BB and HomeGrown City Farm host Eastern Triangle Farm Tour Workshop
by Lesley Lammers
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour workshop hosted by Durham’s very own worker-owned edible landscaping cooperative, Bountiful Backyards (BB). This hands-on edible landscaping demonstration at HomeGrown City Farm’s property attracted the gardening-curious and aficionados alike, who came ready to learn and get their fingers down in that North Carolina soil! BB worker-owner Sarah Vroom starts off with this mantra, “When thinking about your own yard, plant things that you want that also support your landscape. This will increase the ‘joy factor.’”
Fall is an ideal time for planting fruit trees and berry bushes, says Vroom. “You get them in the ground and they go to sleep for the winter. If you mulch them well, they are going to put on root growth, spreading themselves out, getting themselves happy and comfortable before the summer comes.” Then when summer does come, the tree won’t have to be watered as much because of all the root mass supporting the plant.
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Fig was the tree of choice for the workshop because they are low maintenance, drought tolerant, mostly deer resistant, and full sun lovers. BB taught participants about the importance of plant “guilds” or planting other species around the tree that thrive in the same conditions and support one another. “That support could be attracting beneficial insects. We love nitrogen fixing plants for plants that have high nitrogen needs, plants that mine the soil for nutrients and can be used for mulch, plants that clump out and spread well so you don’t have to constantly battle weeds coming in,” explains Vroom. BB chose perennials such as anise hyssop, October Skies aster, oregano, echinacea and thyme for folks to place around the fig tree since they are also drought tolerant and don’t require many soil inputs.
A spot next to the house was chosen for good morning sun and afternoon shade, plus being tucked up against the house means shelter from the cold, should winter bring more harsh weather. Figs need to be pruned so that fruits can be reached more easilty and the tree can put more into producing fruits. A fig will begin fruiting after a year, and once established, they won’t need to be watered. BB buys their fruit trees from highly recommended Useful Plants Nursery in Black Mountain, NC.
BB first scraped the grass off the planting area with a sharp gardening hoe — quality tools are essential, they note, especially in this regions clay-heavy soil. Afterward, a thin layer of BB’s own special soil amendment mixture was spread over the planting area. This mix is made up of eight different minerals that have a long lifespan in the soil, containing macronutrients like phosphorus, potassium, nitrogen and trace minerals like boron, zinc, etc. A compost BB purchased from Durham’s Rock Shop was then dumped over amendment mixture and native soil and participants took turns shoveling together the three components over the planting area.
After soaking the fig tree in a liquid bath of kelp fertilizer, BB stressed tickling out the roots to loosen those that had circled around the plant from having been sitting in a pot. “If it’s ring around the rosie and you put it in the ground, it’s just going to strangle itself later,” warns Vroom. A “butterfly” ridge was dug out on the bottom side of the plant through the middle and a hole was dug in the ground with a complementary ridge for the plant to line up with in order to help spread the roots out on either side. Attendees buried the fig plant and the surrounding soil was pressed down firmly — just enough to get rid of air pockets, but not compact the soil.
Next the group set to work planting the remaining herbs and flowers, laying out newspaper (you can also use cardboard) around the plants to help prevent weeds and finally, adding a layer of mulch over the paper. BB staff’s final instructions brought smiles to the worker bees, “It’s also important to talk to them and wish them well.” And thus, a mini fig tree garden was born!
BB worker-owner Keith Shaljian hopes that the work of BB and other collective groups like the Good Work Food Collaborative (a cooperative of businesses, advocates, and farmers who gather regularly to discuss marketing strategy, group purchasing, installation partnerships and more) will help provide a “coherent, grassroots, neighborhood-based, block-by-block perspective on the local food movement by proposing alternatives to business as usual, using cooperatives as a lens.”