Organic Garden Project

“The Organic Garden Project...is an incredible opportunity to educate people of all ages in a meaningful, hands-on way about the importance of sustainability, organic gardening practices and the role that pollinators play in the ecosystem.”

Harry Liggett, Zoo New England Manager of Horticulture and Grounds

  • Ruby throat hummingbird
  • Honeybee on buckwheat
  • Fleabane
  • Long-legged fly on mustardleaf
  • Candy striped leafhopper on mustard
  • Augochlora sweat bee on mustard
  • Marigold
  • Ruby throat hummingbird
  • Cabbage white butterfly on fleabane
  • Hoverfly on buckwheat
Here's a look at what we harvested (and Zoo animals quickly devoured) in 2016!
• 12 lbs. beans
• 60 lbs. carrots
• 17 lbs. chard
• 4 lbs. Arava melon
• 161 lbs. turnip

• 8 lbs. red bell peppers
• 60 lbs. romaine lettuce
• 72.25 lbs. butternut squash
• 2 lbs. red salad bowl lettuce

Launched in the spring of 2014, Zoo New England’s Organic Garden Project is an initiative to provide organic food and enrichment to Zoo animals sustainably. The main garden grows animal dietary staples like romaine lettuce and endive. The second garden includes red peppers (a favorite among our animals), carrots, turnips, pole beans, squash, swiss chard, pumpkins, and a variety of herbs. Buckwheat (a "green manure" that adds nutrients to the soil) is grown in a third garden. Four handicap accessible raised planter beds give volunteers with physical disabilities the ability to tend gardens of cucumbers, basil and tomato.

Gardens are surrounded by insectary plantings, which include dill, fennel, forsythia and cosmos, that are intended to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, hover flies, predatory wasps and others. Insectary plantings are also used as enrichment --novel food and play items for the animals. The organic garden also includes 100 raspberry plants and three apple trees, which will be used to supplement exhibits and for enrichment.

The garden will soon be watered sustainably with the addition of solar panels and water barrels. Solar panels will provide power to a 400-gallon drip irrigation system.

In addition to creating produce, the garden educates guests and volunteers regarding the importance of fresh, locally grown produce and how to start small-scale organic gardens on your own. Under the guidance of the Zoo’s Organic Garden Project Committee, a dedicated team of volunteers constructed the garden. It’s now maintained by a team of volunteers, interns and ZooTeens, who all lend a hand composting, weeding, harvesting, washing and reseeding crops.

And the animals play a role in their garden by making daily contributions (i.e: poop) to the Zoo’s compost, made fresh at Franklin Park Zoo.

Science and research are also at work in our garden. We use Integrated Pest Management techniques (read more on those here) in keeping the garden and the entire Zoo pesticide-free. Volunteers observe and keep a log of bugs found on leaves, noting color combinations or leaf shapes that may attract certain insects. This record-keeping guides gardeners’ efforts in choosing the right insectory plantings to control pests. Likewise, bird visitors are also closely monitored.

The garden project is supported in part by the Massachusetts Service Alliance and the YOU Generate Campaign.

Gallery photos courtesy of Harry Liggett