Last week, installers put the finishing touches on a solar electric system at the Canterbury home of Beth McGuinn and Ruth Smith. Solar hot water has been flowing through the pipes since December. And the house isn't even the main attraction, losing the wow-factor battle to a 50-by-75-foot organic garden that plays host to more than 40 varieties of vegetables.
As recently as eight years ago, the entire plot was wooded forest.
So how do you turn your own wooded lot into a magical garden of efficiency and general greenosity? Simple, just send three installments of $250 to the Concord Insider and we'd be happy to share the details.
Wait, what? There's a free presentation June 23?
Perhaps you should just attend that instead.
Smith and McGuinn's garden is part of the upcoming South Church Garden Tour on June 23, and the stop will feature a mini-workshop on the benefits of growing organic vegetables, something the pair has been doing for more than 20 years.
"We love to eat, and we learned that eating fresh foods grown in your own garden that you just picked . . . when you take a bit of that tomato or you cook up the soybeans you grew, you can't beat that," McGuinn said. "And that taste is so much better than anything else."
It's a project they have literally built from the ground up. They cleared the forest after purchasing the property eight years ago and have worked hard to condition the soil to create favorable growing conditions.
They've added compost and lime and other nutrients, McGuinn said, in an effort to "work organically to build soil that supports the plants."
"It's all about the soil. That's what makes organic gardening different. We're not feeding plants, we're feeding soil," McGuinn said. "We're not in this for the short term. We don't want to put something in the soil to help plants grow, we want whatever we do to the soil to help all the crops that follow in the coming years."
The fruits and vegetables of their labor are impressive. The garden includes more than 40 kinds of vegetables, including celery, onions, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, Swish chard, kale and spinach.
They also grow several kinds of fruit and raise chickens, having recently welcomed eight newly-hatched chicks to a flock of 16 adults.
McGuinn estimated that they get 99 percent of the vegetables they consume out of their garden, as well as 25 percent of their fruit. The chicken eggs account for 100 percent of their eggs.
Describing the approach may be simple - "we are committed to efficiency and renewable resources, "McGuinn said - but maintaining the property isn't.
McGuinn said she grew more than 100 pounds of carrots last year but has struggled with the crop this year. She also said a garden of that size requires a significant time commitment for upkeep.
But she and Smith encourage gardeners to start small. Even if you don't have enough land to grow anything at your home, McGuinn encourages people to visit with neighbors who may have a garden spot they can "borrow."
"It's a great way to have a community," she said. "It leads to the opportunity to share and for getting to know your neighbors. Everyone has to start at their own pace. Nobody starts with a 50-by-75-foot garden. You start with a little backyard patch and get excited from watching things grow from a little seed into something you can actually eat. And the curiosity factor, the wonderment of it all, is another part of it. It's a miracle that all of this happens. Watching it is endlessly entertaining." (next page »)