Garden Dreams Urban Farm, Pittsburgh, PA
I try to plant a garden every year. Usually, tomatoes, peppers, (hot and regular) lots of basil, zucchini and squash make it into my soil. I’m busy during the summer months with work, and these types of plants don’t require too much attention. It’s always been my intention to make it to a local nursery, but often I end up at Lowe’s or Home Depot for my veggie plant purchases.
A few years ago I decided to skip the big stores, and found a local east-end nursery to support. A neighbor of mine suggested that I stop by Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Nursery at 806 Holland Avenue in Wilkinsburg. It’s a true gem, and the quality of the plants is amazing.
I recently had a chance to ask Hannah Reiff, an employee at Garden Dreams Nursery a few questions.
Please tell me about the nursery where you work, and its culture.
Garden Dreams is a special place; part heirloom plant nursery where gardeners can obtain vegetable varieties passed down from days gone by, part urban farm that provides fresh produce to neighbors and area restaurants. The business is small: owner Mindy Schwartz, Farm Manager Bob Madden and myself, as well as a handful of other great folks that help us out during the busy season. Because of this, and the fact that Garden Dreams is tucked into a residential area of Wilkinsburg, we are able to develop relationships with our neighbors and customers that would be impossible at a much larger business.
How long has the nursery been in the east end, and what types of plants are available?
Mindy started Garden Dreams 10 years ago. In the last several years we have expanded, and now also sell our plants at Whole Foods in East Liberty, and The East End Food Coop. Our signature plant offerings include over 100 kinds of heirloom tomatoes, as well as many heirloom peppers and eggplants from all over the world and in every shape and color you can think of. All in all, we offer over 400 varieties of herbs, vegetables, and fruit starts. In the fall and spring we offer cold weather crops such as arugula, cilantro, spinach, lettuces, and more. Those will be available at Garden Dreams and at our wholesale vendors in mid -August this year for folks that want to plant fall gardens.
What are some of your favorite plants to cultivate, and what are your favorite varieties?
Garlic is one of my favorite plants to grow. It is fairly easy to grow, takes up little space, and offers a good return of a crop that is fairly expensive to buy at the store. You can store your garlic for many months as well, just cure it somewhere dry and out of the sun for 3 weeks after you dig it up. We will be offering organic seed garlic at the farm this fall, as that is the time to plant it for a harvest next summer.
Some of my favorite pepper and tomato varieties that we offer include Black Cherry tomato, Green Grape tomato, Nepal tomato, Serrano pepper, and Sheepnose Pimento pepper. I am a pepper freak, so I’m really excited about some new pepper varieties we offered this year, including Hinklehatz (Pennsylvania Dutch heirloom from the 1800s) and heirloom Fish hot peppers.
How big is the lot where the plants are grown?
The lot takes up about 1/4 acre, and was previously the site of 2 vacant houses and then vacant lots as they were taken down. Mindy worked the soil, added large amounts of organic matter, and tested the vegetable matter the garden was producing to insure that it was not contaminated. Soil contamination can be a roadblock to many urban growers and soil or plant matter testing is important. Our goal is to eventually expand with more lots and growing space; we would be able to provide the Hamnett Place neighborhood with even more abundant, fresh produce.
I’ve heard that the nursery is often used as an educational tool, can you talk about that?
Garden Dreams is a teaching tool in 3 ways. First, the food we grow is part of a demonstration garden. This means that when a customer has a question about the Gambro sweet pepper plant he or she is growing, we can take that person into the garden to see our Gambro pepper plant and how it is growing, how it is supported, the spacing between the plants, and how much light it needs. Since we grow all the varieties of tomato and peppers we sell, as well as many of our other crops, we are able to test them to see how they do. Second, we offer tours of the farm to school and community groups, sharing the way that food can be grown in the city without using toxic chemicals, utilizing recycled building materials for structures such as hoop houses. If one isn’t from a farming area, there can be a disconnect with how food is grown, what goes into it, and how rewarding it can be. Being able to share that with groups that come through is pretty special. Finally, Garden Dreams hopes to serve as a community model for others that are interested in this sort of thing.
What months during the year is the nursery open for business?
We are open April – October. Our current summer hours at 806 Holland Ave (between Center and Coal Streets) in Wilkinsburg are Wed – Sat 9:00 – 5:00. Please check our website at www.mygardendreams.com for more information as we post our fall hours and updates.
What other information would you like the public know?
Although we are not yet certified organic, we practice organic methods at Garden Dreams. We are certified Naturally Grown, a grassroots alternative certification program that is a good fit for small operations such as ours.
Gardening can be challenging for new gardeners – we are happy to offer advice and support for folks trying to grow stuff in the city. We also offer tools to make it easier – such as bag your own compost and mulch (at most times of the year) organic fertilizers and insect control. Good luck to all the city growers out there!