Gardening at Well Being Conference Center in the Cumberland Mountains of Northeast Tennessee
Our fruit and vegetable garden is an integral part of supporting our bodies with good tasting, sustainably raised, fresh-picked, nutritious food. We believe eating non-contaminated locally raised food is good for our own personal well-being and good for the planet. And it just makes sense. (Do we really need to get our apples from China?)
The first Spring we were here (2009), we fenced off a one acre garden and planted 53 fruit and nut trees. We also built nine raised beds – each 5 feet wide by 50 feet long. Two of the beds are permanently planted: one with strawberries and one in asparagus. The other beds have been planted with annual veggies and some perennial herbs. The remaining 1/3 acre is used for field crops and winter cover crops. We also have some of the perimeter planted in raspberries, blueberries, currants, kiwis, and eating grapes.
Solar Powered Irrigation
We have installed a solar powered water well which pumps to a 1,000 gallon reservoir located uphill from the garden. The reservoir provides water under pressure for irrigation of the vegetable garden and the Honey Bee Garden. In 2012, we installed an automated irrigation system in both gardens. Most gardens locally depend on rainfall, which is generally reliable year-round, but there are some hot dry spells when the garden suffers a lot in just a weeks’ time. Trying to hand water a one acre garden, although relaxing, is just more relaxing than we have time to do. The automated irrigation system is powered by battery operated controllers which turn solenoid valves for each irrigation zone on and off.
The garden is tended according to organic principals. We don’t use pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. We compost with grass cuttings from the orchard area, leaves mulched in the Fall, locally cut straw, and manure from a neighbor’s pastured cattle. Our organically fed chickens are pastured within a movable poultry fence inside the garden area to add nutrients and to keep the bugs at bay. We are use green manure cover crops each winter to enrich the thin topsoil in this area for future crops and have been planting buckwheat for the bees each summer.
The raised beds are contained within recycled plastic decking planks to avoid the toxic chemicals present in pressure treated woods or railroad ties. The raised beds separate walking areas from growing areas so soil is not compacted by stepping on it. Since the soil is not compacted, tilling isn’t necessary – we just add straw, grass clippings, Fall leaves, and manure as top mulch and spread the mulch apart to plant.
The orchard trees which were planted four years ago have begun to bear fruit for the first time this year (2013). We’ve planted apples, cherries, peaches, pears, Asian pears, Chinese chestnuts, jujube trees, a variety of cold-hardy Chinese citrus, hardy almonds, and apricots.
We’ve also planted some Muscadine grapes which are native to the Southeast U.S. and the only grape that is native to the United States. (All wine and table grapes were originally imported from Europe.) Muscadines are also interesting because they have the highest level of Resveratrol of any type of grape. There have been quite a few recent studies done that seem to indicate that Resveratrol may be responsible for the “French Paradox”. The paradox is: “Why can the French eat all those fatty foods and not get heart disease like we do?” Many scientists now believe that it may be due to the resveratrols in the red wines that the French drink.
Last summer, we had some bug problems especially with Mexican Bean Beetles. This year (2013) we have a dozen guinea fowl that we are raising from day old chicks. Guineas are supposed to be excellent bug foragers and not as hard on the vegetables as chickens are.
Critter-Proofing the Garden
The 8 foot high fence has kept the deer out of the garden, but racoons have eaten every ear of corn that we tried to grow in the past. We also had a weasel problem. By the time the score got to be Weasels 6, Humans (me) 0, I knew we had to do something radically different. We had the chickens in a secure coop with an automated door which was inside an electrified poultry fence which was inside the 2″x4″ wire fenced garden. The weasel, we believe learned to suffer the brief but probably painful electric shock as a small price to pay for his weekly chicken dinner. BTW, we’ve learned everyone loves chicken: hawks, owls, racoons, coyotes, opossums, and weasels. The solution was a low six strand electric fence with alternating hot and ground wires with the wires just inches apart around the entire 800 foot perimeter of the garden. This solution has worked for the weasel. Now, we have rabbits inside the garden totally safe from all four-legged predators. And, just like the cartoons, they do like to eat carrots. They also eat beets when the carrots are gone.