by Dismas Leonard Sekibaha

It all began back in May 2012 when I dropped anchor at the Time’s Up Laboratory without really knowing quite what to expect, but excited all the same. The previous season’s plants were still enjoying a honeymoon in their well-constructed hanging beds; these required a bit of technical flair to have them ready for the next gardening season. What really took me by surprise were the “non-green” fungi propagation practices that were underway when I arrived. The warm welcoming experimental environment of Time’s Up helped me to rapidly get up to speed.

It was not like I was unprepared when Time’s Up offered me an apprenticeship to take care of the “gardener in residence” program and host Natalia Borissova's Non-Green Gardening (NGG) project, focused on practical experiments with edible fungi in urban environments. I had a lot of experience in gardening, and my hands-on, kick-in technical knack seemed to qualify me well for the work. But I didn’t anticipate how many opportunities there would be to immerse myself in experimental practices and develop new skill-sets and technical expertise while working with the Resilients team over summer.

Following orientation at Time’s Up, we began to explore, reconstruct and repair the gear that we needed for both the “green” and “non-green” gardening activities. Taking advantage of Time’s Up’s many contacts with farmers, we collected compost from all around: fertile soil, wood chips, logs, egg shells, used coffee grounds, old garbage. The trickle-down benefits of a kitchen that uses recycled and bio products also became particularly apparent in this context.

I remember cycling to town to fetch salad seedlings, tomatoes, chili, Turkish pepper, onions, herbs, cucumbers, sunflowers, strawberries, potatoes and beans – be it in established market gardens or open stalls – and bringing them back to the harbour to plant. I remember the planning sessions that were packed with so many questions: what to plant and where; which types of hanging garden beds to use depending on their capacity to retain moisture and endure direct exposure to the sun; when to plant and how to manage the planting; which plants were better for companion planting with mushrooms, depending on their root systems; what conditions were necessary for different mushroom species… and so it went on. The next step was to put all this preparation to use in our experiments with resilient urban gardening practices, through my own apprenticeship, and Natalia Borissova’s residency. Natalia is a fantastic mushroom artist and fungi researcher, and became my mentor in all matters concerning mushrooms and their propagation during my Resilients apprenticeship. We worked together on the hybrid garden in the harbour area, and shared knowledge through a series of workshops experimenting with plant-fungi companion planting. Our work paid off – the garden provided delicious plants and mushrooms for the kitchen lab throughout summer.

Throughout the summer we had five hanging beds, four mobile beds and one Hugelkultur (mound culture) bed up and running – three supplying the lab with tomatoes and another three with salads, one with beans, and the rest filled with the herbs, hot chili peppers, strawberries and Turkish paprika that I had cycled all through Linz to acquire. In one of the tomato beds, we experimented with combining tomatoes, basil, and Stropharia mushrooms. Yes – this experiment demonstrated that we were prepared to take risks and try new things out, since both tomato and basil have hairy roots and require nutrition from the surface soil – not so compatible with the Stropharia’s own requirements. The experiment didn’t quite work – but it was great to see how a garden could become a site of experimentation in an urban milieu.

It was also a wonderful experience to take care of the mushrooms. Raising the new ones, preparing the incubation room, making sure all the conditions needed for the indoor mushrooms were met, and the most important thing: everyone’s commitment to the mushrooms should they need extra care. The lab was never empty over weekends; willingness to plan and compromise ensured that someone was always there to take care of the mushrooms. This fostered a great working relationship for the benefit of a common cause. I was admittedly dubious at first about why we would want to set up a garden in an urban society where supermarkets can provide everything we need. However, as my apprenticeship continued I became more and more impressed by the things that went beyond a merely utilitarian level. Remarkable ideas and practices, new models of living and working, meeting creative and inspiring artists and the intercultural exchange of people and ideas – all of this was truly inspiring.