Monday, April 30, 2012

Here, There, and Anywhere, Veggies in a Suburban Landscape

“Here, There, and Anywhere,” Veggies grown in a Suburban Landscape

This past week I had the opportunity to head north and out of the suburbs to a small farm called Thornhill Farms. My purpose was to visit and learn about an educational program for children and young adults with disabilities located on the farm called Adaptive Gardens. Unfortunately, due to transportation issues that morning, the children were not able to attend class at the farm. I did, however, have the opportunity to meet the enthusiastic people that work there. As usual, I was able to ask my multitude of questions regarding their raised beds, organic gardening, chickens, and various teaching techniques. They not only provide a hands-on learning opportunity at the farm, but they travel throughout the area to other schools and instructional facilities to bring their horticultural program to them.

They grow everything from organic seeds, use a greenhouse, and make their own soil. They utilize raised gardening beds of various heights, as well as traditional garden rows. Regardless of a child’s abilities, everyone participates on the farm. The task may be as simple as pushing an “easy button” on a handmade soil mixer, to the actual physical tasks involved in the everyday caretaking of the farm. Every job provides a learning opportunity, and even the staff are as excited about experimenting with different gardening techniques, as the children are. Red mulch versus white mulch, and does it really make a difference in tomato production? They sell their organic vegetables, herbs, eggs, and a handmade goat’s milk soap with loofah that is grown on the farm through a few stores within the area to assist with their non-profit operations.

The drive alone, out of the suburbs and away from the endless road construction, was absolutely refreshing. It had been awhile since I had been on a farm. Wonderful volunteers have built raised beds and donated the concrete slab making it easier for everyone to get around. They've started a sensory garden for those with low vision. They are also making plans for additional pathways, adapted tools, equipment, and raised beds as resources become more available. It is a farm. Lots of thought, love, and care have gone into this program and anyone would walk or wheel away feeling truly inspired. It is a true learning experience, for anyone.

My goal this past week, in addition to helping spread another 5 yards of mulch, and planting more annuals, was to incorporate more food producing plants within the landscape. I priced out lumber to construct a couple of raised garden beds, and mistakenly ordered the posts only without brackets from a garden company, realizing too late to cancel my order (less than an hour later). Oh well, lesson learned.

I opted for a couple of pre-made raised beds that I could put on my back porch, within sight and easy reach. They are located very close to the water supply as well. I ordered another that would be deep enough to grow a few tomatoes. I’m all set for this year, and maybe someday I’ll be able to afford the brackets and pricey lumber to go along with the fancy posts I ordered.

I planted everything using the square foot method, and I even neatly laid out the boxes in a 12 inch square grid pattern with string. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several methods of laying out the plants and seeds, and everyone uses a different soil mixture. For me, because the boxes were shallow, I laid a layer of rocks on the bottom, and used a mixture of organic soil with mushroom compost. My concern with using a soilless mixture was that the elevated garden beds would dry out too quickly. Do not trust the recommendation from the clerk at the home improvement store either without reading the label on the bag! I added mulch to help retain moisture as well. We’ll see how it goes.

In addition to my new elevated beds, I will be planting vegetable seeds throughout the landscape. Last year we very surprisingly grew a pumpkin, apparently from the remains of our carved Halloween pumpkins. To my surprise this year my husband has already planted sunflowers and other flower seeds (some edible) sporadically throughout the yard. I currently grow olives, quince, and pineapple guava as ornamentals. I have rosemary, lemon balm, mint, sage and a few other herbs growing as my “greenery” too. Now that I’ve finally figured out that passion fruit actually comes from the passion flower vine, I may get a chance to try that too one day once my vine grows more.

Every year the garden is different. Appreciating the difference is what makes it so interesting. I can’t imagine living in a world where everyone is the same and not unique. People of all abilities are an integral part of this world. We have a culture with an ever increasing amount of “cookie cutter” neighborhoods, landscapes and people. In my own life I try to be unique, and I seem to like those who are willing to think outside of the box or who are somewhat creative. At this point in my life, learning anything is still all about trial and error. I keep learning in the garden from reading, friends, but mostly by doing. This year with the addition of a few more vegetables, I will be doing something healthy, and sustainable. I will be the one with a few sunflowers and vegetables growing here, there, and anywhere!

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