Sunday, April 12, 2015

Spring Is In the Air

Wow, April is already here. It is so exciting to see all of the beautiful new green growth. I've been spending a lot of time in my own garden and I still feel like I have so much time to waste on frivolous activities. I adore having the sun out for so much longer.

Peppers and Tomatoes at the Bethlehem House
Just a few updates on the professional front. I am no longer a service member with the NLR Community Farm. Turns out that working with high school students is not my forte. I am now serving in Conway (hallelujah) with the Faulkner County Extension Services. In case you didn't realize, because I know I didn't, the Ext. Services does a lot of cool things for our community. Currently, they work with Greenbrier Eastside Elementary School and Wooster Elementary School to teach nutrition classes to the fourth grade students along with planting a garden with them. These are some smart kids, folks. The office is also working on a garden for Independent Living Services; these are some of the most enthusiastic gardeners I have ever met. There are a few more places around town (the Faulkner County Day School, the Women's Shelter, the Bethlehem House) were myself and the other Gardencorps member in town are serving to start gardens, as well. It's been really great having such enthusiastic people to work with and seeing how the gardens are positively affecting their lives. My supervisor calls them therapy gardens and I can see why.

Bread for the Farmers Market
One other pleasant update is I am now a contributor to the online farmers market here in Conway. I'm selling sourdough breads, cookies, and coffee cakes at the moment. I've read that sourdough bread is easier to digest, even for those with mild gluten allergies, thanks to the active enzymes. I'm not positive as to the legitimacy of that claim, will have to do more research, but I do adore sourdough bread. Wayne and I started the sourdough starter back in September. After two or three failed attempts, we've managed to keep this one alive and in great condition. If you like baking bread, I definitely recommend trying sourdough breads!

Speaking of the online farmers market, now is a great time to become a member if you aren't already ( - CLG). Currently, you can still get your fill of summer greens, pork/beef, coffee, baked goods, and you can purchase transplants for your own garden beds! Soon, there will be a plethora of summer fair that you definitely do not want to miss out on! Personally, I can't wait for the fruit because it means I can add fruit pies to my sales list. ;)

I definitely recommend starting your own garden this year, whether you have had one in the past or not. I've read several books lately touting just how much produce you can grow in small garden plots. I plan to extensively record my production this year so I can have a first hand account for you all. In the interim, I suggest visiting the Faulkner County Library, which has an extensive collection of books on gardening. My recent favorite is "Mini-Farming; Self-sufficiency on 1/4 Acre" by Brett Markham. He lays out the numbers for you and proves that you can replace one spouses income with farming on your own land. Considering how agricultural Arkansas is, I can imagine that this would be quite feasible for anyone who is interested. Especially if you really invest in the small things, like utilizing the free soil tests that the Ext. Services offers to find out what your soil needs to be at optimum nutrient levels. The results of this test even tell you organic options for correcting your soil.

Wayne breaking ground on our large plot.
The large plot now.
I am greatly anticipating the results of my gardening efforts this year. This will be the largest scale I've grown on for my personal use. We have a 12ftx22ft raised bed in the backyard and a 37ftx34ft mini-farm on our second plot of land. Our landlords are very kind individuals and graciously bush-hogged this empty plot of land so that I could farm it. It went from a weed-infested plot to a beautiful section of raised beds. I cannot wait until the plants fill out and make the plot look well-used.

Our raised backyard bed, so excited for garlic!
In case you need more incentive to grow your own plants other than the therapeutic act of gardening itself, here are some encouraging statistics (according to the University of Arizona's Master Gardener Manual):

One tomato plant can produce 10-15 pounds of fruit or more per season (currently only $3 for seedlings from CLG).
A 10-ft row of beans produces about 5 pounds of fruit (trellising will help you save a lot of space!).
A 10-ft row of cucumbers produces 8 to 10 pounds of fruit (trellising also necessary).
A 10-ft row of lettuce produces 5 to 10 pounds (lettuce grows better in blocks though and can be grown closer together if you don't mind slightly smaller plants).
A 10-ft row of onions produces 10 to 15 pounds of bulbs (walking onions are a perennial plant that I recommend you invest in. You can eat the bulbs or the greens and they multiply exponentially.)
A 10-ft row of peppers produces 2 to 8 pounds of fruit (in my experience, you can get much more than this).
A 10-ft row of squash produces 20 to 80 pounds of fruit (if you can be diligent about killing those pesky squash bugs).

I feel like these statistics are actually a little low for Arkansas conditions, but they are nonetheless encouraging. Think of all the money you can save by growing your own food. Plus, you will encourage the growth of the local wildlife, including birds and bees. The best part of growing your own food is the ability to pick the ripest fruits (the most nutritious) and know exactly what went into the growing process. If that's not something to feel good about, I don't know what is.

One of the beds at the Teaching Garden.
If you are interested in learning by hands-on experience, the Ext. office hosts gardening workshops at the Freyaldenhoven Greenhouses on Siebenmorgen every third Saturday of the month. Next Saturday the workshop is on starting your garden, so I would love to see some of you there!

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