Growing organic produce in your backyard
As the “farm-to-table” movement continues to gain momentum in Fairfield County, an increasing number of farmers markets, farm stands, and restaurants boasting local farm-fresh ingredients seem to be popping up in our area. Never before has it been so easy to eat seasonally and access fresh-picked produce, which was grown only miles from our homes.
Many Wilton residents are taking the movement a step further by creating edible gardens in their own yards. Gardening has always been a popular pastime for those blessed with a green thumb. Nowadays, the more we learn about the importance of eating fresh, organic foods, it seems as though anyone with an interest in food is getting in on the action. And it’s easier than you might think.
“Anyone, any age, anywhere can grow food,” promises Amie Guyette Hall, a Fairfield County-based health coach and certified square foot gardening instructor. “The benefits of growing your own food are numerous. The food is fresher and more alive. It’s more nutrient-dense and has more life force. It’s better quality, and that’s better for us all.”
So how does one start an edible garden? One of the easiest ways is by creating a “square foot garden” (see bottom of article). Similar to a raised-bed garden, a square foot garden employs a simple wooden box with a square foot grid placed over the top. As long as the box is placed in an area that receives six to eight hours of sunlight daily, it doesn’t matter what’s beneath it: your yard, a deck, or even a tabletop. By using a special soil mix and not relying on ground soil for your garden, there are no contaminants, it’s nutrient-complete, and it is essentially weed- and pest-free, allowing you to create an organic garden at a fraction of the cost of retail organic produce.
Your first stop should be a local garden center. The garden professionals will help you decide on the right type of garden for your needs. Whether you’re digging into the ground or considering a raised-bed, you will want to consider some sort of protection from animals; fencing is key in our area. Sunlight requirements vary for different plants, so the positioning of your garden will also be important. Container gardens can also be an excellent choice for smaller-scale vegetables or herbs.
Still not sure you’re ready to embark on an edible garden project, but want to enjoy the benefits of homegrown veggies? A professional gardener can come to your house, assess your needs, design a garden, install it, and even maintain it throughout the season. All you need to do is harvest your fresh produce.
One such professional is John Carlson of Homefront Farmers. In 2011 Carlson left a 25-year career in marketing and consulting to follow his passion for organic gardening. His Ridgefield-based company plans, designs, and installs a wide variety of organic, edible gardens at homes throughout Fairfield County. Each garden comes with an automatic drip irrigation system, and for about what it would cost you to have your lawn mowed each week, Homefront Farmers will even maintain the garden for you. Prices vary based on the size of the garden, but start at under $400.
“Our typical clients are families who want to get their kids involved and want to feed them better food,” explains Carlson. He says they’ve worked with everyone from empty-nesters to hobbyists who are just looking for a little assistance in getting the most from their gardens. Homefront will install gardens of any size, even as small is 4-feet-by-four-feet. If you already have a garden but are not getting the results you’d expected, John and his team can teach you how to maximize your plot.
By bringing the farm to your doorstep, you and your family will eat better, you’ll benefit the environment, and you’ll develop a connectedness with the earth you just can’t get at a supermarket. Whther you create and tend your own edible garden, or pay the pros, having fresh food grown right outside your door benefits your for entire family.
CAN YOU DIG IT? Mel Bartholomew (pictured left) the "Father" of the square food gardening movement. Proper soil, water, and sunlight and voila!
Start with a simple wooden box: 4’ x 4’ is most common, but if space is tight, use a 2’ x 2’ or 3’ x 3’ box—also a great size for aspiring junior gardeners. Fill the box with six inches of perfect soil—equal parts coarse vermiculite, peat moss, and blended compost.Create a square foot grid to lay on top of the box (each square being 1’ x 1’), and plant each square with the same seeds, or something different in each. Try a variety of lettuces and easy-to-grow cherry tomatoes, radishes, carrots, and string beans.