Garden Delight: Three Garden Resources to Check Out Now

Madison-area garden groups educate green thumbs on how to grow fruits and veggies, give planting tips and even help food pantries

May 16, 2011

Photo by Joann M. Ringelstetter

 Sometimes it’s easy to overlook how fresh food gets to the kitchen table if you’re not a gardener. But kitchen gardens, also known as potagers, allow you to appreciate the birth of fresh produce. The rich soil, beating sun and refreshing rainfall provide ideal conditions for planting fruits and vegetables in your own backyard. Experts at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station, Community GroundWorks and Fitchburg Fields offer novice planters and experienced gardeners some guidance for this spring.

More Than Just Fresh Produce

The West Madison Agricultural Research Stations Trial and Research Gardens are a part of UW–Madison and offer a variety of learning events throughout the summer. Workshops on urban gardening, insect control, veggies, fruits and more are planned from now through August.

“[Food] doesn’t just grow in the grocery store,” says Judy Reith-Rozelle, assistant superintendent of the West Madison Agricultural Research Station. “There’s a finite resource of soil out there. We hope that people understand it takes a lot to get a pepper from a seed to a plant to a table.”

Reith-Rozelle believes that gardening is easy once the basics are mastered. People can garden in any place—even a small place—using one of the following methods: a container garden, a square-foot garden, raised beds or simply in a regular yard. She also says gardening offers more than just fresh produce—its active nature is good for physical and mental fitness, too.

“It’s a mental boost,” she says. “[Gardening] brings happiness and peace to people. Once you get [your] hands in the soil, there’s this feeling of understanding … what we all are, a part of the earth.”

West Madison Agricultural Research Station, 8502 Mineral Point Rd., Verona. 262-2257. View workshop schedule at http://universitydisplaygardens.com

Gardening With a Farmer’s Skill

Community GroundWorksCommunity GroundWorks, formerly Friends of Troy Gardens, has a Madison FarmWorks program that helps people design and install vegetable gardens at businesses and homes and also holds workshops for garden enthusiasts.

“Food is a big part of our lives,” says Megan Cain, program manager for Madison FarmWorks. “It’s a good thing to connect to how it’s grown and how it tastes when you pick it off the vine.”

One of Madison FarmWorks’s upcoming workshops includes a “turn your vegetable garden into a vegetable farm” workshop, geared toward intermediate and advanced gardeners. “[The workshop] focuses on how to get more production out of your garden,” she says. “It brings some of the skills from the farm into the home garden.”

Cain will offer a couple pieces of advice for experienced gardeners at the workshop such as developing a garden plan. She says it’s wise to practice succession planting, which involves planting the same crop periodically throughout the season. “Putting in the same crop multiple times over the season helps maximize the space of the garden,” Cain says. “Plant it every few weeks so you have a supply.”

Madison FarmWorks will teach garden layout, crop rotation and planting schedules. Cain advises gardeners to think strategically about gardening. “Think about what you want to grow,” Cain says. “What is hard to buy? Focusing on certain crops that are more successful or more important can help you get more food out of your garden.”

For novice gardeners, she encourages people to start small. In order to be successful, it’s important not to cultivate a huge garden when starting out. “Grow your garden as you grow your skills,” Cain says.

“Turn your vegetable garden into a vegetable farm” workshop, May 18, 6p–8p at the Willy Street Co-op East. 240-0409. troygardens.org.

Giving Back

Imagine a four-thousand-square-foot plot of land blossoming with organic fruits and vegetables. It may sound like a gardener’s dream, but it’s a reality at the Fitchburg Fields teaching and sharing garden, and staff and volunteers utilize that garden to cultivate an abundance of plants on the garden’s maintenance and harvest workday. This workday is part of Fitchburg Fields’ mission to teach and practice organic agriculture and food preservation. The organization also holds workshops and community engagement opportunities. Fitchburg Fields chair Phyllis Hasbrouck strongly encourages people to invest in a local food system.

“Most of our food comes from 1,200 to 1,500 miles away,” Hasbrouck says. “[Fitchburg Fields] has a vision to have a large piece of land for a center of sustainable agriculture.”

Hasbrouck says much of the food is donated to local food pantries in the Madison area such as the Allied Drive Food Pantry. While Madisonians acquire gardening skills at the various educational opportunities, they also have the chance to give back to the community. Last year, Fitchburg Fields donated eighty-eight percent of the produce to food pantries, five percent to volunteers, four percent to their kitchen workshops that focus on canning, freezing, and drying, and three percent was made into pickles and jams by Porchlight Inc.

The workday is the perfect chance to heed gardening tips, help the hungry and reconnect with the lush soil. “Any contribution will make a difference,” Hasbrouck says. “The sooner we get the plants in the ground, the more food we will have this season.”

Hasbrouck believes the atmosphere is conducive for novice gardeners. The workday’s typical friendly atmosphere draws in many participants as the Fitchburg Fields’ staff willingly offer plenty of useful gardening pointers. Hasbrouck says gardeners will learn how to transplant seedlings for tomatoes, peppers and various herbs. “You don’t have to know anything to come, you just have to be willing to learn.”

Aside from enjoying the workday’s lively vibe, Hasbrouck says that gardening is an empowering activity. “[Gardening] is a self-reliance skill,” Hasbrouck says. She admits that she saves a decent amount of money on groceries because of her kitchen garden at home.

While Hasbrouck admires gardening’s autonomous nature, kitchen gardens also provide people with a nutritious diet—which in turn, give them more energy and a better quality of life.

“It takes a while to learn how to garden,” Hasbrouck says. “It is really good to start now. This season, do something that will get you on that learning curve.”

Fitchburg Fields’ garden maintenance and harvest workday, May 2, 9a–12p. Teaching and Sharing Garden, 5335 Lacy Rd. 223-9571. fitchburgfields.org/main.

Dena Goldstein is an editorial intern with Madison Magazine.

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