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Demonstration garden a way to learn best practices for growing your own edibles

  • Anne-Marie Walker
  • A good gardener is always looking for new ideas for growing edibles beautifully, productively and water efficiently.

    This past summer, UC Marin Master Gardeners planted a demonstration garden in the edible garden at Marin Art and Garden Center (MAGC). Seeds of heirloom squashes, lettuces, scarlet runner beans and sunflowers were inter-planted in one raised bed. Mingling compatibly in a second bed were tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, onions and herbs.

    These warm weather crops will be harvested the first two weeks of October by third- and fourth-grade students attending Dig It, Grow It, Eat It workshops taught by UC Marin Master Gardeners. The workshops allow the students to not only harvest vegetables, fruits and seeds, but also learn about nutrition. Lessons include learning about edible plant parts, pollination and propagation, as well as seed and soil science. Working their way through learning stations, students begin to appreciate the promise of bud swell, roots and leaves. As they taste the harvest, they gain an understanding of the human body’s need for healthy food one bite at a time.

    A productive garden should always be about judging the state of the soil, the health of the plants, the diversity of the species grown and the design of the garden. Successful gardens use scientifically proven best practices to increase the abundance of bloom, and production of fruits and vegetables.

    Have you ever wondered about the impact of soil temperature on seed germination? How about the accuracy of seed packet data on days to germinate, days to flower, days to set fruit? And, in an increasingly drier, hotter California, how much water did it take to grow these warm weather crops and what was the yield? In the edible garden data is posted publicly on germination, water applied and the yield. When you visit, be sure to view the four varieties of heirloom winter squashes: ‘Lakota,’ ‘Sweet Dumpling,’ ‘Waltham Butternut’ and ‘Golden Hubbard.’ In early summer, a mesclun mix of lettuces grows among the young squash seedlings. In late summer, a mix of additional leafy greens were planted under the squash leaves increasing yields in the raised beds. Planted close together, but not too crowded, the greens grow rapidly and need daily water only during germination. Afterward, shaded by the squash leaves, water was applied only two or three times a week. A small concentrated space produced a larger yield.

    In addition to the Edible garden at MAGC, you can visit other garden areas tended by UC Marin Master Gardeners: the habitat garden, the herb and medicinal garden, and the garden of the sun featuring water-wise plants. In the nursery area near the Butterfly Cottage, Master Gardeners propagate many of the plants used to beautify MAGC. Stop by 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in Ross from sunrise to sunset daily.

    Dig It, Grow It, Eat It teaches many things, most of all that we care for the earth because we love it, and we love the earth because we care for it. When we learn about the rich and varied differences in plant life, we feel hopeful expectancy, the promise of nourishment and the joyful sense of accomplishment; “I grew it myself!”

    Dig It, Grow It, Eat It is not just for the young, but also for those young at heart.