumbers with quenching rain or gift your marigolds with a splash of sun, there are still some tips and tricks that can help keep you in the green.

Before you start digging, Barb Gunter, executive assistant, office of the CFOencourages you to consider a few questions. After earning her degree in accounting, she studied horticulture, so she knows what to ask: Does the plant need sun or shade, dry or moist conditions, or a certain type of fertilizer? What size will it be at maturity? Is it susceptible to any type of bugs or diseases?

Once you’ve donned your deerstalker hat (Sherlock Holmes never leaves 221B Baker Street without his) or just gone on Google, you should also investigate the right time to sow your seeds, because proper timing can ensure their longevity. Kerry Calliste of the Open Heart Step Down Unit at Sinai suggests that you start planting after Mother’s Day. “That way you don’t have to dare risk the hassle of a few cold nights and risk freezing the plants to death.” You don’t want frozen plantsicles in your garden bed!

Barb Gunter and Rosemary Mattes tend to their garden box!

Steve Wadsworth, corporate buyer in Materials Management at Sinai Hospital, has been gardening for most of his life; he says that the real secret is working the ground as deep as possible before planting. This keeps the ground loose and weed-free as your plants grow.

Sometimes, building a better garden means pinching your nose: One of the best ways to enrich your soil is to add manure to it. Tammie Monaco, an executive assistant in the Marketing department, says that her prize-winning pony manure is the best fertilizer ever. She’s used it in her vegetable garden, and folks have sworn that it gives their roses a boost in bounty and beauty alike. Demand was so high that she bagged it and sold it on craigslist for a dollar a bag.

For Elizar C. Masucol, a medical technologist in the Pathology department at Sinai , “putting plants in garden beds without knowing anything about the soil is a little like making a casserole and then trying to bake it in the dishwasher. Plants, and casseroles, can’t reach their full potential unless the conditions are appropriate to their needs.” That’s why soil testing is so important — pH test kits are available at any gardening store; they’re not only easy to use, they’ll show you the optimal pH and nutrient levels for your plants.

If you favor a more old-fashioned approach, Jennifer Joel, a med tech in Laboratory 1 at Sinai, and Stephanie M. Entrup, research program manager for the Children’s Hospital , both say that sprinkling a handful of Epsom salt around tomato plants enhances their flavor. Other all-natural ingredients you can mix with soil include lawn clippings, leaves and compost.

To say that Marisa Krick, women’s health physical therapist at Sinai Hospital, has a green thumb would be a mild understatement: She donates over 200 pounds of vegetables from her garden to the food bank every summer. “Give your plants the correct amount of space in between to maximize their growth and cut down on mold and insects,” she advises.

At Sinai Hospital, a new green garden project has allowed LifeBridge Health to get its green on as a community. Eighteen boxes were built near the Mirowski building, all for the purpose of growing herbs and vegetables. Departments within the system got down and dirty to plant seeds, build trellises and design creative markers for their garden boxes.

“It takes time and hard work, but my gardens look great,” says Siengtha Tep, pediatric pharmacist. “They’re very therapeutic for body, soul and mind.” Gardening isn’t just about having the prettiest peonies on the block, or even about getting your kids to enjoy their veggies, it’s about learning to slow down and show appreciation for life itself.

-Trish Smith

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