Compared to some of the larger demonstration gardens maintained by Master Gardeners across Washington state, the small plot on Mullis Street may not seem like much. But size doesn’t matter when it comes to the amount of crops it yields.
“Every county has a demonstration garden and some are huge,” said Alice Deane, certified Master Gardener and demonstration garden volunteer. “It’s amazing what this little garden pumps out.”
How much does it pump out exactly? Nearly 1,200 pounds of fresh, organic food each year. All of which is donated to the Food Bank, right next door.
Master Gardeners are community members with not only an interest in agriculture and horticulture, but a desire to help educate others on how to grow their own food. The Master Gardener program exists nationwide and gardener’s become certified through participating state universities. Washington State University founded the program in 1972 because of a demand for urban gardening knowledge in Seattle and Tacoma.
Over a decade ago, Master Gardener Bob Levinson was inspired by a demonstration garden in Bellevue.
With the help of a grant from San Juan Island Community Foundation, the local chapter of Master Gardeners were able to build a garden of their own, complete with fencing to fend off deer, raised beds and a tool and compost shed. The gardeners also drilled a well to avoid the costs of town water. The land is leased from the Mullis Senior Center but the plot is the garden’s permanent home, and thanks to events like the annual plant sale every May that sells vegetable garden starter plants, the gardeners are able to self-fund yearly garden maintenance.
Alice Deane in the demonstration garden which is in full bloom during the summer.
The garden serves as an educational tool on how to actually grow vegetables, but it also demonstrates different types of garden beds that can be made from recycled materials. The plot has raised beds built by the Master Gardeners from recycled deck wood and bricks, as well as pre-made beds.
While the initial intention of the garden was for education, in 2008 the focus changed. According to Levinson, it was the recession that inspired the gardner’s to donate their bounty to the Food Bank.
For six years the gardeners have also donated started plants that are ready to go into the ground.
“Every time people are so eager to have them. It actually gives the opportunity to grow their own food,” Deane said.
The 2015 annual plant sale is May 9 at the demonstration garden on Mullis Street. To learn more about becoming a Master Gardener visit mastergardener.wsu.edu, or stop by the demonstration garden. Volunteers are there every Wednesday morning.
Early spring, What’s going on in the garden?
“This time of year us gardeners are chomping on the bit to get started,” Master Gardener Alice Deane said. “But the weather doesn’t always cooperate.”
Now is a good time to test and amend soil and start laying compost.
Peas, spinach and onions are good crops to plant, but be careful not to put them in the ground too early where they can be exposed to frost. Deane recommends starting seeds inside in a warm, sunny spot or a greenhouse while waiting for the nights to warm up.
Many early spring plants can survive frost, but it’s best to wait to plant until frost is less imminent, Deane said.
If you want to get the plants in the ground now, quasi-greenhouses can be built from PVC hoops covered with plastic or the material “row-cover.” This set-up also allows for an early start on salad greens.
“Gardening in the Pacific Northwest,”” by Carol and Norman Hall & “Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades,” by Steve Solomon