Backyard gardening can inspire you to take an interest in the origins of your food and make better choices about what you put on your plate.
“When you grow your own food, you appreciate it more because of the work and the effort you put into your garden to make it grow,” explained Emily Carver of Cool Ridge. She and her husband Daniel are in the process of planting their extensive raised-box garden near their home, where they have toiled indefatigably for the past five years, growing their plants from seeds in their greenhouse beginning in late February and early March.
The couple outlined their expertise when it comes to their gardening styles this way:
What are some of the crops that you harvest at end of the growing season?
“We grow tomatoes, greens (spring and a fall crop), beans, corn, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, peas, potatoes and practically any vegetable that grows well in our area. We usually can harvest two crops during the season if we have a pretty good amount of rainfall.”
How large is your garden and how long have you had it? “We have 33 boxes (4’ x 8’ ) with raised beds, what we call square-foot gardening. We are unable to work in wet weather; we must wait for the soil to dry; keep the rows mulched; we never put a footprint in the square boxes; we don’t want to compact the soil; we want to keep it soft and workable.”
What are the benefits of backyard gardening in the 21st century? “The biggest benefit is the flavor and freshness of crops and produce; plus, it’s cheaper than buying food at the grocery store; we don’t pick corn until ready for the pot: that way it’s always fresh. We start the water boiling and go after the corn; nothing like fresh produce, best you can do at farmer’s market is get it a day late; you know what is in your own vegetables; most people don’t want pesticides, and if you want organic you can do that. We use very little fertilizer; instead, we use coffee grounds, eggshells, and horse manure; we don’t even buy fertilizer.”
What is the hardest part of gardening? “Harvesting is a lot of work; you have to can the extra food that you grow; the work is intense but it’s really rewarding — with shelves full of food and cellars full of produce; we’re always just looking for things to can; we just enjoy doing it.”
What is the advantage of owning and operating a greenhouse? “Lot of it is pride, take a seed and producing a beautiful plant that you can harvest from; we save our seeds from year to year; for hot peppers, dry and pull the seeds out. The best part of it is growing, staying with it, enduring the fear of freezing or scalding: it can get up to over 100 degrees, open it back up or you will roast and kill your plants; for tomatoes, hot peppers, green peppers, kale, lettuce, corn and beans in the greenhouse, use every space in the garden for something, no wasted space, no corn or bean, very few things we plant without transplanting them from the greenhouse, even onions.”
What do you do with all the vegetables you grow each year? “We give to our family. We can a lot and eat the rest. We don’t sell ours; we keep and use about everything we grow: blackberries and raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, grapes (cut back and mulch them in the fall); we take care of them each year.”
What advice would you offer to someone getting into gardening for the first time? “Talk to somebody who gardens; you can read all the books, but there’s no substitute for experience. We both come from gardening backgrounds, no gimmicks, simpler is better, don’t have to buy fancy boxes and don’t have to grow things upside down. Talk to your county agent. He teaches a master gardening class.”
How many hours per week do you estimate you put into your garden? “We work every morning, and work every day; there is something to do, 30 boxes are pretty big, lot of work, most people do seven or eight; we still have to do a limited amount of weeding, shredding the newspapers, and using them for mulching…”
What is the actual growing season in Southern West Virginia for gardens? “May through September and you can even extend it to October. You can grow some things like greens up until Thanksgiving if you are willing to cover them with hoops and plastic over the top in the late fall; that extends the season; we start our plants in the greenhouse as early as March and by keeping the heat on with a baseboard heater.”
What should gardeners try to avoid when growing a garden? “You cannot neglect your garden; it takes work every day and being very aware of the plants to make sure they are not being attacked at their roots by some kind of insects above and below the ground.”
How important is compost and catching rainwater for the garden? “It’s very important. Compost is a great fertilizer; you can make a compost tea to pour on your plants; it offers lots of benefits and advantages.”
Emily concluded, “Growing your own food isn’t rocket science. It is quite simple. It takes a little time, but things like tomatoes, lettuce, peppers—basic kitchen crops—are very forgiving. Really, anyone can learn to grow food easily.
“You will be amazed by how much fun gardening can be, and how much pride you take in sharing healthy food nurtured by your own efforts. The main thing is to be patient as you cultivate your relationship with your garden and the Earth. Before long, you’ll reap the benefits. You may even see a little tinge of green on one of your thumbs…”
Top o’ the morning!