When the Columbus Botanical Garden offered an urban agriculture workshop, Brad and I knew it would be insightful, but we had no idea we’d be scribbling down literally hundreds of useful tips. It was a furious exchange of great information.
The cause of our carpal tunnel? Jason Powell, owner of Petals from the Past, a nursery that specializes in edible landscapes and heirloom varieties of flowers, fruit and veggies. Jason is that rare blend of expert and educator, someone who is able to empower even a beginning home gardener with the confidence to start growing serious food.
After an enthusiastic conversation with Jason during a break, hubs and I knew we had to take the plunge and replace the last vestige of our traditional front lawn with attractive, perennial crops. So the first warm Saturday in March found us on the road to the nursery in Jemison, Alabama, where we stocked up on eight blueberry bushes (four each of Tifblue and Brightwell) and a flat of Sweet Charlie strawberries.
Sunday morning brought a mix of anticipation and dread. Before the fun could begin, we had to dig up six 10-year-old azaleas with root balls the size of Volkswagens along with the lush, drought-tolerant sod we’ve worked so hard to cultivate.
But as the saying goes, kill your darlings. Or, in this case, give them to a neighbor to transplant.
With much profanity and gnashing of shovels, the azaleas were removed and delivered to a friend, and the sod was transplanted to a well-worn Seamus path in the back yard.
And that was just the prep work.
After another few hours of digging, amending (blueberries like soil acidified with sulfur), planting, and mounding strawberries, we were done. Almost.
The next day, crippled but determined to finish, we topped off the berries with a truck full of mulch. And per Jason’s advice, we stripped the upper blueberry flowers to encourage the bushes to fill out and develop strong roots.
Much to our delight, strawberries began to appear a month later, and now there’s no better way to start the day than pouring a cup of coffee and picking fruit from the garden in the cool morning air. For reals, y’all, I feel like Mary Freakin’ Poppins.
Our intent is to let the strawberries spread, forming a dense mat in their own raised bed. Next year’s crop should be outstanding, if we can keep the squirrels at bay.*
We spend far more time enjoying the front yard now, and it feels good to finally have a long-term plan for the homestead, instead of haphazardly slapping plants in the ground.
Later this year, we’ll cut down the dying water oak in the front yard, saving much of it for the wood-burning stove we hope to install. In its place will go a persimmon tree and a paw-paw bush.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for me, I’ll be out in the berry patch.
*Dear Mr. Squirrel. If you’re going to eat a strawberry, please eat the whole blasted thing. It is both insulting and inflammatory to find one bite missing. Love, Jenn.