Busy week for me, Yvonne Scott, and Wolfe County Grow Appalachia as it feels like we may finally get growing very soon. The families that came to our Basic Gardening class this past Thursday left with more information than questions, hopefully, thanks to a great presentation by Sarah Fannin, Morgan County Horticulture Extension Agent. They also left with a blue bagful of goodies—seeds, potatoes, onions—as well as compost and lots of handouts.
It’s great having someone with a knowledge of both conventional growing and organic methods to help our folks bridge that divide. But as I watched the faces around the room and fielded some of their questions as the evening went on, I realized that what I take as normal and practical, i.e. organic gardening, is new to most of them and that I need to create methods for them to grasp these concepts easily and be able to adapt them to their gardens.
Since I’ve been growing stuff for about six decades it can be easy for me to gloss over or move through something like “raised beds” or “mulching.” But scanning the faces and seeing that deer-in-the-headlights look tells me this a time to step back, find another way to explain something or a way to show them how its done and why we do it. My families are helping me become a better presenter and I’m grateful for that. And one way to become a better presenter is through that time-honored method of ‘show don’t tell.’
One of my personal goals this year is to create opportunities to build the confidence of each gardener not just to put seeds in the ground and keep them alive but also in learning how different elements on their land or site can work together to make gardening easier and more productive in each successive year. So I decided that at the end of the season together, we will have a Garden Tour, visiting each family’s garden to learn from them. At our meeting, I had 12 white envelopes with a strip of paper inside. The paper listed one skill that the gardener was to become the ”expert” on by learning all he/she could, completing the project and then showing and sharing what was learned during the Garden Tour. I’ll help with written information and of course some hands on. Some of the ideas were: creating an herb spiral or a raised bed; season extenders; setting up and using a rain barrel and watering system; building a compost bin; adding an area for beneficial insects in the garden; making fruit leather; building raised rows. Most had never done any of these and some ideas were completely new to almost everyone. One family had already started on building an herb spiral and I can’t wait to visit them next week to see how it’s going. I want each of them to feel the excitement of completing their project and standing in that accomplishment and teaching others what they learned.
Now when it came to the raised rows, I was surprised at all the questions that came up. Most of my own gardens involved raised rows and very little tilling after initially breaking new ground so here is where I had to dampen my enthusiasm and start at the beginning. I realize that the best way is to go around to each site and help build one. Even if each family does only one raised row this year, that will give them the comparison to see why they are beneficial.
Building a raised row and adding mulch was a bit daunting for one woman who said “when my husband doesn’t get to go out and till the weeds every week and we’ve got shredded newspaper and compost all over, he’s going to think I went nuts.”
I hope not. I hope he finds out his wife is a genius when he has more time to loaf from not having to fire up the tiller every weekend. I’ll let you know.