Gardener of the Month: June 2011
Merginglight you have been selected to be the "Freedom Gardener of Month!"
Location: Gravette, Arkansas
Plant Hardiness Zone: 6-7
Acreage / Lot Size Less than 3/4's of an acre
(Freedom Gardens) Tell us a little more about your garden/ farm, what you grow, etc.
Jim and I began growing a few tomatoes and peppers next to the house ten years back, for use in making our own salsas. The taste of store bought tomatoes have gotten progressively worse year after year and neither one of us could stand it anymore. Back then we used Sevin Dust and Diazinon, planting the tomatoes in the red clay soil without ever knowing better. Over the next four seasons we kept expanding our growing area, planting lots of the same type of store bought hybrid plants in tight fitting rows, using poisons for the insects, without amending the soil in any way. Varying from year to year, the results were never what we hoped for. I can remember noticing that there never seemed to be any bee’s, lady bugs, lizards, or snakes around. About four years ago I started getting sick and decided to review my lifestyle choices and that’s when many things changed, including our methods of gardening. When we first stopped using poisons in the garden, ignorantly I thought that would solve all our plant and insect issues in the garden, but that year the insects were worse then they’d ever been. The lesson for me was when I used poison for so many years to get rid of the ‘pests’, you get rid of them all, including the beneficials. The mind set with myself was to go the easy way, but in doing so I never bothered to learn about the beneficial insects and that I was truly destroying life all around me. When I stopped using poisons, the plant damaging insects came flowing in, while the beneficials didn’t and also that having poisoned the ground, there’s really no good micro life to help promote plant health. It’s been three years now since we’ve began moving towards organic and not only do we both physically feel better, but this year for the first time, we have far more beneficials like preditor bugs, lizards, snakes, frogs and toads and birds in and around our garden then ever before and I am so grateful! About the time we stopped with the poisons, we began to amend the soil with mass produced compost and though we still heavily use that to this day, we’re trying to create a home composting system so that one day we can finally be organic all the way and help nature take it’s course in creating a balanced micro organism, critter and insect eco system so that we don’t even need to consider using the organic pesticides, which can harm the beneficials just as much as it harms the plant damaging insects and sometimes even the plants. I’ve also learned the hard way that there is no quick fix in the garden, and that it takes many years of dedication, work, foresight and love to work towards a beneficial balance…a balance that is well worth it on a daily basis. At this stage, though I’ve got a long ways to go, I’m working towards a ‘ No-till, Forest Garden’, to help maintain the insect, micro organism and mineral balance in our garden. This years garden is roughly 2000 square feet, which includes many small gardens around the yard. We’re growing zucchini, yellow squash, watermelon, snow peas, green beans, radishes, several different types of lettuce, several different types of oriental greens, beets, bell peppers, hot peppers, 11 varieties of tomatoes, spinach, fennel, onions, garlic, potatoes, egg plant, okra, leeks, several kinds of cucumbers, huckleberry, raspberry, blackberry, strawberries, blueberry, plum trees, acorn squash and cantaloupe. Various herbs and flowers. In the fall we’ll grow celery, cauliflower, pak choi, and my favorite, brussels sprouts. This is the first year we’ve mixed our plants to utilize the space better and help with companion planting. Less then half our plants are for table use, while the rest is meant for preserving by freezing, canning or drying. We’re moving toward an heirloom garden so that I can learn how to save and plant their seeds. To me, it just makes better economical and healthy sense.
(Freedom Gardens) Behind every garden, there must have been blood, sweat and tears.What have you felt was (is) the hardest thing you’ve faced (or arefacing) in your gardening? Would you care to share a story?
For myself, now that I look back on the last few years of growth with the garden, for me, the hardest part has been change. I didn’t know very much about gardening when I began doing so, but as the years past and I walked in the footsteps of those that use poisons and methods that I’ve since learned do not encourage long term sustainability or good health, failure was at every corner and knowing how to change and who to listen to has been a challenge. For me, learning from the plants themselves has been the greatest tool to learn how best to, ‘not do them harm’ so they can do what they so naturally do.
( Freedom Gardens) What do you feel is the most important thing in gardening?
I still consider myself a newby at this gardening stuff, so to me, everything is important. But if I had to pin point one thing it would be to have a plan. When I was gardening with poisons I didn’t have a plan past putting the starts in the ground and watering them. Now, I have a plan to one day create our whole yard into a forest garden. Knowing what I want as to what the plants need to flourish, doing research and then putting those ideas into practical, applicable practices will eventually get me there. For example, I watch the people who have the greatest, long term successes and do what they do, but have an open mind all the while so I can adapt to my own environment, growing zone and plant types. Dedication the processes means knowing the variables when it comes to planting zones, seasons, soil amendments, plants, insects, and gardening techniques. It’s like being at school, but finally a school I can ‘dig’.
(Freedom Gardens ) They say that “when you garden, you grow.” Have you changed –emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually – since you’ve starting growing food?
Oh my gosh, YES. Anymore, it’s hard for me to think of the garden as a place to grow food, as much as it is a place to work with my partners in life, such as the insects, the critters, the plants, the soil, the micro life, and the environment. In the past I’ve been a terrible partner to them, but am learning how best to be a great partner. Maybe one day I can write that, ‘Happy Dirt’ book.
(Freedom Gardens) Has this social network (freedomgardens.org) helped you with your garden?
In so many ways. Freedom Gardens is directly responsible. More to the point, the Dervaes Family - for creating the site and being and living their ideals, for which I find highly empowering to myself, and the other members, people just like myself who love gardening and being able to commune with them. This is home for me here on Freedom Gardens and I know as a fact that without Freedom Gardens, I would not be where I am at today in life.
(Freedom Gardens) Anything else you’d like to share with other freedom gardeners?
Even when I read someone’s post without replying to it, the wheels of inspiration often times are turning like crazy in my head for what I had read and so even if it feels as if no one’s paying attention, we are! Too, sometimes when I make a post about some difficulty I might be having in the garden for which I’ve been unable to find help for and am stumped, inevitably someone on my friends list or unknown to me, steps up and gets the ball rolling again and that’s so much help to me personally. It’s because of the folks who come to FG online and take part in their own way that have given me the greatest support and source of information, inspiration and involved thought processes about things that can help me learn to be a better gardener. Many heartfelt thanks to the Dervaes family for doing their thing and making that accessible to the rest of us.
(Freedom Gardens) Thanks for taking the time from your busy life to share your gardening experience with us. Happy growing!
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