Ohio State tours to showcase urban farming on parking lots

Joe Kovach, an Ohio State University scientist who is studying the best ways to grow food crops on old, asphalt parking lots, will hold free public tours at his test plots in Wooster this spring and summer.

The tours are aimed at urban agriculturists and will take place at 4 p.m. on May 31, June 28, July 26 and Aug. 30.

“We’ll cover two main points: the basic ecological principles involved, and that you can actually do this,” he said. “People say parking lots are barren, but you can get more production off of a back parking lot than you ever thought you could.”

Kovach is growing apples, peaches, green beans, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and more on an asphalt parking lot behind an old, closed dormitory at Ohio State’s Agricultural Technical Institute.

He’s testing several growing methods: in pots and raised beds sitting on top of the pavement; in pots suspended on wire mesh fencing, a form of “vertical gardening”; in beds set in trenches cut right through the asphalt; and all three ways both inside and outside of high tunnels.

“We’ll talk about how important biodiversity is,” said Kovach, who has previously developed small-scale, mixed-species polyculture plantings as a way to increase biodiversity together with yields.

“We’ve tried to incorporate more biodiversity by having genetic diversity, or polyculture systems; more spatial diversity by having different crops at different heights; and more temporal diversity by having different planting dates and different varieties so you have early-, mid- and late-season harvests. What we want is ecosystem stability. Even on a parking lot you need ecosystem stability.”

The crops are now in their second full season, and, according to Kovach, seem to be thriving.

During a recent visit, he examined some tiny, plant-damaging mites on the underside of a raspberry leaf; showed the fencing and Plexiglas gate guard he installed to keep out deer, groundhogs and rabbits; and said he is monitoring for the presence of certain kinds of beneficial mites and flies.

He said he hopes to show visitors the importance of a good design.

“But nature does bat last, and we’re trying to figure out how nature adjusts to growing food on asphalt as opposed to growing it out in a field,” he said. “It’s possible. Look at what we’ve done here. But there’s not much data on growing fruit on a parking lot, I can tell you that.”

Tour participants should meet at the old ATI dormitory at 1427 Dover Road south of Wooster, directly across from the ATI campus and just south of the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

For more information, call 330-263-3846 or e-mail kovach.49@osu.edu

Kovach is an associate professor of entomology, is head of Ohio State’s Integrated Pest Management Program and holds a joint appointment with Ohio State University Extension.

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