A fervor for fresh food has inspired Kitsap residents to make their homes a little more unique, and tasty, than others on the block.
After all, there’s no food more fresh than what comes from your front yard.
“We are lucky, because of our climate, we can grow to harvest, pretty much, 12 months out of the year,” said Gayle Larson. “The timing can be a little tricky, but generally you can have something to eat out of your (home) garden 12 months a year.”
Larson, a certified professional horticulturist, knows a thing or two about home farming. The Poulsbo resident has converted much of her front yard into a suburban garden.
“You can’t get it any fresher,” Larson said. “You know what’s in it. You’re the one controlling what kinds of products you are using on your produce.”
“And it’s fun,” she added, further noting that growing at home offers a wider variety of produce than what’s commonly found at grocery stores.
A home-grown movement
Larson is among many in an emerging urban farming movement throughout the nation; a movement that has planted roots into Kitsap. Homeowners, renters, and anyone with access to decent soil in a city or suburban setting are growing their own food.
“If you take a look at the number of books about growing food in the Northwest, urban farm books, vegetables of the cascades, I think (interest) is growing,” she said.
“When we look at the nurseries and how many more are carrying vegetable starts in the spring, and in the fall, and winter, we see it growing by that,” she said.
To see the interest in action, one need look no further than the Bremerton neighborhood of Manette, where resident Tami Smith planted a suburban garden shortly after moving to the area.
“When I got here, I had all this property which was all lawn — which I hate, it’s a big waste of space — I kept taking out more and more of it and put gardens in,” she said.
“I have two big vegetable gardens and lots of perennials. We have a friend a couple blocks from here, he has bees and chickens and it’s like a farm over there. They pretty much eat out of their garden,” Smith said.
Smith has now converted portions of her property, just shy of half an acre, into edible gardens.
She’s not alone. Manette has hosted its own edible garden tour for the past two years. The next tour will be on Aug. 2, and will take onlookers through the variety of innovative suburban farms, small and not-so-small.
“Basically, we’re all just doing our gardens, and people get to wander around and get nosy,” Smith said.
“Last year, the neighbor behind me put up a hoop house, and now our next door neighbor, who is between me and the other guy, will be on the garden tour this year,” Smith said. “We have a neighbor, she’s converting her entire front yard into a farm.”
The movement may not be limited to Manette. Larson teaches on the topic at Edmonds Community College where there is a waiting list of interested gardeners, eager to learn about home farming.
“Most of the folks in my classes are not looking to be farmers, they want to be home gardeners,” Larson said. “It’s something that practically anyone can do at home.”
“Ideally the home vegetable garden is to supplement and provide the things that are just better when they are home grown,” Larson said. “You will never ever buy a strawberry that is as good as what you can grow at home.”
Larson has a few words of wisdom for the beginning urban farmer, starting with “start small.”
“It’s very common to see small green houses that people are not using, or garden beds with hoops over them that they are not using, and that is evidence of people who jumped in without doing their homework,” she said. “Start small; do one bed instead of four. Grow a couple of things instead of one of everything. Get a feel for your garden and for what you’re comfortable doing.”
Smith notes that not every property is apt for edible gardening. Some are too shady or the soil could be lacking.
“A lot of people don’t vegetable garden because they live in areas that are shady, but there are pea patches,” she said. “Blueberry Park (Bremerton) has pea patches that can be rented for nearly nothing.”
“There’s a pea patch in Poulsbo (Raab Park) for people that live out on that side,” she said. “Not having the right land at home doesn’t need to limit you.”
And then there’s growing out of pots or herb gardens, Smith said. Smith also recommends getting in touch with other home gardening enthusiasts, for support and trading tips.
Larson also consults privately on home gardening topics. Her business can be found at www.dancingravendesign.com.
Online: Manette Edible Garden Tour, www.manetteediblegardens.com.
What to grow
There is a wide array of food that a yard can produce, depending on light, soil quality and other factors. But some plants are easier to grow than others.
Certified professional horticulturist Gayle Larson suggests the following as good plants to start with:
Larson notes that some popular foods such as carrots, tomatoes and peppers can be difficult to grow for beginners as they need extra protection from the weather, sometimes have special watering requirements, and other needs.
-Do your homework before you dig. Do a soil test and watch out for any contaminants. Gayle Larson points out, for example, that older homes may have lead in the soil from old paint.
-Choose a place with adequate sun. Pay attention to how many hours of sunlight that different parts of your property receive. Knowing where the sunlight goes helps determine what plants can thrive in your yard.
-Sit down with a pencil and paper and list what you want to grow, and do research on what it takes to grow those plants, such as proper growing seasons, how much sunlight is needed, air temperature, etc.
-Take a gardening class. Larson recommends classes offered through WSU Extension.